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City of Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti on Leading California’s Second Fastest Growing City

August 19, 2013
City of Dublin Mayor and Dublin High School Teacher Tim Sbranti

City of Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti

Dublin grew at a rate of 6.8 percent last year, outpacing every other city in California except Santa Clarita, and compared with California overall which grew by 0.8 percent. With rapid growth comes both opportunities and challenges. I recently met with City of Dublin Mayor (and Dublin High School teacher) Tim Sbranti to hear his perspective on the state of Dublin today and what lies ahead.

James Morehead: How has growing up and going to school in Dublin helped you as Mayor?

City of Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti: “I think knowing Dublin’s history, understanding where we came from and a sense of where we are going, gives you pride in the community. My parents still live in the house I grew up in and we’ve chosen to live here; Dublin is a great community and has kept me grounded. Growing up and going to school here has given me an infinite amount of pride – I’m connected to the schools, connected to the city as I’ve seen it grow, and have a stake in the community.

“Dublin was historically looked down upon by neighboring communities and I believe that’s given me an edge. I want to see the city and schools thrive. Even though the perception of Dublin has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, I’m still driven to make Dublin the crown jewel of the Tri-Valley and the East Bay. I have extra motivation to get things done.”

Morehead: What are you most proud of in your tenure as mayor?

Farmers Market at Emerald Glen

Farmers Market at Emerald Glen

Sbranti: “I think we have outstanding parks and our public facilities are some of the best you’ll find anywhere. When I was growing up in Dublin we had inadequate parks: the park acreage was limited and the parks we did have were run down. Many of the facilities we did have were handed over from the County and were lacking.

“In the last ten years we’ve built the new library, built the new Senior Center, re-built the Shannon Community Center, and created the Dublin Heritage Park and Museum. We’ve built Emerald Glen Park and the Fallon Sports Park, upgraded the sports grounds, built new fire stations and upgraded existing stations, are building a new police and fire headquarters on the site of the old food labs, are building a new maintenance yard, and have installed solar panels on public buildings and switched to LED lighting. I’m really proud of the public investments in infrastructure. There are very few communities that can list the kind of community projects we’ve completed in recent years.

“With the schools it’s the same. Years ago, our schools were aging whereas now, whether it’s growth driving new schools or the older schools being completely rebuilt, we have school facilities that are state of the art. What I tell people is that there isn’t a school in the city that isn’t practically brand new.

“We have a lot more business now than a decade ago, and a lot more job opportunities. Years ago, Dublin was strictly a bedroom community. Now it’s an employment center, in addition to being a bedroom community. While a lot people like you and others work in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Oakland or other parts of the Bay, more people work in Dublin, and spend their extra dollars here.

“Those are the things I take tremendous pride in and I feel the city is in a better place now that it was ten years ago.”

Morehead: Looking forward, what are the projects that you are most excited about?

City of Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti

Sbranti at the Farmers Market

Sbranti: “Most recently the announcement that Whole Foods is coming to Dublin – that’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. We’ve been close many times over the years so actually seeing Whole Foods sign a lease and make a commitment to move forward in Dublin is a catalyst for the middle of the city, between Hacienda and Dougherty road. We’ve seen housing grow quickly, but not commercial properties. I think Whole Foods is the first step for increased commercial development in that part of the city. When you drive down Dublin Boulevard from the west side of town to the east side, there is vibrancy all across our city, packed parking lots and lots of activity.

“We’ve also been able to advance the Fallon Sports Park to the next phase. At one point it didn’t look like the next phase would be built until after 2018, and now it looks like we’ll get started much sooner than that.

“In 2008 in the older downtown areas retailers were moving out due to the national economic downturn, resulting in a lot of vacancies; now you’ve seen vacancies almost evaporate. We’ve seen quality retailers move into Dublin like REI, which we worked on for nearly a decade, Sprouts, Sports Authority and others upgrading older properties.

“The other project I’m excited about is the Emerald Glen Aquatic Center, which we’ve been talking about for a very long time. Once the Aquatic Center is built, and it will be an indoor / outdoor year-round facility, there will be nothing like it in the Tri-Valley. It’s a project I’m extremely excited about.”

Morehead: Talk about how the Mayor and City Manager roles work together. Many people I speak with assume the Mayorship is a full-time job.

