Reimagining local government: What the pandemic taught us about adaptability, courage and resiliency
The challenges facing the City of Eastvale, Calif., during the pandemic were not unique, however the Eastvale team and community response was unique. As one of Southern California’s fastest growing and newest cities with 73,700 residents, our local economy relies heavily on our local businesses and restaurants. A complete shutdown of these core sectors would have resulted in devastation for our community.
Our state faced some of the most stringent lock-down measures in the nation; leading a city during this unprecedented pandemic was no easy feat.
To keep moving our community forward, we had to move quickly and boldly to reimagine day-to-day operations to safely remain accessible to the public. This audacious strategy led our city through a period of unprecedented growth and a quick economic recovery.
We never operated all of our services virtually, but our team, with direction from city council, made it possible with courageous, creative, collaborative results and unconventional thinking that’s not generally seen in a government agency.
At Eastvale, our culture reflects our entrepreneurial spirit. We champion experiences that engage, excite and elevate our community; this creates an empowered and engaged team at city hall to think critically and, more importantly, take action to serve their community, with an emphasis on “unity.”
This strength-based leadership, purpose-values-driven and people-serving approach was a promise to our community, which influenced and inspired us to continue providing essential services by adapting in uncertain times.
Adaptability—How Eastvale did it
We’ve always been proud of operating our mid-size city with a lean purpose-driven team, that approaches solving challenges in non-conventional ways and turn them into opportunities.
We provide an exceptional level of service within our streamlined operational structure of 32 teammates. It’s not uncommon to see cities of our size with much larger teams. This lean, can-do team structure proved to be a critical game-changer when it came to quickly develop an all-virtual city hall just 48 hours after the lockdowns in March 2020.
City council/commission meetings immediately went virtual. Instead of canceling in-person events, we moved forward with hosting virtual events for our 2020 State of the City, Veteran’s Day and 9/11 ceremonies.
Within a few weeks, our team worked collaboratively to install safety measures at city hall to enhance safety for employees and the public, so we could continue to provide in-person services to residents and businesses. We did government differently, and, as a result, we had successes serving the community, residents, businesses and our team at city hall.
We continue to elevate and strive to exceed Eastvale’s expectations every day. We didn’t have all the answers, yet we have a saying—”Some days we WIN, some days we LEARN, yet we always give and try our BEST.”
And this learning-growing-trying-working environment and approach allowed us to be more vision-focused than fear-based with making decisions.
Growth—Eastvale’s expansion and development soar
Eastvale strives to be a business-friendly city, and during the pandemic, we awarded 27 business grants between $10,000 and $12,000 through the Eastvale Emergency Enterprise Grant Program.
Additionally, Eastvale’s “Biz Support Program” was born and provided resources to assist local businesses during the pandemic, including a simplified, no-fee temporary-use permit process for outdoor dining and tents, free signage, social media content and 6-feet apart stickers.
Economic development continues to be a top priority. During the lockdown, we celebrated grand openings, made progress on construction, and signed leases and letters of intent on many diverse, unique and exciting businesses.
For perspective, in 2019 12 new retail businesses opened. In 2020 during the height of the pandemic, there were eight, and currently, for 2021, two have opened and are 23 expected over the current year.
We value our small business community and want to support them every step of the way. At every turn, we thought, “How can we make this easier and help our local businesses thrive during tough times?” And that guided our mission to streamline and innovate.
The growth and attraction of restaurants during this time was originally a direct result of Eastvale’s City Council Strategic Plan Focus Area to enhance dining and choices for our residents in 2018 and was reaffirmed at the 2021 Strategic Plan workshop.
The city is trying to make a dent in the $72 million in revenue leakage for food and beverage. We are quickly becoming “Destination Eastvale,” known for its amazing dining options and experiences. Eastvale did not let COVID-19 halt this momentum.
Our economic growth is a prime example of what comes from a local government that does government differently and works closely with developers and listens to diverse perspectives to elevate the product and focus on performance. The level of trust built on both sides is such a critical component to being successful and taking calculated and strategic risks.
Another example of Eastvale’s nimbleness during the middle of the pandemic, when most hotels were closed and the tourism industry was shut down, was when we partnered with two of our residents to break ground on the finest hotel in our region. A four-story hotel with a rooftop bar and restaurant along with a conference and event center overlooking the beautiful Silver Lakes Sports and Equestrian Complex.
Currently, we’re proud to report that city services are operating at 100 percent. Being fully accessible to the community we serve has always been a priority.
In FY 2019/2020 compared to FY 2020/2021, the City of Eastvale has witnessed the following growth:
- 32.26 percent increase in new business applications and renewals
- 5.95 percent increase in property taxes
- 7.69 percent increase in sales and use tax
- 6.49 percent increase in franchise fee
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that our Eastvale community has an unbreakable spirit. We’ll continue to handle whatever comes next as a community so we can thrive with resiliency and courage.
Bryan Jones was appointed city manager of Eastvale, Calif., in November 2018. A California native, Jones has a master’s degree in Public Administration from Norwich University with a focus on Leadership and Sustainable Financial Strategies and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Davis with a minor in Communications. He has worked for a number of public agencies over the years, including the City of Fresno and the City of Carlsbad. His extensive background as a professional engineer and certified planner in both the public and private sectors, provides him with a distinctive leadership perspective.