Riverbank mayor says brightest days ahead

RIVERBANK -- While stores and restaurants across the Northern San Joaquin Valley are beginning to catch a chill from the cold housing market, businesses in Riverbank continue to open.

This year's State of the City address by Mayor Chris Crifasi Monday night was nearly as upbeat as last year's as he shared news of businesses with plans to open soon in the city. News of markets and restaurants yet to come to Riverbank stands in stark contrast to the going-out-of-business sale in other towns.

Crifasi named some of them: a gas station, Save Mart and Best Buy will open this year in the city's largest commercial center, Crossroads. A La Perla Tapatia, Walgreens and Cool Hand Luke's Steakhouse will fill what long have been dark corners and vacant buildings elsewhere in the city.

While 11 percent of the city's revenue is being stashed in a reserve account and the immediate future seems promising, Crifasi looked further ahead to hypothesize how the state will handle coming economic challenges. He said state legislators will depend on cities to fund state programs rather than significantly cut the state's budget once it starts to feel the pinch.

Riverbank, also, is not immune to the foreclosure and real estate crisis that began more than a year ago.

"This has had a devastating effect," he said.

When people began to leave foreclosed homes, yards went untended, houses were prey to squatters and crime settled into new developments. Last year, the city implemented a plan to watch after bank-owned homes. So while homes sit vacant, the city is forced to watch after them and does not garner tax revenue from them. It's a tough predicament, but one the city cannot turn its back on. Crifasi asked residents to also be watchful. He asked them to notify the city so police and staff can help prevent the vacant homes from becoming a hazard.

As Crifasi looked ahead, he saw plenty of positives. The city will finish its general plan this year, the Del Rio Theater will be renovated, the downtown area will start to show significant signs of renovation, the sports complex will be finished and the teen center project will begin construction.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.