County leaders start 2022 with new chairman, list to build on
The five members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors started their first meeting of 2022 on Tuesday with the selection of a new chairman to lead proceedings from the center dais and occasionally be the face of board at public events and government functions.
Supervisor Lloyd Pareira received unanimous approval from his colleagues to become that leader, and the torch was passed to him by Supervisor Daron McDaniel, who served as board chair during 2021.
However, before he stepped down, Supervisor McDaniel read off a highlight reel of accomplishments made during 2021, despite the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
McDaniel’s comments on the covid battle were particularly striking considering what the board has been though since the pandemic begin in March of 2020, and the current surge that continues to affect schools, businesses and social activities.
McDaniel said: “Our fight against COVID-19 in 2021 will extend into 2022; however, we have better tools now to combat the deadly disease that has tragically taken the lives of more than 700 residents. Through testing, vaccinations and other safety protocols, we have learned how to stem the spread of the disease. And we are not fighting the disease at the cost of our economy, or our children’s futures. We have seen what shutdowns can do to our economy, our children and the mental well-being of our neighbors. We have other options to push back on the COVID-19. Vaccines and testing options are wildly accessible.”
The supervisor urged resident who are in need of a vaccine, booster shot, or flu shot, to visit the website, MyTurn.ca.gov. Or for testing information, people can go to CountyOfMerced.com/coronavirus.
McDaniel called 2021 “another challenging year” and he highlighted several major projects that “continue to move forward thanks to our organization’s commitment to improve the community.”
He lauded the Campus Parkway project, saying “Segment 3” — the buildout of the expressway from Highway 140 to Yosemite Avenue — is about 80 percent complete. He added that the county paved 19 miles of road at a cost of nearly $6 million, or about $360,000 per mile — an always costly venture but supported by local Measure V funds and state SB1 monies.
The supervisor added that the county continues to actively “research funding” opportunities for the Atwater-Merced Expressway, that will someday connect Highway 99 to the Castle Commerce Center.
Speaking of Castle, McDaniel underlined the expansion of the TRC California self-driving car testing site at the former Air Force base, in addition to the Waymo autonomous driving research center. He said the growth is “making Merced County a focal point for advanced automotive research and innovation.”
The supervisor was speaking quickly through the list of accomplishments, but the Times was able to catch something else he said about Castle: “Furthermore,” McDaniel said, “Once Phase 1B of the Atwater-Merced Expressway project connects Highway 99 with Castle, there are plans in development at the former Air Force Base to create a future hub for goods, movement and manufacturing.”
In Merced, McDaniel praised last year’s opening of the county’s Navigation Center as a crucial step to curb homelessness in the region and get people housed. The center serves as a low-barrier emergency shelter with minimal restrictions, and includes “wrap-around” services from various local government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Funds continue to pour into the county for the fight against homelessness. Though not pulled for discussion at Monday’s meeting, it is noteworthy that the Board did vote to direct the Behavioral Health Department to make preparations and apply for millions of dollars from the state’s No Place Like Home Program. The grant funding is directed to permanent supportive housing for vulnerable populations in need of services, particularly mental health services.
Among the other things mentioned by McDaniel were the renovations going on to transform Planada’s Houlihan Park with new playground equipment, walkways and shaded areas.
More changes on the Board of Supervisors will happen at the end of February, when the new County Executive Officer — Raul Lomeli Mendez — takes over and current CEO Jim Brown steps down.
Mendez most recently served as the Assistant County Executive Officer for Stanislaus County. He is also a former city manager for the town of Hughson. He was the top candidate for the Merced County position following an extensive recruitment process.