Sbranti: “Dublin has a council-manager form of government with an elected mayor and council, and a city manager who we hire. Joni Pattillo does a great job and runs the day-to-day operations while the Council sets policy. As Mayor I receive a stipend, which is approximately $1,000 per month, while the take home pay is only about $560 per month. Being Mayor and serving on the Council really is public service, and I’m proud of the opportunity I’ve been given to serve, as are the Council Members. It’s the same with the Dublin Unified School Board where Superintendent Hanke runs the day-to-day operations based on policy decisions made by the Board of Trustees. Ultimately, we all want to serve the community.

“Because serving as Mayor isn’t a salaried position, I still have a day job. But being Mayor complicates your day job because there are meetings throughout the day. In a lot of cities the Council Members are retired or their spouses earn the primary source of income.”

Morehead: How has your experience as a Dublin High School teacher helped the City and School District work more effectively together?

Mayor Sbranti with MythBusters stars Kari Byron and Adam Savage

Sbranti with MythBusters stars at Dublin High

Sbranti: “I think we have a great level of partnership and engagement between the City and the Dublin Unified School District. For example, we were recently able to build new tennis courts at Dublin High School in partnership with the District, we’ve been able to make additional enhancements to the Dublin High Center for Performing Arts and Education to include an art gallery, we’ve partnered on recycling programs, and we are currently working on a community garden project; these are the types of things we work on together.

“Being Mayor and a teacher allows me to better appreciate the broad perspective. Folks that are just in education don’t always see things from the perspective of the entire city and can be too narrowly focused on what best serves the schools; at the same time if you are only involved in the city you might ignore the needs of the schools. In fact, we actually added a step to general plan amendment requests to include a check-in with the District to see how changes could impact demographics, projections for growth and school construction plans. In a lot of cities the city and school district are disconnected.

“We are also looking to enhance STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] related programs. Traditionally, city organized recreational activities are sports or crafts oriented, which will always be important, but we’re also looking to add STEM-related activities like computer programming classes and partnerships with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; there are a lot of things the city can do to enhance the STEM program offered by the School District. Aligning with the School District on STEM is also another way we can make Dublin more attractive to parents looking for reasons to move here.

“Ultimately the City and the School District are serving the same residents so if we work together we can better serve our constituents.”

Morehead: What are the opportunities and challenges when you are running a fast-growing city like Dublin?

Fallon Sports Park Ribbon-Cutting

Fallon Sports Park Opening

Sbranti: “Inevitably, no matter how carefully you plan and engage with the community, you are going to have situations where growth can outpace infrastructure. In the case of our schools that can result in temporary portables. I think Dublin’s done a better job than many growing communities in this regard.

“Because we’re a pay-as-you-go city, meaning we don’t take on debt and as a result burden the general fund, infrastructure like sidewalks, road upgrades, median improvements or park build outs may not be completed as quickly as it would if we took on debt. We have chosen to wait until after we have received sufficient developer impact fees to to start infrastructure improvements. It’s not that the city is unaware of the delays, but rather that the city doesn’t want to take on debt obligations. This can result in challenges when residents move in before all the infrastructure is complete.

“But if you build everything on the front end, by taking on debt obligations, that increases financial risk and puts additional pressure on the general fund.

“The opportunities of growth, however, are many including all the projects I spoke about earlier that are made possible by a growing population. Whole Foods is coming to Dublin for a reason – the growth of the city means it makes business sense to locate here. New employers, new retailers, new restaurants want to come to Dublin because of the growth.

“The Dublin Corporate Center at the corner of Dublin Boulevard and Tassajara Road was only 30% occupied in 2008. Now that center is over 90% occupied. The City has offered a lot of economic incentives to attract business and the reality is that businesses are recognizing their workers live in this area and neighboring communities. The growth in Dublin attracts larger employers who want to be closer to their workforce. Some companies that would have considered locating in Silicon Valley are moving out here for lower costs and the opportunity to be closer to where many families are choosing to live.”

Morehead: You are taking a run at State Assembly. What drove that decision?

Sbranti: “We’ve been able to make progress in Dublin on lot of the issues that I’m most passionate about , and I believe I can take those learnings to the State level. I think the State can work more closely with, and learn from, local government. One of the things I’m proud of is building partnerships. In local government I’ve seen people put partisan differences aside, work together on a common goal and solve problems. I really want to bring that perspective to Sacramento.

