New Fire Chief Paul Tualla attends, started Nov. 1; Acting Chief Reyna honored
During their meeting on November 2, 2022, the Los Banos City Council approved the Urban Forest Management Plan and received updates on recycled water and the rebranded Pioneer Road Complete Street Project.
In addition, new Fire Chief Paul Tualla was in attendance. He started in his new position the day before replacing retired chief Mason Hurley. In the interim, Police Commander Ray Reyna served as Acting Fire Chief and was honored for his service at the meeting by representatives of the Los Banos Fire Department. Captain Daniel Freeman said, “he showed up at the fire station and immediately started having a positive impact on our crew’s morale…He committed to our fire department 100%, not only professionally but personally.”
In a post on the LB Police Department Facebook page they also honored Reyna writing, “During his time, the Commander improved radio operations and helped manage the day-to-day operations of the Department. LBPD is very proud of Commander Reyna. He knew this was a challenging assignment; but like he always does, he leads with courage and compassion. And, we had no doubt he’d do fantastic…and he did! The Commander is an asset to our community. Great work Commander!”
The meeting began with the approval of two proclamations honoring Veterans Day and recognizing Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Shortly after the floor was opened to the public.
Homelessness Focus of Public Forum
The public forum portion of the meeting was largely dominated by conversations around homelessness. Once again, two members of the public spoke about the homeless encampment near the Rancho Mobile Home Park. One resident stated that they saw a man running around naked near children and claimed that racism was the reason the council hasn’t helped them. A representative from the Merced County Rescue Mission offered resources to assist Los Banos with the homeless crisis. Two other members of the public spoke to the humanity of the homeless and one being formerly homeless, reminded people that they are people too. They said that they regularly visit the homeless and that they are not the dangerous monsters they are being portrayed to be by others.
Approve Urban Forest Management Plan
The council unanimously voted to approve the urban forestation plan, which has the ambitious goal of increasing the tree canopy in the city by 30% by 2040. According to the staff presentation on the item, the Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) “is a guide to maintain, protect. and enhance Los Banos’ extensive tree canopy cover resource and the multitude of associated benefits. The…plan extends beyond maintenance and operational guidance to include a variety of long-term goals, strategies, and priorities to achieve optimal levels of urban forest management. sustainability, and equity in a comprehensive and systematic manner. Achieving the goals set forth in this plan requires a shared commitment and partnership between the City and its community to sustain a thriving urban forest providing benefits to Los Banos’ environment, economy, and well-being for future generations.”
Pioneer Road Improvement Project Moves Forward
The rebranded Pioneer Road Complete Street Project is still underway but is in the early stages. Currently it is in Phase 2, which is the environmental impact phase. The plan, approved by the city council about two years ago, adds traffic lights, landscaping, bike ways, and walkways on Pioneer Road as well as widening the road to two lanes and four lanes in one section. The original plan was to make the entire strip a four-lane road, but due to a lack of funds it is being downgraded to two. It was also mentioned that the city does not currently have enough funding to complete this project. According to the slide presentation the project is not expected to be completed until 2045.
There was a great deal of discussion about water as the council received an update on the city’s recycled water efforts. Currently the city is in an “overdraft” state, meaning it is using more water than it technically has likely due to the growing population. One possible solution that was proposed by the Interim City Manager Greg Wellman was to merge with the Grassland Water District and do it in a way that would be a “win-win” situation for both.
Wellman shared some interesting things while discussing the water issue and how a better water treatment plant is necessary but expensive. He remarked that he didn’t initially believe that Los Banos had any debt, but it was proven to him that the city does. Wellman said that he can’t think of any other district where they are not in debt.
(Side note: That was interesting to this reporter because it’s been reported our city has a large surplus, many of our politicians have campaigned on the idea of protecting the surplus and the idea of going into debt is almost unthinkable in our local politics. But from this conversation it sounded like taking on debt in order to keep up with growth and infrastructure is normal, and what Los Banos does is not.)
Other Council Action
In other council action the off-sale of beer and wine for a new commercial center was approved. A gas station, convenience store and drive through restaurant are planned at Ward Road and E. Pacheco Blvd. The Cali Chicks will serve fried chicken and a Rare Earth Coffee shop will be located next door. The project will also include a privately maintained dog park known as. (See related article)
Five-Year Landscaping Contract Out for Bid
The city’s current contract with Ronny’s Landscaping is about to expire. A request for proposal (RFP) is being issued to allow contractors to bid for the contract to meet the city’s maintenance needs for the next five years. The landscaping is funded by the general fund and assessments from the city’s lighting districts.
Lewis Asks for Help on Homeless Issue
District 4 Councilwoman Deborah Lewis spoke at some length about the homeless crisis by Rancho Mobile Home Park. She pleaded to the council to try and come up with a solution to the problem. The issue has come up at several meetings and the difficulty is that Los Banos lacks the money and resources by itself to house the homeless. That however, as Lewis pointed out, only works for the homeless that want to be housed. For those who don’t they need a place to go. At a previous meeting the areas in where the city could move the homeless too were all in downtown and not ideal locations.
Just last week, Governor Newsom announced he had rejected plans by all cities in the state for dealing with the homeless crisis, called for more aggressive action and paused the latest round of state funding.
The next council meeting will be held Wednesday, November 16.
Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.