A city's problem: too many jobs
If there's one man clearly feeling out of place at the US Conference of Mayors, it's John E. Mercer. And it's not because he happens to be a city councilman rather than a mayor.
His growing city, Sunnyvale, Calif., (population 108,000) in the heart of electronics-rich "Silicon Valley," averages almost two jobs per household. Such abundance makes it hard for him to identify with the many financial troubles most mayors complain about constantly in workshops here.
"It's like suddenly being placed on Mars," Mr. Mercer says. "They're just talking about completely different problems. Our biggest problem is really too many jobs."
It is a problem most mayors here would love to have. In many ways, Sunnyvale is the classic Sunbelt success story:
* Several months ago, the City Council rezoned 131 acres of undeveloped industrial land for residential use. In the shift, the price of the land almost doubled, to $400,000 an acre.
"We didn't need the industry; we needed the housing," Mercer says.
* Any employer planning to build new facilities or adding more than a certain number of new employees may be required by the City Council to contribute to a special housing fund for them, provide bicycle racks, or make other accomodations.
* Even if Sunnyvale were to lose all federal and state financial help, says Mercer -- who hesitates to admit this to the mayors here -- it would not have to cut a single municipal service.
The city saves millions of dollars each year by combining police and firefighter training so that public safety officers are equipped to do either job. Although Sunnyvale pays it uniformed officers extra for their dual skills, it can nonetheless get by with a combined force of 225. Nearby Berkeley, a city of similar size, has more than that number just in its police department. Mercer says many other cities have expressed interest in the Sunnyvale plan, but for the most part union objections have kept them from following suit.