Merced City Council Meeting, October 6, 2014

Submitted: Oct 15, 2014
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

Mayor Stan Thurston opened the meeting by welcoming the audience to the "already August 6th" meeting of the council, but was reminded that it was October.

The pastor giving the Invocation told us that God loves Merced and holds us first in his mind and heart.

So, take that, Fresno!

After spending $181,000 of the committed $470,600 drilling for a municipal water well on the corner of E. Mission Avenue and Tyler Road, in an undeveloped area of the southern edge of town, the engineering firm of Luhdorff and Scalmanini Consulting Engineers, and two laboratories found that there was too much manganese in the water. Therefore, the issue before the council was whether to move the city-owned well site to the northern edge of town, on a corner of G Street and Bellevue Road, where development-interrupted-by-bankruptcy meets farmland. (1)

The South Merced well site is called Well Site #20. It is on the wrong side of the tracks. The North Merced well site in called Well Site #21. It is on the right side of the tracks.

The council discussed transferring the balance of the $470,600 to the North Merced site.

Councilman Mike Murphy said that it was "unfortunate" about the manganese and that it would have cost the city $1,000,000 in filtering equipment to bring down the manganese to legal limits, plus $100,000 a year to maintain the equipment.

However, he went on, G and Bellevue is a "Prime Corner!"

He asked where the city's water wells were located and noted that staff, not the city council, has chosen the sites/

"You can do some creative things with a plot this size," he said. "Look at Chipotle."

(Chipotle is located in an abandoned Blockbuster Video site at one corner of the Merced Mall complex, 3/4 mile of shops two blocks deep on the main shopping corridor in town.)

He noted that there was a well "behind Relays," somewhat out of site and opined that places like that would be better than the allegedly prime location of Well Site #21.

Councilman Michael Belluomini, returning to duty after two missed meetings, said he had hoped that the development of Well Site #20 would stimulate development of that area, including "Park #42 and soccer fields."

A staff member assured the councilman that the necessary pipes would still be installed for the park and that Well Site #20 would add more water to the whole system.

Belluomini cross-examined the staffer on when the piping would be done. The planning will be done by mid-2015, the staffer said. Will there be sufficient water pressure and volume of water in that area. (Belluomini has apparently never been down to the wrong side of the tracks after a good rain.) The staffer reassured him that it was the lowest part of the city and would have good pressure and adequate volume.

Councilman Tony Dossetti wanted City Manager John Bramble to know that the council should be consulted on well site. Otherwise, it could hinder commercial development and job creation.

(A candidate for a seat on the County Board of Supervisors, almost every time Dossetti opens his mouth, he proves he is shrewd enough to be an overpaid Merced County supervisor and get another pension/benefit package on top of the one for being the police chief of Merced.)

Councilman Noah Lor asked if there were Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power lines above the city's plot on the corner of Bellevue Road and G Street.

Staff affirmed.

Lor conjectured that it probably wasn't a proper place for other businesses.

Staff said the PG&E easement didn't cover the area on the plot where the well would be drilled.

Mayor Thurston said the whole council agreed that it should be consulted on the siting of wells. In other words, this is an opportunity for the council to beat up on staff, therefore the "discussion" develops a momentum of its own.

City Manager Bramble said that the site locations are usually developed in the water master plan. He apologizes for not having been aware that the site was donated by a developer for a well site.

Councilman Lor moved to approve the transfer of funds from Well Site #21 to Well Site #20.

Councilman Murphy asked if that would continue development of Well Site #21.

Bramble affirmed.

Murphy said that a more appropriate time would be when the water master plan was being considered.

Bramble reiterated that the land has a power-line easement and limited access, in fact some of the same issues that corners on Olive Ave., R and N streets have (for example, the Chipotle site).

Murphy replied that there was a difference of opinion between staff and the council and the public on the use of corners. "Some staff don't want retail on corners. I believe they are prime sites for retail.

