In 2019, Merced County and its partners took significant steps forward in several key areas that impact the lives of our residents. As we move into a new year of progress, I’d like to take a moment to recap some of our accomplishments over the past year.
One of our foremost challenges as a county is one that spans across California. That is the number of people experiencing homelessness. Merced County and its six cities have more than 600 homeless individuals, according to the Continuum of Care’s 2019 Homeless Count and Survey Report.
While there is much work to be done, Merced County and its partners have taken several steps to help. This includes the creation of an Encampment Task Force, helping to orchestrate the opening of the New Direction Outreach and
Engagement Center, and working with the D Street Homeless shelter to launch a pilot project as a temporary navigation center while we work on a long-term navigation center.
All of this is done with the intention of better responding to homeless encampments, connecting homeless individuals with available resources and helping transition people out of the homeless population.
The homelessness crisis was not created overnight and will not be resolved overnight. We will have to implement different strategies systematically over several years to make a significant impact. With the cities and our community partners, we are headed in an improved direction.
Another area we’re starting to see improvement in is our roads. Thanks to additional State and local revenues, the Public Works Roads Division is repaving up to 40 miles of road a year in the unincorporated areas—a significant increase over recent years when less than 10 miles of road were rehabilitated each year. To see a list of work that’s been completed and projects that are scheduled to take place, you can visit www.countyofmerced.com/roads.
Several regional transportation projects are also in the planning stages or in development. Perhaps the most visible of these is the Campus Parkway project, which will connect Highway 99 with the UC Merced campus community via a four-lane expressway. Segment I and II are complete, and Segment III, which will connect the expressway with the UC Merced campus community, is underway and is expected to be complete by 2023.
Our construction projects aren’t limited to roads. Merced County is currently working to renovate the John Latorraca Correctional Center to address security and infrastructure concerns while improving the capacity to house programs that reduce recidivism. This effort is funded by a $40 million State grant and $5 million County match, and construction is expected to start this year.
On the economic front, indicators trended upward in 2019 for Merced County and the surrounding region. Conditional Use Permits and Administrative Applications increased, signifying a strengthening business base. These improvements are also demonstrated by Merced County’s unemployment rate, which continues to trend downward as more jobs become available. Unemployment hit a new low of 5.5 percent in September. This stands in stark contrast to jobless rates during the recession, which topped 20 percent at times.
However, we’re not content with “good enough.”
Several economic development efforts are underway by Merced County, including the California AutoTech Testing and Development Center to allow manufacturers to test driverless car technologies at Castle and our continued efforts with the Port of L.A. to position Castle as an inland port for goods movement.
We know this is a lot to take in at one time, but hopefully it isn’t the first time you’re hearing it from the County. If you are, be sure to take the time to sign up for news alerts from the County online at: countyofmerced.com/stayinformed. And be sure to download the Merced County mobile app on your smartphone to report potholes and hazards, access meeting agendas, view news, and much more.
Thank you for taking the time to read about some of what we’ve collectively accomplished at the County over the past year. We hope you’ll stay engaged throughout the year by coming to our Board meetings, town halls and other events. On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, we’d like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2020.
Lloyd Pareira is a member of the Merced County Board of Supervisors and served as the board chairman during 2019.