Annexation, growth focus of Folsom mayor's speech

By: Don Chaddock, Telegraph Managing Editor
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In her first State of the City address, Mayor Kerri Howell praised city staff, touted the annexation of 3,600 acres and said there is still hope for state redevelopment funds. Howell, Folsom’s first elected female mayor, spoke last Thursday at the Folsom Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon. It was a packed house. The big news was last week’s approval by the Local Agency Formation Commission of Folsom’s bid to annex 3,600 acres south of Highway 50. On Jan. 18, following a public hearing, LAFCo unanimously approved the project. “Folsom is now 3,600 acres bigger,” Howell said. “It’s no longer the (sphere of influence), now it’s just Folsom.” The project is a master-planned community with its own schools, library, public safety and commercial centers. It is expected to be built out in 20 to 30 years. She acknowledged criticism of the annexation, with opponents pointing to empty retail spaces within the current city limits. “The city has far less control over filling those vacancies than people realize,” she said. “(We’ll be) moving forward with developing the annexation as the economy improves.” Howell said Folsom continues to be a “regional shopping hub.” “Palladio is continuing to sign leases,” she said. “Folsom is (also) turning into a foodie destination (due to all the restaurants).” She said Elliott Homes should be commended for their commitment to finishing the Palladio shopping center while “other malls in the region are partially built with chain link fencing around them.” Howell said Folsom residents have many reasons to be proud. “We have crime rates (that) are the envy of the region,” she said. “We have the best jobs-housing balance in the region. … We have the fastest growing community college (at) Folsom Lake College.” She said for longtime residents, the shopping options means there is little reason to leave town. “For those who’ve lived here a long time, you know you can get just about anything in Folsom,” she said. Howell said while property and sales taxes are down, Folsom weathered the housing crisis fairly well. “We have the lowest foreclosure rate in the region,” Howell said. “This city knows how to get things done. … We’re the envy of the region.” She touched briefly on redevelopment agencies, something the city recently used to complete the Historic District Revitalization project. “It is changing almost hourly,” she said. “The legislature is talking about pushing back the deadline for dismantling redevelopment agencies.” Howell praised city staff and their bargaining units for the concessions made over the last few years. “Without the concessions and pension reforms they agreed to a years ago, the city wouldn’t be (as financially sound today),” she said. Orville Wegat, 90, was publisher of the Folsom Telegraph from 1957 to 1962. He said he liked what the mayor had to say. “I thought it was fantastic,” he said. “This is all brand new. Pretty much the entire town was rebuilt in 1960.” He said Folsom’s growth has been incredible. “Everything from the (old) high school going east was nothing but mud hens and rock piles,” he said. Phil Moeszinger, 85, used to run the hardware store on Sutter Street. “There’s so much difference between 60 years ago and today,” he said. “We couldn’t even imagine all this 60 years ago.”