The staffer. who had given the presentation and was still standing at the public podium, said that the land was donated to the city for public use, then clarified his comment by saying, "I'm just trying to follow the conversation."

Councilman Lor said that the power lines make the plot bad for commercial development and moves the motion.

After the briefest of pauses, Mayor Thurston rushed to say that the motion failed for lack of a second.

Councilman Belluomini said he'd second the motion "for the purposes of discussion."

Mayor Thurston said, "You don't have to do that."

"But I did," the councilman replied.  

Belluomini interrogates the staffer about the power lines and concludes that three acres of the site could be developed.

But, said the staffer, the land is dedicated for the public purpose of a well site.

Councilmen appealed to the Assistant City Counsel, Christina Talley, for a ruling. Talley replied that the land could not be developed for commercial purposes. In event of such a plan, the land would revert to the developer.

Councilman Murphy asks, rhetorically, what is better for the city: commercial development or a well? Giving it back or holding on to it? "I'd like a conversation on it," he said.

Mayor Thurston wondered out loud, "What if all three acres aren't needed for a well?"

Assistant City Council Talley was not ready for an answer on that, but reiterated that what she had seen indicated that the entire property was reserved for a well.

City Manager Bramble tried to divert the children by mentioning that there were two other corners at the crossing that were tremendous opportunities for commercial development. He offered to bring back the Well #21 issue for more conversation.

"If you want to have the conversation, we're not afraid of it," he added.

Thurston asked if the owner was still around. Bramble that all that property had changed hands several times. Thurston wondered if the current owner might want to trade. Bramble noted that residential development backs up to the property, which would raise the issue of resistance from residents.

Thurston shot back, 'I don't think we know that," and called for the vote.

The motion       failed. Voting No were Murphy, Thurston, Pedrozo, Dossetti, and Blake. The Yes votes were Belluomini and Lor.

Thurston then invited Murphy to bring another motion. Murphy moved to bring back the measure with some staff recommendations for other sites.

The measure passed unanimously.

 

The next item was called the Supplemental Appropriation for Matching Grant Funds for High Speed Rail Station Planning Grant. (2)

The city manager explained that the purpose of the request was to establish a source of local match funding for a $600,000 grant from the California High Speed Railway Authority and the Federal Railway Administration. The 2008 Prop. 1 for CHSRA included a station in Merced. Local matching funds were to come from Redevelopment Agency funds. Subsequently, the governor and Legislature took away the RDA and still retain what money Merced will recover from the termination of RDAs. The federal Housing and Urban Development thought Merced might be able to use funds from the Community Sustainable Planning Grant, but it proved to be wrong about that. Evidently, planning for the Bellevue Corridor took 75 percent of those funds anyway, Bramble explained, therefore the city has been using its own funds ever since for station-planning activities. He thought some funds might come from the Programmatic Climate Action Plan, but described it as "iffy."

"We have $600,000 looking for matching funds," he said. A committee is being formed composed of MCAG, the chambers of commerce, the BUS, Merced County, and staff from UC Merced and Merced College.

The plan, regardless of who funds it, has "deliverables," (jargon for what the objects of the plan must have). It has to make a plan for 15th and 16th streets around MLKJr. Street, bearing in mind that another station for the Altamont Commuter Express will be built nearby. A downtown plan must also be done, one that involves extensive redesign of the area.

Bramble said that the city staff has identified $200,000 from the sale of the Pepsi building (plus insurance), that would normally go for improvements in the airport industrial area. In any event, it would match the $400,000 from, the feds plus $200,000 from the state.

Councilman Belluomini remarked that he didn't think that money could be used for city general fund purposes. Bramble agreed, but said it could be used that way.

Councilman Murphy stated that the funds from the sale and insurance, more than $1.2 million, were "unrestricted funds ... like any other one-time sale."

