Merced County Times Newspaper
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County moves to consolidate permitting into one department

Merced County leaders took another step this week to refine their “one-stop shop” concept for those people and businesses with development goals in the unincorporated areas of this region.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed on Tuesday to consolidate the permitting activity of Planning, Fire and Public Works / Building within the responsibilities of the county’s Community and Economic Development Department (CED).

Meanwhile, county staff members are continuing to review the possibility of including Environmental Health permitting in the same consolidation plan.

“I’m excited that we are taking this huge step,” said Supervisor Scott Silveira, who was credited with bringing attention to some needed changes in the county’s permitting process. “As a county supervisor, when we get constituent calls, it’s going to be nice to be able to make one phone call to one department head and say ‘Hey, these are what the issues are,’ and then those issues can be addressed, versus having to call three or four different departments.

To be clear, in recent years the Board of Supervisors have taken a number of steps to create a “one-stop” concept for permitting, including: the colocation of personnel on the second floor of the County Administration building, the investment in permit tracking software, and the creation of a development services coordinator position, to name a few.

However, the multiple organizations involved with permitting were operating without a “single point of responsibility.” Or as Supervisor Silveira put it: The point of contact people were “answering to different bosses.”

County CEO Jim Brown admitted candidly: “If we are honest with ourselves, this has led to some inconsistency, miscommunication and at times lack of accountability — not often — but it has led to these things at times.”

Mark Hendrickson, the director of Economic Development, touted the reorganization plan as a way to improve customer service, streamline projects and be more responsive to a myriad of community requests.

“We have the potential in front of us to do things more efficiently and really focusing on the important things of having a positive attitude, and helping people be successful as part as the permitting process,” Hendrickson told the Times. “We are going to be doing a better job communicating, both internally and externally, and again, trying to deliver the best possible customer service that we can. …

“We are going to be owning what we do well, but we also need to own where we fall short, and fix things as they come so as to make sure the customer is getting the treatment that they deserve.”

He said the Development Services office on the second floor of the County Administration building is the spot for teams from Planning, Public Works / Buildings, and Fire. The county’s fire inspectors are being brought into a broader building inspection role as part of the process.

County staff members are still studying the possibility of moving Environmental / Public Health permitting (well and septic / HAZMAT / restaurant inspections) into the reorganization plan; however, there are issues related to the location of more than two dozen employees in this field.

The core functions of all the departments involved are not changing. Public Works, for example, remains dedicated to capital improvement projects and road infrastructure. In fact, Hendrickson pointed out, the departments that previously headed up permitting processes will be able to focus more intently on those things that are part and parcel to their main functions.

About a dozen county employees and their job descriptions were affected in the most recent reorganization. Three jobs were eliminated; however, officials said they are working to install those employees in other areas of the county’s workforce.

Said Board Chair Daron McDaniel, “We are trying to move at the speed of commerce. That’s the important thing here. Our economy is moving at such a fast rate, we want to be able to keep up with that speed, and we don’t want government to hold it back.”

 

County updates plan for Winton community

The unincorporated area known as Winton — just to the north of Atwater and west of Castle — has a Vision Statement.

It reads, “Winton envisions a balance of land uses that anticipate residents’ economic, social and environmental needs. New developments emphasize and strengthen Winton’s small-town, agricultural and residential identity, capitalizing on existing community assets, in addition to providing new growth opportunities.”

The statement is part of the 2021 Winton Community Plan Update the Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved on Tuesday at their regular meeting.

It’s the first such update — basically a long-range strategy for growth and development — for the Winton area in 40 years.

The multiyear effort included four public workshops dating back to 2011, and conversations with local business owners, the Winton Municipal Advisory Committee, community groups such as Cultiva La Salud and various local government agencies.

Together they came up with a set of priorities that include:

  • Adding sidewalks to streets;
  • Increasing the number of parks and trails;
  • Creating a lively and attractive downtown;
  • Job opportunities;
  • Addressing safety concerns;
  • Improving street lighting;
  • Controlling speed on Winton Way;
  • Upgrading commercial frontages, storefronts;
  • Advocate for community events, festivals;
  • Encourage businesses to build ties with community
  • Incorporate color and visually-appealing amenities to create a more “Welcoming Community.”

 

In 1980, the population of Winton was about 5,200. As of the 2010 census report, Winton’s population was 10,067. That number is expected to grow to around 15,500 by 2040, in accordance to the county’s buildout plan.

Winton currently has about 932 acres of residential land with 2,995 existing dwelling units. Planners see the potential for an additional 1,633 units in the years to come. It has 50 acres of commercial space, with an existing 285,320 square feet, as well as a potential for 473,806 more square feet, including “mixed use” space.

With Winton being one of the larger unincorporated towns in the county — in 2040 it will have a larger population than Livingston does at present — Supervisor Silveira asked about it (along with Delhi) possibly becoming an incorporated city one day.

The answer was not anytime soon. Or… “In the next 20 years, it’s kind of a tough sell.”

The biggest hurdle would be Winton’s ability to support the necessary infrastructure for the long term, and that includes capacity to generate more revenue from sales tax.

No one from the community commented on the Board’s discussion about Winton on Tuesday, and Supervisor Silveira said that’s a reflection of the outreach and planning that was done by the county and its partners.

Leaders approved the Winton Water Supply Assessment (July 2020), and adopted the CEQA Findings of Fact, the Statement of Overriding Considerations, and the Mitigation Monitoring Program. They certified the Final Environmental Impact Report. The adopted the resolution adopting the proposed Winton Community Plan and the General Plan Text Amendment. And they adopted the ordinance for Zone Change which changes the zoning designations for various properties within the Winton Community Plan boundary.

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