Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tending The City Like An Orchard

Tending The City Like An Orchard
McCue Guides Vallejo Development
By J.M. BROWN/Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

AN AERIAL PHOTO of Mare Island, one of several redevelopment projects she oversees, is displayed on the wall of Susan McCues office. She is Vallejo's economic development director. (J.M. Brown/Times-Herald)

When Susan McCue's hands aren't buried in Vallejo redevelopment projects, they're buried in soil, planting trees on her old orchard in the country.
The ever-cheery McCue, who became Vallejo's economic development director five months ago, likes to breathe life into old things.

Her favorite saying, attributed to 20th century labor leader Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, is: "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."

The 54-year-old McCue embodies that philosophy every weekend at her apple farm in Sebastopol, where she is restoring the orchard. "I'm planting new trees and bringing back the old guys," she said.

The Long Beach native, who lives in Berkeley during the week, has guided economic de-velopment all over the Bay Area. Before taking the Vallejo job in October, she worked in Martinez, Santa Rosa and Union City.

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder said McCue left a big footprint in his town, which had over the years lost critical mass downtown to larger cities in the county, like Walnut Creek.

But by bringing more businesses downtown, creating an activities banner and helping to plan a new cabaret theater, McCue was just the kind of "cheerleader" his city needed, Schroder said.

"I don't think anyone could not like her," Schroder said. "She's always got a smile on her face. She looks toward the positive of any problem."

McCue, who grew up in Marin County, said she fell in love with Vallejo on her first visit, immediately seeing the potential for urban renewal with projects afoot for the downtown, waterfront and Mare Island.

"What a pretty place Vallejo is - the water, lots of trees and the architecture," she said during an interview in her sunny City Hall office overlooking the library. "And the people are so friendly."

Her goal for Vallejo, she said, is to market its potential for investment by attracting new retailers to generate more sales tax.

The city has room enough to support both "smart growth," like the mixed-use redevelopment project downtown, and large, corporate retailers closer to the freeway, she said. "Vallejo can accommodate the best of both," she said.

So far, she's made a good impression on downtown business advocates by being an approachable, good listener.

"She is very active and wants to learn about the city and the issues facing it," Vallejo Main Street president Robert Brise o said. "She's not saying, 'I know how to fix it.' She's saying, 'I have some ideas, but let me hear what your thoughts are and we can create a longer-term plan.' "

E-mail J.M. Brown at or call 553-6834.

Susan McCue

Age: 54

Hometown: Long Beach, lives in Berkeley.

Occupation: Vallejo economic development director

Special interests: Working in her apple orchard in Sebastopol

Quote: "What a pretty place Vallejo is - the water, lots of trees and the architecture. And the people are so friendly."

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