The students, wearing #iwillridehsr T-shirts, blurted short, canned messages in favor of the HSR project. It turns out that #iwillridehsr is a campaign emanating from 1020 16th St., Suite 44, in Sacramento, the offices of a national "active transportation" lobbying operation, the fiefdom of one Justin Fanslau, a political consultant. (3)

Another speaker said it was a bad idea and that these unrestricted funds would be better spent on local public safety projects.

Mayor Thurston said that many in town say that the high speed rail project is a boondoggle, but if money is available, "we should get ours." He added, expressing his personal opposition to the HSR, that 52 percent of the California public in a recent poll said they would stop it (if only they could). He added that it is a $75-80-billion project that will serve 4 percent of the population.

"That's way too much. A fraction of that would update Amtrak," the Mayor said. He said that he'd noticed that the scope of work for the planning grant required developing a new zoning code for the entire city. Why was that if development will only occur around the station area.

Bramble replied, unsatisfactorily (at least to the public), that the zoning-code changes were a "match" for the HSR grant, which requires a land-use study for the station area.

Thurston replied that he was on that committee and that it is contemplating a whole new grid for the downtown area, which, he thought, would trigger a CEQA review of the General Plan.

"It might be a good time to talk about Parsons Avenue again," he added.

(We wonder why the mayor and the city manager don't get this feud settled, "with gun, knives or lawsuits," as the developers say.)

Thurston also objected to the characterization in the grant of the area south of the station site as "an environmental-justice challenged area." He read the EPA definition of such places and asked where the chemical landfill was. There isn't one, he said.

The station will cause a large disturbance in the area and it will replace the people and homes that are here with a "vibrant commercial area," he said. "In other words, it will be gentrified...People on Colony Lane are already worried about when the bulldozers are coming.

"And all this massive economic growth is unproven," he said, citing the example of Japan, where commercial growth around the stations grew at about the same rate as the rest of the economy.

"I would hate to see lots of homes disappear for years and not be replaced by anything," the mayor said. "All this area will be subject to the new zoning code...our city should not be replacing lower income people.

Councilman Murphy recounted his record on the project (presumably somebody needed to hear this). When the project was to cost $100 billion, he opposed it. When they revised the budget, he supported HSR. He said the city made a finding that only RDA funds would be used for the project, but the state took the RDA funds away. Now we have these funds (from the Pepsi-building sale) that are unrestricted -- could be used for anything.

Meanwhile, Murphy continued, Fresno is ahead of Merced in his planning and funding.

(For those of you reading this who do not live in the Valley, let us explain what such a comment that appears innocuous in print actually means in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains eight counties, each with its own county seat, all of whose leaders exist in a state of perpetual anxiety and outrage that one county seat might get the jump on one or more of the others. Murphy just placed the cold, clammy hand of FEAR on the hearts of his colleagues.)

Fresno, he explained, has a $1-million matching grant, but $900,000 of that is "coming from the outside." Even the last $100,000 is coming from the Fresno Council of Governments (COG).

Murphy concluded that he would wear the T-shirt distributed by the "active transportation" lobbyists, but suggested another, "#SacramentorobbedusofRDAfunds." He didn't like the idea of using city general funds for this purpose. "This price tag doesn't work for me," he said.

Councilman Lor said the station would bring business opportunities to downtown and the Mission Interchange area. He put up a motion to approve the funding.

Councilman Pedrozo said he understood Murphy's concerns.

(When Pedrozo says he "understands" another point of view, he is already pulling out his hammer out.)

But, the RDA funds are not coming back, he said. We signed on and we have to hang in there and take advantage of the opportunities.  He said that using the funds for public safety "just doesn't work for me."

He said he felt that good planning, such as was represented by this grant, would help let everyone know what the plan was, so that they would know when their house was to be bulldozed down. He offered to second Lor's motion if it was still on the table.

Mayor Thurston said, "We'll get back to that." Then he asked Bramble if the city was going to get any money back from the state from its RDA funds. Bramble affirmed that the city would, but that it would be under a different name.

