Gateway to a ghost (down)town and other city council foibles
There is nothing quite as revolting as watching a land-use planning authority rejoice in the anticipation of spending millions in the taxes they're going to get from some commercial development project they just approved on a piece of dirt in the outskirts of their town. It's a wet dream.
In the case of the City of Merced, we have a city manager, Steve Carrigan, former director of economic development for bankrupt Stockton, who has more need for public-management redemption than most of the others, although Frank Quintero and Mike Conway, two of Carrigan's ethically challenged assistants, could use a little new luster, too.
That's why staff is so gung-ho about a development at the intersection of Mission and Highway 99, gateway to the Campus Parkway, which leads you know where!
In case you don't, it leads to UC Merced, who promised us a parkway, an open space corridor between the highway and the campus. But that was in the era of the promises and political corruption that produced what the president pro tem of the state Senate at the time, John Burton, D-SF, called "the worse boondoggle" he'd seen, to which Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters added "nothing but a land deal."
To remind us that the campus was nothing but a land deal, Bill Lyons, a large landowner in the vicinity of the project, appeared to lend his support to it. Some farmers have said the Bill Lyons bought his seat as secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture for the quarter of a million dollars he raised for former Gov. Gray Davis. He purchased his Merced land, including the old Tri-Valley cannery, soon after he lost his bid to turn his home place, the Mapes Ranch on SR 132 out of Modesto, into the site for the UC campus.
As you read through what the "master plan" for the project envisions, try for a moment to imagine what will happen to downtown Merced if this development is actually built. We grant Councilmember Jill McLoed, who represents the downtown, our Strawberry Jujube of the Month Award for her utter submission to male authority and her complete lack of imagination. Chalk it up to an academic background and years on the city Planning Commission. Apparently she thinks her job is to seek personal security in the city's authority structure and doesn't seem to have a clue about the political significance of the new district elections, at least not beyond her own ambition for status.
Later on is this week's council meeting, the issue of a "legislature platform" was raised. Whenever such obfuscatory language appears as the title of an item for council consideration, the public should either run for the hills or for the means of self-defense.
They want to hire a lobbyist. It's in the budget.
With the adoption on Monday, the council approved a new legislative director position.
As a lobbyist for the city, the employee would advocate in Sacramento and Washington D.C. to pull down state and federal funding, according to Stephanie Dietz, the assistant city manager. The job pays $103,000 to $125,000 a year to an employee expected to bring in $2 million in additional funding a year. -- Merced Sun-Star, 6-20-17
But they needed to decide what to tell the lobbyist that is planning to make all this money for the county something other than: "Go forth and find us more money." So they wrote a long "Legislative platform," about things the city is for and against, at least until any of the positions on the power point presentation conflict with a possible grant or loan.
Councilman Michael Belluomini objected to this, raised questions about it the staff answered with that snippy attitude staff gets when mere elected officials challenge their decisions and actions. Belluomini told them he wasn't going to vote for any of it. Staff mentioned that it -- whatever "it" actually is -- would only cost $20,000. Belluomini countered that any lobbyist he's ever heard of count several times that amount.
Then the mayor stepped in to support the staff by saying that he needed guidance on some things, aside from supporting UC Merced (and by extension the whole UC system whenever UC asks for support with letters carrying the imprimatur of the whole City of Merced). For example, Mayor Michael Murphy mentioned, he'd just received a request for a letter of support for the Temperance Flat Dam above the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River east of the City of Fresno. This would provide more "surface storage," the Holy Grail of agribusiness and developers, the Brethren of FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate special interests). It would also destroy the San Joaquin River Settlement, reached between a group of local, state and national environmental groups and the Friant Water Users Authority to allow enough water flow in the river to permit fish, specifically species of salmon to swim upriver across the river to the foot of the Friant Dam.
It raises a question: Do we give the mayor a free ride to hustle financial backing from agribusiness and Fresno developers for his future political ambitions; or should such "routine" expressions of support at least be aired publicly at council meetings? Does the City of Merced automatically support all surface-water projects, here, there, and everywhere?
Merced Gateway estimated to generate $30 million yearly in sales tax
By Thaddeus Miller
Dozens of retail stores, a housing project and hundreds of full-time jobs are headed to Merced after city leaders approved a massive project on the eastern edge of town, according to city leaders.
Merced Gateway is a 77-acre project that includes 600,000 square feet of retail space and 177 units of housing, according to plans. The developer said the project includes grocery, sporting goods and agricultural supply stores.
The City Council unanimously approved the environmental impact report and other land-use documents on Monday, freeing the developer up to begin building.
The developers said they plan to break ground sometime next year, according to city staffers. The center will go up in eight phases over five years.
“This retail center is a big win for our residents,” Mayor Mike Murphy said in a statement. “It will provide new retail, entertainment, housing, employment and dining options for Merced and the surrounding area.”
It’s estimated the center will generate $30 million a year in sales tax, according to city staffers.
Gateway is being developed on 77-acres of land that was part of the Pluim family dairy from 1928 through 1986, according to city leaders. The family joined with Sonora-based California Gold Development Corp. to form the development.
The project falls into Merced City Council District 1, which is overseen by Councilman Anthony Martinez. “This project will inject a new buzz into a community that has been ready for something like this for years,” he said in a statement.
The development team estimates the $150 million project will generate 800 construction jobs and 900 full-time jobs, and a $30-million payroll, according to Frank Quintero, Merced’s economic development director.
Planned are 17 retail stores, 10 restaurants, a movie theater and a fire station, records show.
“The face of retail and entertainment is in transition,” Quintero said. “Merced has an opportunity to develop a state of the art facility to serve our retail trade area.”
In 2015, the council approved two agreements with the developers of Merced Gateway and a consulting firm who plans the project at the northeast and northwest corners of Campus Parkway and Coffee Street.