Welcome to our first match-up in the third annual Strongest Town Competition! In this round, 16 towns are facing off and 8 will advance to the next segment of the contest based on your votes.

We invite you to read the answers that representatives from these two towns provided to questions about economic resilience, citizen involvement, land use and more, then vote for the strongest. Can't decide? Read commentaries by Strong Towns members to help inform you choice here.

Voting closes at 12pm CT on Friday, March 9.


Strong Town Photo- Twin Falls.jpg

Twin Falls, Idaho

Entry submitted by: Nathan Murray, Travis Rothweiler, Shawn Barigar, Nikki Boyd, Suzanne Hawkins, Greg Lanting, Chris Talkington, Ruth Pierce, Chris Reid, Jeff Fox, Brady Dickinson, Zeze Rwaswama, Rebecca Wildman, and Steve Irwin

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

To create an uninterrupted 10mi section of trail along the Snake River Canyon Rim, the Citizens of Twin Falls got together and privately raised over $600k for property acquisition and improvements and then deeded it for public use. The Magic Valley Trail Enhancement Committee was then formed and they plan to continue to raise funds, advocate for, and identify other potential projects where they can meet the public desire to become a more accessible community. Having an affinity for downtown, a group of citizens began to raise funds to improve an old fountain near the center of town. This attracted the interest of many clubs and service organizations, as well the the local redevelopment agency, and the project grew into the remodeling of a five block section of downtown along with the construction of a new 0.5 acre Downtown Commons. Of the total $6.5m project, $300k was funded with private donations.

 At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

Yearly, in the spring, the City of Twin Falls forms a long-term planning committee to prioritize new capital expenditures and make budgeting recommendations to the City Council for the next five year. Members of city staff, the public, school officials, and utility companies meet to talk about which projects are most needed, and what is the most meaningful way to spend public funds. We believe it is important for this diverse group of individuals to meet to break down silos and see how each other's organizations operate. Together, they are able to create what we believe is a budget touching many hands that receives a great deal of public scrutiny and insight. Each year they are able to put forth a truly long-term, comprehensive and balanced budget.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

Twin Falls is a city connected to water, with large agricultural tracts fed by a network of canals that sustain farms, interlaced with compact land-use patterns where people have homes, schools and commerce. The city has fairly open zoning practices that allows for a lot of mixed-use within neighborhoods. There is good balance with regulations to balance public access to canals and trails with private property rights. There are stunning views along the Snake River Canyon Rim and at the multiple falls. Each neighborhood as a unique identity reflective of the time in which it was built.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

Twin Falls is a growing micropolitan area that will most likely transition to an MSA following the 2020 census. Even though we do not currently have many of the obligations required by the federal government that come with being an MSA, we have begun to form teams to look at what additional requirements may exist when we achieve this coming status. Particularly when it comes to transportation we are focusing on ensuring that the City's sidewalks are walkable and safe, we've added nearly 26mi of new bike trails in the past three years, and we are developing partnerships to advocate for more paths and improved signage. When it comes to vehicle transportation, we are researching opportunities to fund the right public transportation systems for our population, working with state officials to convert large one-way highways that pass through our downtown back to two-way routes, and we are adopting code provisions to accommodate better design standards.

Twin Falls is a city that punches above its weight. It doesn’t just stand out among the small, rural communities in Idaho but it is also bucking the trend for rural communities nationally with its growth.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

Twin Falls is largely an agricultural based economy with food production and processing being our largest cluster. We are the United States' most diverse food baskets being a top 5 producing region for milk, sugarbeets, hay, hops, onions, trout, wheat, beans, cheese, peas, mint and of course potatoes. Ag has a strong multiplier effect with many other aspects of our local economy which includes research & development, logistics & distribution, packaging, and machinery & maintenance. Overtime, much of this industry has been adverse to recessions as people still need to eat. Together with the local college, our economic development team is looking to adapt workforce skills to meet future industry needs related to research and technology. Some of the more significant employers in town include Chobani Yogurt, Glanbia Nutritionals, Clif Bar, Lamb Weston, White Satin Sugar, Jayco Manufacturing and Hamilton Manufacturing. We are most proud of the local companies that helped form our town, that are still in business, including; Twin Falls Canal Company, Independent Meat, the Twin Falls Livestock Yards, and the local banks First Federal, DL Evans, and Farmers Bank.

What is your favorite thing about your town?

Twin Falls is a city that punches above its weight. It doesn't just stand out among the small, rural communities in Idaho but it is also bucking the trend for rural communities nationally with its growth. We are a refugee resettlement community, and have been since the early 1980's, and have a high number of persons of Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and North African decent for a town in rural Idaho. There is a unique spirit of pioneering adventure that permeates the town where people come with a variety of experiences to make there way and have a real impact on where they live.


San Bruno, California

Entry submitted by: Jeffrey Tong, Michael Salazar, and Adam Cozzette

How are residents in your town involved in the life of the community? Share a few examples of times when residents came together to work on a project or make decisions about the future of the town.