Thurston said to put a proviso in the motion that the first $200,000 of the RDA money paid back to the city go into the airport industrial-development fund to replace the money being voted on to match the HSR grant.

Pedrozo asked if he meant to backfill it. Thurston affirmed.

Murphy asked if this was "taking out a loan."

Thurston said it would be put back in the industrial park-development fund.

Both Lor and Pedrozo agreed to include the proviso.

But then we were transported into the Land of Nod by a blast of hot air from Councilman Dossetti, who wished to make it perfectly clear that local government, business, organizations, associations and groups have input "for every aspect of this station."

(Members of the Badlands Journal editorial board who represent several environmental organizations headquartered in the City of Merced, were actually thrown out of a public meeting of the local HSR "committee" held in the Sam Pipes Room at Merced City Hall. Dossetti was still the police chief then.)

Nevertheless, Thurston adamantly climbs on this Train to Nowhere, saying, "This can't just be a show with posters in a room. These people have to understand they will lose their homes."

(And it will be local police and sheriff's deputies that evict them. But Hypocrisy of the council will be served. All the right noises will have been made. Because, if they aren't, maybe Fresno will get that money that belongs to Merced.)

Councilman Belluomini requests that Elizabeth Johnson, a regional spokesperson for the California High Speed Rail Authority, answer some questions from the council.

Councilman Murphy asks Johnson  how far ahead of Merced Fresno actually is. Johnson replies that the HSRA is now grubbing and geo-teching the line from Madera to Fresno and are still "various" years away from Merced.

("Various" didn't seem to bother the council at all, but Badlands, forever behind on the latest jargon of the CHSRA or UC Merced, etc. absolutely could make no sense of the usage of the word. Did she mean, years of various lengths, various colors, various but not necessarily sequential numbers, various languages, various amounts of water, various agricultural prices.

VARIOUS WHATS? There is enough room in that word for a whole generation of weasels to amble through at a slow walk.)

Johnson went on to say that at the moment and for some time in the future the HSR will be going south, at least as far as Bakersfield, then "we'll see if we go north.

(It's real cool to build it from Nowhere south of Merced to Bakersfield, and even to do some construction in Southern California, but how are they planning to get over the Tehachapis. We can only assume by various means.)

Mayor Thurston interjected, saying that "it will be years before we are looking at our own footprint."

Councilman Murphy wanted to know where the money would come from, since Sacramento has not yet figured out what it owes Merced for the RDA funds it took away.

Is it really "prudent," the Mayor Common Sense asked, "to plan for something in 2929? Too much will change before then."

Councilman Lor, Champion of the HSR System, replied that Merced -- don't forget -- is also a competitor for the maintenance station at the former Castle Air Force base, and if we don't spend these matching funds on this planning grant and plan, well ... his voice trailed off ominously.

Thurston made short work of that: the maintenance station won't be built until the northern section is complete and who knows when that will be. "I'm with Councilman Murphy on this one," he said.

Councilman Dossetti mentions another report that declares that Merced will be linked with the San Fernando Valley by 2022. If Merced doesn't start paying attention to HSR, HSR will start paying attention to a "Y" route to Pacheco Pass that will bypass Merced.

"Whether it happens or not, I want to be at the table," sez Dossetti. "It will bring jobs."

Councilman Pedrozo said, "So if we aren't proactive, we'll lose the money."

(We thought they ought to work on becoming proactive various, a few more arrows in the quiver, bullets in the gun, buns in the oven, etc.)

Councilman Belluomini noted that all this money was going to come from the city's industrial development fund. He reminded the council that he'd spent "a great deal of last year" trying to secure funding for the Campus Parkway industrial area.

If we understand the tendentious Mr. Belluomini correctly, he said that if the council was spending on this planning grant it could also spend some money on promoting the Campus Parkway University Industrial Park.

(By gum!)

Ms. Johnson of HSR said she couldn't answer that question.

