As Gainesville looks back on its 150 years as a city, it is also setting its sights on the future.
During the 15th Annual State of the City Address on Wednesday afternoon, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe provided updates on the city’s efforts in 2019 and his vision for the city moving forward. Nearly 100 people attended the address at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, at 837 SE 7th Ave.
During the address, Poe discussed citywide issues such as racial equity gaps, pedestrian deaths and public safety.
The top issues addressed each year are based on the community’s current concerns for Gainesville, said District 3 City Commissioner David Arreola, who’s currently running for his second term in the March 17 election.
“We listen to our constituents,” Arreola said. “People understand the issues in Gainesville, and we want to solve those issues for them.”
Poe said that to combat these issues, a racial equity toolkit will be used by the city to ensure equity is explicitly brought into the decision-making process. The toolkit is a packet with guidelines for ensuring racial equity.
He didn't provide any details on the cost of the toolkit and exactly how it will be used by the city.
The city has established an Equity Core Team of city staff to ensure equity is now explicitly being brought into the decision-making process, he said. A disparity study will happen soon to help the city identify gaps that exist in its current policies, he said. He did not say a specific time for the state of the study. He said the Equity Core Team will be designing the toolkits, but did not give any further clarifications on what the team is or when it was specifically established.
Poe said the city has also made immediate moves to improve its pay equity practices through more critical examinations of hiring and promotion practices. The city has committed nearly $1 million to create 29 new fair wage jobs, along with a goal to supply living wages to all workers, he said. The city is also working to ensure every city worker gets the wage they deserve.
He did not clarify when he expects to meet that goal, but discussed one effort that has been made through a study by the city’s Human Resources Department.
“One of the primary reasons I ran for office was to reduce the persistent equity gaps we face as a result of general, racial and economic discrimination,” Poe, who has been in office since 2016, said.
After addressing the three pedestrian deaths that have occurred since the start of the year, Poe said the city remains committed to reducing deaths and serious injuries on the roads through education, enforcement, technology and design. He did not mention any new policies to change this, but did reinforce the city’s Vision Zero policy to cut the number of crash deaths and serious injuries in half by 2025.
“Even one death is not acceptable, and we will do more to make our roads safe for everyone,” he said.
In order for the city to increase road safety, a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation will go toward UF’s research on systems and technological innovations that make roadways safer, he said. An additional $2 million grant will be used for research specific to pedestrian and bicycle safety, and the data provided by UF will help identify dangerous roadways to improve public safety.
Poe said the city is committed to the full spectrum of public safety: prevention, intervention and enforcement.
During the address, he discussed the city's decreasing rates of homelessness and electricity prices.
Since Grace Marketplace opened its doors in 2014, homelessness has dropped by 33 percent in the community, he said. The city has worked collectively with Grace Marketplace, the VA Medical Center and various mental health providers to successfully transmit 60 people living at Dignity Village, a homeless encampment that surrounds Grace Marketplace, to permanent housing, he said.
Dignity Village is joint-funded by the city and county commissions. The camp was scheduled to close on Jan. 1, but its closing is now delayed.
While Poe said electricity rates are lower now than they have been since 2008, he didn’t say exactly how much they’ve decreased.
Although Gainesville was ranked as having the highest residential utility rates in the state for Sept. 2019, Gainesville Regional Utilities is providing more than 100 local homeowners with energy-saving improvements through its low-income program this year alone, he said.
Rosalie Miller, a 75-year-old Gainesville resident, said she believes the most important issue facing the city right now is its racial inequities.
Miller said she came out to the address because there’s been many changes in the city over the past few years, and she’s particularly concerned with one problem Poe addressed: equity gaps.
“The city is now really stepping up their attention and resources toward the really serious inequities that exist here in Gainesville,” she said.
Lauren Poe speaks to a crowd of reporters and about 100 supporters Tuesday at the Public and General restaurant. Poe beat three opponents to win his second term as mayor of Gainesville.