Merced County Times Newspaper
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Leaders give nod to north Merced housing plan after initial rejection 

• City awarded close to $1 millionfor youth intervention program • Major streetlight update in works

Mayor Matthew Serratto recognized the Merced SKIP Water Polo Team for earning a Silver Medal at the Junior Olympics during a ceremony at City Hall on Monday night. The mayor presented certificates to Mackenzie Bernard, Josh Borba, Dottie Drury, Hunter Gossett, Zoey Hickman, Nathan Larson, Taylor Lung, Cord McCall, Maren McCall, Mitchell Metcaff, Eli Morison, Cora Newell, Kade Slocum and Aubrie Solorio.
Mayor Matthew Serratto recognized the Merced SKIP Water Polo Team for earning a Silver Medal at the Junior Olympics during a ceremony at City Hall on Monday night. The mayor presented certificates to Mackenzie Bernard, Josh Borba, Dottie Drury, Hunter Gossett, Zoey Hickman, Nathan Larson, Taylor Lung, Cord McCall, Maren McCall, Mitchell Metcaff, Eli Morison, Cora Newell, Kade Slocum and Aubrie Solorio.

The Branford Point project — concerning some 50 acres of mixed-use housing and commercial development in the city’s future annexation zone near UC Merced — is being viewed in a new light after if failed to get an initial City Council nod when it was first presented in July.

On Monday night, city leaders voted 6-1 to show “general support” for the project’s annexation application to proceed. Council member Jesse Ornelas cast the “no” vote. The decision is part of process designed to give leaders a voice early on with regard to annexation development projects that are expected go through mountains of review and public hearings that can stretch well into the future.

The Branford Point site plan — located on the west side of Lake Road and south of Bellevue Road — includes 650 dwelling units, divided into 92 affordable units, 325 apartments, 233 town homes. There will also be some 759,000 square feet of commercial and industrial buildings featuring hospitality, retail and office space.

Back in July, a split council, 3-3 with one member absent, failed to issue a full thumbs up for the project. Council members Bertha Perez and Fernando Echevarria voiced doubts about the number of affordable housing units in the plan and when they would be constructed, as well as the use of local labor to construct the development.

The applicant and land owner, Greg Opinski, subsequently submitted a revised preliminary application to address those concerns. Opinski has indicated to the city that the plan includes constructing most of the project in an all-in-one First Phase, including the affordable housing units. It was pointed out that the plan would meet regional affordable housing requirements. Opinski also noted that he has a record of using more than 70 percent “local participation” in past construction projects from 2009 to 2011.

Big grant awarded

The City of Merced has been awarded $977,647 in grant funding by the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) for a Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) Program.

Merced was selected as one of five cities in the state to create the pilot program for youth.

In partnership with Merced County Probation, the City of Merced will complement the Pathways to Success program – a multi-agency approach to working with youth and their families experiencing violence through the CalVIP grant.

The three-year pilot program will offer wrap-around reentry care and support as a prevention hub where services will be provided to at-risk and probation-involved youth and their families.

Through this grant, the City of Merced will establish the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a division of the City Manager’s Office, which will support the program. Four Peer Support Specialists will mentor a dedicated caseload of youth by offering direct links to resources, systems navigation, tutoring, job training, and family strengthening resources to build a positive community network as an alternative to violence.

The Pathways to Success Program is designed to offer a personalized and supportive landing for youth reentering the community through case management that focuses on wrap-around services. All services will be provided at the Stephen Leonard Community Center in south Merced.

Streetlight update

As a result of expressed concerns by residents during the 2022 Town Hall meetings, the City Council unanimously agreed to include a comprehensive streetlight update project in its fiscal 2022/2023 Goals and Priorities.

“At Council’s direction, the city budgeted $1.6 million for the repair and replacement of streetlights, said City Manager Stephanie Dietz. “It is vital for the City to continue prioritizing projects based on stakeholder input.”

This project will improve nighttime visibility and allow pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists to see other people and objects, which will significantly enhance public safety,” concluded Dietz.

The streetlight update project was developed from needs-based condition assessments conducted by the Public Works Department. When completed, more than 6775 induction and high-pressure sodium (HPS) streetlights will be converted to efficient, longer-lasting LED lights.

Approximately 800 Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) owned and maintained streetlight fixtures have been updated with energy-efficient LED lighting as part of the project’s initial launch.

To report a streetlight outage, call the Public Works Department at (209) 385-6800, email: [email protected], or use your smartphone to submit a request on the Connect Merced App, which is available on Google PlayTM and the Apple App Store.

For more information about the project and a map of the City’s streetlight infrastructure, please visit: www.engage.cityofmerced.org and select the Lights on Merced Project.

Score for nonprofits

The City Council has unanimously approved $50,000 in the city’s own budget funding to support the community service efforts of 10 local nonprofits.

The following organizations received funding for fiscal 2022/2023.

  • Bear Creek Yacht Club – $5,000
    • Program: Funding will support Outdoor Recreation, Outdoor Education, and Community Stewardship.
  • LifeLine CDC: $5,000
    • Project: Open a third community center in an under-resourced neighborhood with a dedicated area for young people.
  • Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: $5,000
    • Program: Funding will support The Entrepreneurial Challenge Match at the Mercado event series.
  • Merced County Nut Festival – $5,000
    • Program: Funding will support theNut Festival, scheduled on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Merced County Fairgrounds.
  • Merced Youth Connect – $3,000
    • Project: Support the Merced Youth Connect App, which was built to foster connections to activities, services, and opportunities.
  • Merced Youth Soccer Association – $8,000
    • Program: Funding will support the Merced United Leadership Academy (MULA) to help prepare high school student-athletes for the next steps in their careers.
  • Play Adventures – $5,000
    • Program: Funding will support two Create Your Own Adventure Day Camps for youth.
  • Students with Aspiring Goals – $5,000
    • Program: Funding will support an after-school program at McNamara Park.
  • Symple Equazion – $5,000
    • Program: Funding will support programs that provide rich and diverse personal development opportunities to young people.
  • The Isaiah Project: $4,000
    • Program: Funding will support out-of-school programming that includes homework help, basketball, four-square, table games and craft activities, and topical lessons from the Bible.
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