Thurston muttered something about political connections and Murphy said he was supporting of the HSR but not by these means.

Councilman Kevin "Seldom Heard" Blake reiterated the local horror, that if the council didn't vote for this expenditure and continue to delay, we might jeopardize some deadline.

(Badlands no longer identifies HRS deadlines by date because of the various years involved.)

Pedrozo goes into a paroxysm of clichés about the ghastly fate awaiting those who are not proactive and cut their noses off to spite their faces and ignore chances to really get out in front of this to tell the community what we're doing.

("Sorry. We're going to bulldoze your house down because if we don't, the HSR won't even come to Merced, which would be the end of the world, speaking various and all.")

Mayor Thurston (Pedrozo is only the vice mayor) noted that the whole HSR project is losing support, that its original purpose to take pressure off SF-LA air flights by putting a bullet train down I-5 has been perverted by county-seat cannibalism (our words, not his) and destruction of farmland, that was not originally anticipated. However, he added that there was never a HSR segment anticipated for Merced to Sacramento, a pretty good subtle dig at the political ambitions of Vice Mayor Josh Pedrozo, who seems to have little else between his ears than some sort of version of what he thinks state Democrats want him to say.

However, in classic fashion, Thurston concluded, "I'll hold my nose and vote for this."

(What is one to make of this? Probably, that Thurston has more respect for his opinions than he does for his votes, clearly the opposite of his opinions.)

Lor and Murphy both stated their opinions straightforwardly and voted accordingly.

It passed 6-1, Murphy voting No.

City Manager Bramble promised to look into the Fresno situation before the next meeting.

The sounds of Fresno's fiscal clodhoppers disappearing south with all the money disappeared as the council took up the issue of the educational material to be distributed before ... what the Associated Press calls "Election Day. The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November." (4) (5) Mayor Thurston described the "verbiage on creating an equal number of districts," but noted it contained some contradictions. He challenged the members of the committee who wrote the "verbiage" on what they meant by "geographical diversity."

Councilman Murphy, who, like Councilman Belluomini, is a member of the district-elections committee, said that it meant that future council members would be geographically diverse.

Thurston questioned Murphy, without actually saying, "Come on, we all know what you really mean."

Murphy defined geographical diversity as meaning that they will all live in different parts of the city.

The mayor called that answer "silly. It creates confusion ... diversity means ethnic diversity."

Murphy replied that "diversity has diverse meanings."

(He might as well have said "various meanings.")

Murphy added that he was fine with Berkeley's language. Thurston replied that originally the committee wanted "guaranteed" districts.

Councilman Dossetti mentioned that Turlock city government had made its citizens angry by the way it mailed out the "educational material" on district elections.

City Manager Bramble said that Merced was using a format approved by an organization of cities and everything was being reviewed by the city counsel's office.

This set the stage for Council Michael "The Tendentious" Belluomini to bring up his gripe: that the educational leaflet lacked "clear communication" regarding how often and when council members are elected. Belluomini made no bones about being opposed to the whole idea of district elections and was obviously continuing to make a stink out of the fact that it was "not clear communication" to say the council members were elected every four years without also saying that council terms are staggered so that half the districts will vote for council candidates on one Election Day, and half will vote for their council members on the Election Day two years later.

He said that he had written it clearly and was passing out the language to other council members.

He also wished it clarified that the "size" of the district meant the size of the population in the district, not its geographical size.

(Obviously, the geographical size would be "various.")

Belluomini also raised the issue of what is to become the new, de facto barrier between North and South Merced, the BSF railroad tracks or Bear Creek.

The proximity of the two east-west corridors is "wrong," he said. "See the map." 

He reiterated his proper "clear communication" regarding election timing and passed out The Belluomini Version.

