July 11, 2006 > Jesus Armas-Hayward City Manager
Jesus Armas-Hayward City Manager
by Steve Warga
Hayward's veteran city manager waxes enthusiastic over the future he and his staff envision for their city.
TCV: You've been manager for 13 years now. How did it all happen?
Armas: I actually came to Hayward in 1984 as assistant city manger before the city of South San Francisco recruited me for the same position. In 1993, the City Council offered me the manager's job and I've been here since.
I didn't set out for a career in city government. My plan was to obtain a law degree after I graduated from Occidental College in 1975. But I worked as an intern for the city of Glendale and found myself really enjoying contact with the public and helping solve problems. When I graduated, a permanent position was open, I applied and was accepted. The assistant city manager at that time was also an Occidental alum who became a mentor to me and helped me with some very sound advice in those early years.
He's the one who encouraged me to apply for a position in Santa Cruz as an assistant to the city manager. At the time, I knew almost nothing about Northern California. All my family and friends were in Southern California, Los Angeles area in particular. Santa Cruz hired me, so I packed my bags and left the upper-income, politically conservative confines of Glendale for the decidedly different Santa Cruz. It was quite a culture shock, but I learned a lot about activist citizenry during my time there.
In 1984, my wife and I moved to Hayward for the assistant city manager position. She was a teacher who worked in Hayward Unified School District, eventually becoming a principal. She did this even during the time I worked in South San Francisco and I gained some perspective about our schools from her time with the District.
TCV: What is it about Hayward that most appeals to you?
Armas: What's important to me, I think, is the size of a city. In some of the larger communities you encounter too many layers of bureaucracy separating you from the citizens. In the smaller cities, you simply lack the resources to pursue some things like technology upgrades and major economic redevelopment projects.
I think Hayward's just about right for that mix. We can do projects like the Cannery redevelopment or the downtown theater complex that will commence in about two weeks. But we're also accessible. For instance, every day at lunch time, I go out for a jog. I'm always stopped by people who want to talk about this plan or that problem. This keeps me in tune with what's going on.
I have different routes that I run and I get a chance to check out services, like street maintenance and trash clean-up and so on. In fact, my staff jokes that it's time to get out their "To Do" lists when I return, because I'm always making notes about things I see that we can improve.
The other thing that's important, and has been to me for a long time is that local government is where that proverbial 'rubber meets the road'.
TCV: What do you see as Hayward's future direction and growth?
Armas: We're in an evolution from the traditional suburban model to more of an urban context. We're not going to be another San Francisco, but we can make it possible for people to live here and meet their needs here without relying so much on their cars to reach the services and amenities they seek.
We think the South Hayward BART concept plan the council recently approved in principle is a good example of our future. It's still years from fruition, but we're giving developers and investors a set of ground rules they can follow when evaluating their interest. It's similar to how the Cannery redevelopment proceeded. We built a framework of ideas that builders could follow. I think that worked really well.
TCV: What is your philosophy regarding City financial reserves?
Armas: The short answer is that we can use our reserves for operating expenses, so long as people understand that once you've spent that money, it won't be there should something unplanned happen, like an earthquake, or sudden economic dip. I try to look at the City's worst case operating expenses then match that with actual income. We can't just spend money and run a deficit like the state or federal governments do. So we try to spend no more than we take in.
With that in mind then, reserves are very much like a savings account that you might put away, for instance, if you own a home. You set aside money for unexpected expenses. Say you need a new roof. You use some of that money, instead of borrowing.
During the economic boom of the late '90s, revenues were strong and the council made a conscious decision to grow our reserves. When you've been in this business for awhile, you know that good times and bad times will both come around. When those good times ended a couple of years ago, we started looking at reducing our expenses. We didn't cut any jobs, which is the last thing we wanted. Instead, we left positions unfilled when employees quit or retired. Now, we're enjoying some revenue growth and we're hiring again. Through it all, we strive to keep about 10 percent of our General Fund in a reserve account, separate from capital reserves and occasional contingency reserve funds.
TCV: What do you see as immediate priorities for Hayward?
Armas: Well, we have some really exciting things going on, like the South Hayward BART plan. Also in the planning context, Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) owns about 300 acres of land that was intended for a freeway bypass that didn't happen. We recently received a $250,000 grant to study future uses for that land. The results of that study will be a guideline for what the state may do with that land.
The other significant thing we're working on is the 238 Corridor Improvement Project which we'll be briefing the City Council on later this month. This is a substitute for the older freeway bypass we just discussed. The Environmental Impact Report is already underway. That will be a major improvement if we can do it.
TCV: Any final thoughts?
Armas: We're pleased that there are other sources of information in the community, like Tri-City Voice. Having multiple voices is good!