“I’m also proud of our progress in education. We’ve done a phenomenal job in Dublin schools. As a teacher I’ve seen the progress first hand, and at the State level education would be a top priority. I want to see us embed the competencies of industry into the curriculum because there is a skills gap in parts of the state, and I think that needs to be addressed. We need to broaden our approach to serve each and every student and I think my experience in Dublin schools brings a valuable perspective. As a Dublin High School Leadership teacher I’ve had a chance to work with some of our highest performing students. I’ve also worked with students on independent study – a wide variety of students with differing needs. I’ve taught a variety of subjects and learned the importance of a broad focus to meet the needs of all students. Education is one of the key responsibilities at the State level.

“I also think we’ve done a great job in Dublin on economic development. I’m proud of the package of development incentives that we’ve put in place to attract jobs, and that’s something the State needs to attract jobs to California. I’m proud of what we’ve done for transportation and the infrastructure investments we’ve made here, all applicable at the State level.

“I’m also proud of what we’ve done for the environment, adding solar to our city buildings and LED lighting in our parks and street lights. In Dublin we’ve been able to make the environment improvements without general fund dollars by bonding against the documented energy savings; I believe that could be applied statewide to every community college, CSU and UC building, every DMV office. It should just be done – it creates jobs, saves money and helps the environment.

“I’m also looking at how healthcare can be improved at the State level. I believe the whole approach to healthcare in California should be cutting edge, focusing on the preventative side, because it costs a lot less money to keep people healthy rather than to pay for care after the fact. I believe Dublin has been on the cutting edge of health and wellness programs that we’ve offered as a city, and from a fiscal standpoint we’ve managed our pension obligations in Dublin.

“Finally, we’ve avoided debt, and taken a fiscally conservative pay-as-you-go approach – all of which is needed at the State level.”

Morehead: What advice do you have you have for students that are passionate about advocating for their community?

Dublin High Teacher Tim Sbranti

Dublin High School teacher Tim Sbranti

Sbranti: “My passion for public service started in high school, serving as a student commissioner on the Parks Commission and serving in student leadership to make improvements at my school site. All politics is local so I encourage students to get involved in their school. It doesn’t have to be student leadership – do whatever interests you to make your school better. There are leadership opportunities in many different activities – if your passion is theatre, get involved in the drama program, if your passion is music get involved, the same applies for clubs, athletics and, of course, student government.

“Then go beyond your school – the City offers opportunities with the Youth Advisory Committee, the Integrity in Action program, and more. There are also opportunities to intern in various offices, I have a high school intern now from Dublin High School. There are other internship opportunities with Congressman Swalwell’s office, he’s also taken on high school interns, and there are state legislators that do the same.

“When I was a high school senior I also got involved in some of the local campaigns. I was involved in the Measure B $36 million dollar school bond in 1993 that predated Measure C. Some of the improvements of Measure B, including all the fields at Dublin High School, were funded by Measure B dollars that still, twenty years later, benefit students. As a high school senior I saw that the facilities needed an upgrade so I got involved. Public service is about making a difference in people’s lives.

“If you look at Congressman Swalwell, his first campaign during high school was helping Council Member Claudia McCormick get elected, and he still talks about that experience. So I recommend that in addition to getting involved in their school, high school students should look for opportunities to intern and to get involved in campaigns.

“Many times getting started is as simple as asking, it’s not as complex as people might think.”

Morehead: What events will keep you coming back to Dublin after your time as Mayor comes to an end?

Dublin Pride Week

Dublin Pride Week

Sbranti: “There are so many, but I’ll choose two in particular. The St. Patrick’s Day weekend is the heart and essence of the city, a time of revelry and spirit, so that’s certainly one event that I’ll always come back for. It’s a fun, festive weekend that involves so many different groups. The sister city Green and White Gala, the fire fighters pancake breakfast, the Lions Club parade, the Festival and Fun Run organized by the City, the Knights of Columbus holding the corn beef dinner, and more that bring many different groups together.

“Another event that talks to the soul of the city is Dublin Pride Week. When you see five to seven hundred volunteers on a Saturday morning getting together and doing projects all over the city, whether it is enhancing a school site, helping seniors, painting curbs, cleaning up our environment, that group effort really speaks to who we are as a community and it makes me proud to be part of Dublin. I look forward to Dublin Pride Week every year because it brings the entire city together. I always say that there are very few times that at eight in the morning you can look at your city and in just a few hours the city has been significantly improved.

“The involvement and passion of our community in improving Dublin is phenomenal, and I love that about our city.”

Mayor Tim Sbranti Presenting Awards - Dublin High School 2010 Graduation Ceremony

Mayor Tim Sbranti Presenting Awards – Dublin High School 2010 Graduation Ceremony