Merced County Times Newspaper
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Groups can request to fly flags above Bob Hart Square this year 

Members of the Merced City Council — including three new elected members — plan to meet with residents in a series of town hall-style meetings to start the new year.

The meeting dates are:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 25
  • Tuesday, Jan. 31
  • Thursday, Feb. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The schedule was approved at the most recent council meeting in mid-December. However, the locations of the meetings have yet to be announced. City staff is currently securing the sites. In years past, town halls have been held inside auditoriums located in the northern, central and southern sections of the city.

Residents will be able to address the mayor and his colleagues on the council with questions and concerns. City department heads will also be on hand to answer questions and update the public on activities.

The town halls help leaders identify public concerns weeks before they head into their annual budget “priority” talks that will shape the city’s spending and project goals for the coming fiscal year.

 

In other council news …

Leaders have once again taken up the topic of Merced’s “commemorative” flag flying policy at Bob Hart Square — where three flag poles are located, and two flags are regularly flown: The U.S. Flag and the Flag of California.

At the Dec. 19 meeting, leaders moved forward with an open solicitation period for flag-flying requests from the community. At the time, it was noted that the public would have about a month to send in requests, and that city staff would come back with a calendar listing for leaders to approve in January, presumably at the Jan. 17 meeting.

It was revealed in mid-December that two community groups have already put in requests to fly flags. One request was reportedly to fly the gay pride flag, or rainbow flag — a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) social movements — in June for “LGBTQ Pride Month.” The other was reportedly to fly the Mexican flag to celebrate Mexican Independence Day in September.

At the meeting two residents spoke up on the topic — one for flying the gay pride flag at Bob Hart Square, and one against the idea.

A few leaders on the council brought up the idea of discussing the city’s flag policy further at a future meeting. One member — Sarah Boyle — abstained from voting on the issue, and suggested the policy could lead to potential lawsuits against the city and its decision-makers.

Councilman Jesse Ornelas suggested that more than one flag could fly on a pole, and that there was plenty of room if the city were to receive more than one solicitation for a particular month on the calendar.

For those wishing to make a flag-flying request, there is a form online at the city’s website: cityofmerced.org. Click on the Departments link, then click on the City Clerk link, and then click on the Clerk Forms link, to find the “Request for Display of Commemorative Flag Form.” You can also call the Clerk’s Office at (209) 388-8650, or visit City Hall at 678 West 18th Street. The City Clerk’s Office is located on the first floor.

The form has an entry for “name / organization” and “reason for request for commemorative flag.”

According to city documents, Merced “established a Flag Policy in July 2021 after a request from the public to fly a flag during the month of June at Bob Hart Square. Request to fly flags must be approved by the City Council and are approved at a first come first serve basis. Establishing an annual Flag Calendar will ensure that there is no overlap and to schedule staff to secure the flags at the City facility.”

 

New airport terminal

Recently, the Merced City Council moved forward with a Terminal Replacement Project at the Merced Yosemite Regional Airport.

Officials have stated that the existing terminal — a 1940s era building — is outdated and no longer meets the current needs of the airport. In short, they need more space for offices and public areas.

Plans for a new terminal include a new passenger holding room with bathrooms, dedicated TSA screening areas, and more office space for airlines and airport administration. The new building will also be more energy efficient.

The plans building a new structure, and removing the old Hanger BBQ restaurant, as well as an abandoned structure nearby. The old terminal would be repurposed for another aviation use. Federal funds are expected to be used to fund the project, through the CARES Act.

Leaders approved the advance of $1.1 million from the Economic Development Opportunity Fund (EDOF) to meet some necessary timelines in order to secure the federal grant plan for the project. The EDOF will be reimbursed after the grant is secured.

Officials were quick to point out that the project is “right-sizing where the airport should be today because it is undersized.” The project does not aim to increase the number of flights circulating through the airport.

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