Councilman Pedrozo immediately stated that he understood what Belluomini meant, then showed that he -- unlike Belluomini -- knew that "the middle of town" is Bear Creek, not the BNSF tracks. Always the pedagogue, Pedrozo put the issue in perspective for Belluomini by saying, "Geographical diversity makes perfect sense, but it can be confusing."

When coupled with Murphy on the diversity of diversity, clear communication most certainly took place.

(Dude, things are getting various-er and various-er.)

Belluomini was not finished. He wished the election to be called the "regular election" instead of whatever was in the draft of educational material on Merced's city voting districts.

Thurston muttered on about "geographical diversity?"

Belluomini suggested "geographical distribution."

Murphy agreed with this verbiage.

Thurston said it's still "pretty obvious" what is meant.

City Manager Bramble said -- presumably to avoid "the Turlock Problem: -- that he was going to mail the material to all registered voters.

Assistant City Attorney Talley wanted the candidates to "live" in the district. Thurston suggested "reside." Agreed.

Ms. Talley wanted to clarify that the committee on district elections will be selected by the council but the council will decide on the district boundaries.

Belluomini returned again to the possible confusion on the timing of voting among the districts. He suggested that the indefinite article, "a" replace "each" before "districts." This was accepted.

Thurston said that it would be talked about in other areas of the educational leaflet.

To conclude, there was a short conversation between Murphy and Bramble regarding Murphy's suggestion that voters that receive absentee ballots should receive the material earlier than those will vote at their precinct polling places.

The Badlands Journal Prize for Merciful Brevity went to Councilman Blake. -- blj 

 

 

 

ATTACHMENTS:

Address of City of Merced agenda website: http://agendapublic.cityofmerced.org/ (we include this address because some staff reports can be copies, others can't be, just another municipal mystery.-- blj)

(1) Agenda Item:J.1

Meeting Date:10/6/2014

ADMINISTRATIVE REPORT

 

 

 

 

TO: City Manager

FROM: Joseph D. Angulo, Environmental Project Manager

DATE: 09/22/2014

SUBJECT: First Amendment to Agreement for Professional Services with Luhdorff and Scalmanini Consulting Engineers for Well Site Design Services (Project No. 113026)

REPORT IN BRIEF

Consider authorizing an amendment to an agreement for new municipal well design services in the amount of $94,146.

RECOMMENDATION:

City Council - Adopt a motion:

 A. Approving the First Amendment to Professional Services Agreement with Luhdorff and Scalmanini Consulting Engineers in the amount of $94,146 for engineering design services; and,  

B. Authorizing a transfer of $284,000 from the balance of the existing Luhdorff backwash tanks and pumps. Preliminary estimates indicate that design, pilot testing and construction would add approximately $1,000,000 to the Well 20 project costs. In addition, once the system is installed there will be annual operation and maintenance costs of up to $100,000 per year.

Existing Contract Status

The Luhdorff and Scalmanini January 2014 contract includes:

1) Evaluating current conditions at the well site

2) Installing a test boring and performing aquifer testing

3) Preparing a well summary report

4) Preparation of Plans, Specifications and Engineer’s Opinion of Cost for the construction of a well, pump station and pipeline

 5) Performing bidding and construction oversight management The first three items have been completed and project work has ceased due to the water quality issues discussed above. Their fee proposal for completing the proposal under consideration includes the same five tasks identified above with the exclusion of the new loop pipeline at the Community Park 42/Well 20 site that will be installed at a future date. The $284,000 from the existing contract balance, with the proposed $94,146 amendment under consideration, will bring the design services total for the new Well 21 site to $378,146. This is less than the original contract for the Well 20 site design because a main water pipeline connecting to the existing City water system is already in place at the Well 21 site in the Bellevue Ranch development.

Staff will request authorization from the City Council at a future date to award the 1) well construction contract, and 2) pump station construction contract.

