This Week’s Alamedan: Debra Kurita

Debbie 001 for blogLived in Alameda: Since August of 2005
Originally from: Born in Salt Lake City, grew up in Oakland, California
Most recently from: Fullerton, California
Family: Husband, Keene Wilson, retired city manager; son, Skyler, 21, junior at Becker College in Leicester, MA; son, Wyatt, 13, in seventh grade at Lincoln Middle School
Fact of note: Only member of immediate family not in a medical profession (father was a doctor, mother is a retired nurse, sister is a radiology technician and brother works for Kaiser)
Previous occupation: Assistant City Manager, City of Santa Ana
Current occupation: City Manager, City of Alameda

Why Alameda?
It had always been my goal to be a city manager. I was looking for a full-service city with a real strong community and interesting challenges and opportunities. And the timing of the opportunity in Alameda was right as well: my son was going off to college, and my husband had recently retired. Another factor that made Alameda an ideal opportunity was the fact that I had grown up next-door in Oakland, and my parents and siblings were all living in the Bay Area.

First visits to Alameda
When I was growing up, I would come over to Alameda with my family to go to the swap meet that used to be held every weekend at a drive-in theater at Atlantic and Constitution. There’s a housing development there now. We would go bargain hunting and then go to lunch at the hamburger shop on Webster Street. Those are my memories of Alameda.

On Alameda being Alameda
Alameda has a great deal of community involvement—and that’s not typical in many cities. It means people care about their community and want to be involved. People in Alameda may not always agree with each other, but they are ready to talk about the issues and engage in a healthy dialogue. Controversial items may take some time to resolve, but that generally results in a better end product.

Welcome to Alameda
My first council meeting was when the theatre project was on the agenda for consideration. I was living with my folks in Oakland—I stayed there for a month before my family came up. I told my folks that the meeting might go late because I knew the theatre was going to be a big issue. But I didn’t realize how late. That council meeting went to three o’clock in the morning. When I finally got to my folk’s house and went to put my key in the door, it swung open and standing there were my mother, father and aunt saying, “Where have you been? We were about to call the Alameda police to see if there had been an accident!” It was as though I was 17 and had missed curfew. They weren’t used to having me at home and they felt they had to worry about me.

Like best about city managing Alameda?
I love the variety of projects and challenges. I can go from negotiating with the Navy on the reuse of the base to processing leases of city property. We have challenges that range from balancing the budget with limited resources to having to deal with an abandoned sinking boat on our side of the estuary. As city manager, you have big picture issues down to the details.

On the changing economy’s impact on Alameda
Unfortunately, this is the fourth economic down cycle of my career. I’ve seen cities go through the impact of economic down cycles and it’s unfortunate when you have to adjust. We’re going through a process where we have to transition to a lower revenue base. We do have some positives in our favor: our largest single revenue source is property tax and, in general, a municipality with a large sales tax base, is hit harder and faster in an economic downturn. Cities that have property taxes as a larger portion of their general fund tend to see their revenues fall more slowly, but they are also slower to rebound when the economy picks up again.

Word to the wise
If people are wondering how to access or comment on city services, we do have an online service called Access Alameda that is a way to make requests or provide your compliments or concerns. Our residents can also watch the council meetings on streaming video at home during or after the meeting.

On the base redevelopment
I think eventually we will come to the point where the economy and our vision will come together for the development of the base. Both of them may have to change somewhat for it to be successful. It is a long-term project that is critical to Alameda’s well-being.

You can read all past featured Alamedans here.


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