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E.C.'s image hinges on engaged citizenry, dedicated employees

January 31, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

If the city of El Centro is a good place to live, credit for such a condition is due to an engaged citizenry and dedicated city employees.

In keeping with that, much has been accomplished and much is on the city's horizon.

That was at the heart of a state-of-the-city address given by El Centro Mayor Cheryl Walker this morning.

"Our people work extremely hard to provide you services in a cost-effective, responsible manner," she said. "Our employees are truly a group of unsung heroes."

Walker singled out several new department heads for their efforts, including Victor Zazueta, city librarian; Oscar Rodriquez, economic development director; Ken Skillman, community services director and Steve Hogan, public works director.

"These folks have joined an excellent existing management team and their combined efforts are making El Centro the leader among Valley cities," Walker said.

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She then singled out El Centro City Manager Abdel Salem for his 20 years of committed service to the city.

"Because of Abdel's fiscal management and leadership, our city is rising from the hole dug by the loss of the utility tax measure in 1996," Walker said. "You can be assured that every decision Abdel and the council makes is viewed by the impact it has to the bottom line. The end result is that we are getting back to providing service levels that existed prior to the loss of the tax."

Walker also spoke about the recent loss of several businesses in the city to fire and economic decisions, such as the Fox Theater.

"The Fox Theater was more than just a building. It was a piece of our history," she said. "Many of us spent lots of Fridays and Saturdays at the movies there. Some remember it as the home of the bottle cap shows, musical events and meetings."

The Fox was lost to fire Jan. 24, along with an office and a martial arts business.

Walker said the Fox issue is important because a group of people was in the process of obtaining the building for other uses.

"That committee was working to revitalize and modernize the old theater. They are the kinds of visionaries we need; working to improve the quality of life in El Centro," Walker said.

Walker then touched on future development. She said the downtown revitalization effort is in full swing, with the plaza being built at Main and Seventh streets due for completion in the next few months. Added to that is the under way storefront rehabilitation program.

The next step likely will include a lighting maintenance district and/or business improvement district.

Outside the downtown, Walker said improvements along Fourth Street will be aimed at reducing blight and that the planned Northgate Plaza on North Imperial Avenue will include El Centro Motors, a Food-4-Less and other businesses.

There also is work under way in the area of housing. The city will soon be providing matching funds to first-time homebuyers and rehabilitate 12 housing units through grant moneys.

New housing is being developed. Walker said a draft environmental impact report is being reviewed for the annexation of 160 acres west of the Lotus Drain and north of Ross Avenue for 325 single-family homes. Another 465 homes are being proposed for land south of the city water treatment plant and west of Clark Road.

Other improvements include the completion of Sunflower Park, improved communications via a partnership with the Imperial County Office of Education and the Imperial Irrigation District.

Finally, Walker urged people to get involved with helping the city improve.

"Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy in this world," she said.

Co-sponsoring the event was the El Centro Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau. Chamber president Cliff Caldwell said the message people should take away is that there is a partnership between the city and the chamber to further the goals of redevelopment and improving the welfare of the community.

"We share the same goals as the city," he said.

The event was in the Old Post Office Pavilion.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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