History and Past Actions:

On February 2, 2004, the City Council adopted Resolution No. 2004-24 approving the final subdivision map for “Bellevue Ranch East Village 16” and accepting lot “W2” for well site purposes on behalf of the public. On January 3, 2012, the City Council adopted the Merced Vision 2030 General Plan. Chapter 5, Section 5.2.3 of the Merced Vision 2030 General Plan includes the following provision- “Through the Capital Improvement Program, the City plans to increase water wells to match the requirements of development, generally one well per square mile.”

Budget/Appropriate Action:

Fund 556-Restricted Water Wells Enterprise Fund, Account No. 556-1118-637.65-00, Capital Improvement Project No. 113026 - Water Well 21 has a sufficient balance to fund this engineering design services work. No additional appropriation is necessary. Fund 556-Restricted Water Wells Enterprise Fund is not general fund supported.

Respectfully Submitted, Reviewed,

Joseph D. Angulo, Environmental

Project Manager

Ken F. Elwin, City Engineer; Michael

Wegley, Public Works Director, Water

Resources, Reclamation and Aviation

Approved By,

John M. Bramble, City Manager

 

(2)  October 6, 2014

Merced City Council Agenda

Agenda Item J.2: Not possible to copy report. See website address above.

 

(3) AdvoCycle

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(4) Agenda Item K-1. Not possible to copy report. See website address above.

(5)  10-12-14

Merced Sun-Star

Voters to decide on districts in Merced

 

 http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2014/10/12/3898620_voters-to-decide-on-districts.html?sp=/99/100/&rh=1

Voters will decide next month whether to chop Merced up into districts or chance a legal battle over the California Voting Rights Act

A “yes” vote on Measure T would change Merced’s at-large voting system, one in which local elections are decided by a citywide vote, to a system with districts.

In April, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said the citywide vote, called an at-large system, does not meet the standard set by the Voting Rights Act.

The group sent a letter threatening to sue the city if leaders did not make the move toward districts. Other cities in the state have faced legal battles and have paid out millions of dollars to plaintiffs, who can ask the court to force cities to pay their legal costs.

Though Merced has a Latino population of 49 percent, no member of the City Council is of Latino descent. The 2013 local election drew council hopefuls who fit that demographic, but none won a seat, with the highest vote-getter receiving 9.6 percent of the vote. The three winners of that election got 15.8 percent or higher.

All six councilmen also live north of Bear Creek. The city agreed to a settlement with MALDEF that the districts would use the Santa Fe railroad tracks as a boundary that would split the city in half.

The Merced City Council unanimously approved putting the decision up to the voters. The mayor and five of the six councilmen signed off on an argument that will appear on the November ballot for the switch away from at-large system.

The written argument says a system using districts will bring down the cost of running an election, which would allow for a greater number of candidates. The candidates would need to reach an estimated 13,500 people in a district, rather than the city’s more than 80,000 residents.

Also, it argues, representatives must live in the district and therefore each district gets equal representation.

Councilman Michael Belluomini, who approved putting the vote on the ballot, wrote a dissenting opinion. He has said he supports the switch to districts, but wants the city to pursue three districts, each with two council seats.

He said voting “no” will give the city a chance to pursue the three-district option, which is worth pursuing even if threatened by the civil rights lawsuit. Three districts would keep each voter involved every election rather than every other election, he said, because each district would have two representatives.

Three districts, he said, also lowers the chance that a district would draw no candidate.

Also making a decision on districts this November are Los Banos and Turlock. They join other cities up and down the state looking to avoid a court battle.

According to numbers from the League of California Cities conference last month, those who have fought the move to districts have racked up attorneys’ fees paid to the plaintiff. Anaheim’s bill was $1.2 million, Modesto’s was $3 million and Palmdale is appealing its $3.5 million bill.

This month the council approved a flier that will be mailed out to voters in an effort to educate them on what is at stake. The League of Women Voters of Merced County plans a 90-minute informational meeting on the measure at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at City Hall, 678 W. 18th St., according to its website, www.lwvmercedco.org.

The council also approved paying to televise that meeting.

 

 

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