In 2010, San Bruno was the site of a gas pipeline explosion that claimed eight lives and destroyed dozens of houses. After the city won a settlement from the pipeline operator PG&E, the entire community came together through an extensive listening campaign to decide how to use the funds. The community voted overwhelmingly to build a new recreation center and to create the San Bruno Community Foundation, which now provides funding for scholarships and local organizations. Last year a loose group of concerned San Bruno residents also successfully fought back against a highway widening project on the edge of town.

At Strong Towns we believe that financial solvency is a prerequisite for longterm prosperity. What steps has your community taken to ensure its financial security? Do local leaders adequately do the math on new investments proposed in your town to ensure that theyll be able to afford them now and afford their maintenance in the future?

The City of San Bruno has been financially conservative in policy and practice for many years. Several years ago, the city council voted to create a series of reserve funds geared toward funding unforeseen disasters, major facility maintenance projects and economic downturns. All of these reserves are now fully funded. In addition, the city has always taken a cautious position in its developments--considering all the future operational costs of proposed projects. During the last economic downturn, the city removed some non-essential positions and has been slow to fill any non-essential vacancies. Last year, the city council rejected a proposal to widen Highway 35 on the edge of town, in large part out of recognition that it would merely induce greater demand, and therefore would not make sense as an investment.

If we took a walking tour through your town what would we see? How does your community use its land to the fullest?

Our city is roughly divided into two regions: the older development on the flat east side and the post-war auto-oriented development on the western, hilly side. On the east side we have a small but vibrant downtown concentrated along one traditional main street called San Mateo Avenue. It’s certainly not an upscale destination, but it’s home to an eclectic array of small businesses of all kinds. Along just a few blocks you can find Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Pacific Islander, Hawaiian, Italian, and Korean cuisine, and that’s not even a complete list. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote this about it: “There are few restaurant rows in the Bay Area as densely varied as this one in the heart of San Bruno.” We have one of very few kava bars in the Bay Area. In addition to the restaurant scene, our downtown has a leather craft shop, a Polynesian dance studio, several ethnic grocery stores, and much more. The whole street is walkable and connected to our CalTrain commuter rail station. We also have an amazing City Park with a pool, baseball field, and recreation center. On any weekend you can find the park filled with people enjoying being outside, and we have a popular Community Day in the Park event every year. 

Several years ago, the city council voted to create a series of reserve funds geared toward funding unforeseen disasters, major facility maintenance projects and economic downturns. All of these reserves are now fully funded.

At Strong Towns we believe transportation investments are a means to an end not an end in themselves. How is your city using transportation investments to make your community more successful?

Like many cities, San Bruno has prioritized automobiles for many years, to the detriment of safety for those who walk or bike. Fortunately, we have been taking steps to turn this around. In 2016 the city council approved the city’s first Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan, which was drafted with extensive input from the community. That same year we secured a grant to build our first ever protected bike lane, which will provide a safe bike connection between our CalTrain and BART stations, which are half a mile apart. One of the main routes through our city is a dangerous six-lane road called El Camino Real. It is difficult to change because it is considered a state highway and is managed by California’s Department of Transportation (CalTrans). However, we are trying to improve it wherever we can. The city recently proposed some curb extensions to make it easier for children to cross on the way to the library and school, but CalTrans rejected the proposal out of concern that this might slow down cars. The city has submitted a modified proposal that will hopefully allow us to implement some safety improvements.

Tell us about your community's local economy. Who are the key players big and small and how do they help your town to be financially strong? What local businesses are you most proud of?

San Bruno’s largest employers are YouTube and Walmart eCommerce, both of which have their main headquarters here. We have a number of smaller tech companies and startups as well, contributing to a strong tech industry presence in the city. San Bruno also has its fair share of car dealerships and big box stores. The downtown has a great diversity of businesses, many of them small and locally-owned. We are most proud of where our community college, Skyline College, has taken itself over the last fifty years. It created the Bay Area Entrepreneurial Center and put a satellite office downtown in order to reach out to the community. It redesigned the campus around a new student union and a quad, and created a center for sustainable construction

What is your favorite thing about your town?

San Bruno is one of few cities in the United States which has its own municipal internet service provider - San Bruno Cable. Many cities are fighting hard to achieve this, but we were lucky to have arrived in this situation mostly by historical accident. Not only is it a profitable business for the city, but it gives residents local control of our internet infrastructure, providing an alternative to the big TELCO monopolies. San Bruno Cable has recently started upgrading its older copper infrastructure to fiber at some of our denser housing complexes, and there is strong community support for eventually connecting the whole city with fiber. San Bruno is also where several regional trails come closest together, providing San Bruno and bay area residents with a wonderful opportunity to experience nature in their own backyard. San Bruno’s Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan includes a long-range proposal to connect them all together some day.


Voting is now closed.

Voting is weighted so that Strong Towns member votes account for half of each town's score and non-member votes account for the other half.

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