It’s beautiful here.
Like stunningly, awe-inspiring, take-your-breath-away beautiful.
There are forested hills, rocky bluffs, picturesque valleys, hiking trails, sandy beaches, and spectacular ocean views.
Pacifica, California, is rugged and majestic. It’s also serene and peaceful.
In 1957, a newly incorporated coastal city formed in San Mateo County, uniting all of the smaller communities in the San Francisco Bay area– from Sweeney Ridge to the east to Montara Mountain to the south. They held a naming contest for this new city, and Pacifica, which means peaceful, won the title and the dot on the map.
That dot on the map “has a reputation as a hidden gem,” boasts Yulia Carter, Assistant City Manager for Pacifica. “We have this small town feel. We have so much natural beauty: the trails, the beaches, the beautiful sunsets. We’re on the coast, and yet we are only 12 miles from San Francisco and 20 miles from Silicon Valley. That makes us unique because in just 30-40 minutes, you’re on the coast from Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 companies, unwinding by watching that spectacular sunset.”
In fact, Pacifica is unique in a myriad of ways. The history of the area is expansive, from old tribes and travelers, to ranches and railroads. It’s colorful, too, with a castle used during prohibition and a bunker used to keep watch during WW2. The region was made up of nine small towns, which unified when Pacifica officially formed, forging cultures and diversity into one new place. “The sense of community is what really makes Pacifica a true gem,” shares Carter. “Residents of Pacifica truly care about one another and the quality of life in their community.”
It’s that quality of life that drives those in leadership in Pacifica.
The year 2020, for all of its misgivings and shortcomings, allowed cities to refocus. It allowed them to pivot. To get their priorities straight. To focus on the importance of building community. Because that, after all, is what it’s all about.
That’s what it’s all about in Pacifica. That naming contest, back in 1957, spoke to the creativity of this city right from their inception. And creative solutions seem to be their specialty to build resiliency.
Take, for example, a few of their new initiatives. Started just last year, ShopPacifica is an e-gift card program that makes it easy for shoppers to support local businesses. Businesses are able to sign up to participate without any cost to them (they do need to accept MasterCard in their system, though). The city can use the cards as promotional incentives, and community members can purchase them to support the city for themselves or to be given as gifts. The city used them to share love within the community on Valentine’s Day and to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, encouraging residents to gift a hard-working local teacher with a ShopPacifica card. “The money generated from this program will stay within the community, so there will be no leakage of tax revenues,” explains Carter. “It really just builds the community together.” They have about 40 businesses participating. “We are still growing it. It’s like the chicken and the egg situation, right?” she laughs. “You need more businesses to participate for shoppers to be interested in buying the cards. But the program has generated over $50,000 in new revenues for the city. So that’s quite impressive. And that was just our local efforts before we started really marketing it.”
Part of that marketing push is the newly launched Workcation Program. “We link the two programs together,” Carter states. “We are now inviting people to “Workation” in our community… and enjoy all the natural recreational opportunities that we have to offer while continuing to work remotely. All of our hotels participate in the program and as people check in midweek, they will get a ShopPacifica card [worth $50] on us… We are trying to optimize what we have and the resources we have.” They are marketing phrases like Reinvent your lunch break! Stretch your legs on the beach before your next meeting! Watch your kids play in the sand while you work! to entice remote workers to spend some time– and money– in Pacifica. They are cashing in on their biggest asset: that beautiful beach.
Those two programs are just part of a bigger plan in Pacifica. “Numerous projects are underway in the city,” attests Carter. “They make us all incredibly proud.” Plans are in the works to improve and expand the storm drainage system, update aging playground equipment in various city parks, and improve the city’s pavements, including installing new bike lanes. “Like many other cities we share the same challenges when it comes to aging infrastructure,” Carter continues. “However, we also have unique challenges, too. Our coastal climate brings moisture and salt that damages our roads and streets. We have quite a low pavement index right now so the ongoing funding for our street maintenance program becomes really important for us.”
Pacifica’s Civic Center project is also under construction. This project encompasses both renovations and new buildings. “There will also be a small community park area in between that connects the buildings,” says Carter. The new civic center will bring together most of the city departments and the Historical Society, housed in The Old Brown Church, a historical building over 100 years old. “It’s really exciting,” Carter gushes. They hope to have it finished by the end of the year. “It’s going to be a big milestone for the city to have this renovated building in place,” she adds.
A New View
“Pacifica is unlike most of the communities in Silicon Valley,” comments Carter. “We don’t have a big business base– it’s mostly a residential community. We do, however, have some shopping centers and quite a few businesses in all categories from retail, restaurant, and professional.”
So Pacifica set its sights on growing their local economy.
“We brainstormed what we could do to attract and promote new businesses and expand the city revenue base. We were trying to see how we could address it comprehensively,” explains Carter. “It became even more critical after Covid because the revenue base got hampered.”
One of the major strategic initiatives that really evolved in post-Covid environment is the Vision 2025 and Beyond project. It’s a comprehensive plan that focuses on the future sustainability of the community. “This past November, Pacifica’s voters approved Measure Y, a half-cent local transaction use tax (sales tax), which was an important decision for the community and a milestone in the Vision 2025 project,” adds Carter.
“We recently completed the Economic Development Opportunity Study, which is another key element in the Vision project,” continues Carter. “It is a unique project for the city because of the comprehensive way we approached it. We identified five business districts within the city, analyzed their revenue base and used a consultant firm to identify various short and long-term economic opportunities that exist for our community. But we kept our options open; we didn’t ask them to look at specific areas or specific housing or specific development.” Rather, she explains, they reviewed all relevant plans and previous work that was in place. They examined what revenues exist: sales tax, property tax, and business license tax. At the end of January, the consultant presented their report to the city council. “It was quite fascinating,” Carter says, “because we now have a list of over 30 opportunities that we can pursue. Some of them are low hanging fruit; some of them are more long term.” The results from that study will spin into the city’s vision and implementation process. Items on the list range from updating signage to potential sites for a future hotel and mixed use developments.
That vision is being cast long-term, too. The City Council recently adopted the 2040 General Plan, the City’s most important visioning and planning tool and broad, long-range policy document that guides future development and conservation. It is also a comprehensive collection of goals and policies related to broad aspects of community life. Speaking of the future, the city has recently reconvened its Youth Advisory Board to provide youth with more opportunities to get involved in their community through civic engagement, event planning, and public outreach. In addition, they are working toward modernizing both of their public libraries, envisioning 7-day availability at both locations.
They are also taking care of their own. Pacifica is partnering with the Pacifica School District to repurpose an old elementary school into a housing site with 70 residences. “This project would provide affordable housing for Pacifica’s teachers and educational support staff,” comments Carter.
Pacifica has done their research. And their homework. That’s what happens when you put in the work: you are smarter and more prepared. You are focused: you move forward with intention, confidence, and purpose.
You polish your gem.
“It’s all about building the community,” muses Carter. “That’s our focus. That’s why we are in this profession, right?”