Merced County Times Newspaper
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Mayor Murphy praises Council decision on Charter changes

After the Merced City Council last week continued steps to put a number of Charter amendments on the March ballot, Mayor Mike Murphy praised the decision and urged the community to support the process.

“I think they are all good changes that will move the city forward,” he told the Times in an interview. “We had a citizen commission that really spent some time and dug into these things. They were thoughtful about the Charter and where changes were made. There were a number of provisions that were brought up and discussed but not recommended by the group to bring forward. The recommendations that they did bring forward are ones that there was real strong concensus around.”

He added, “I would give a lot of deference to that.”

The City Charter updates that would have to be approved by voters include:

  • The extension of the mayor’s time in office from two 2-year terms to “no more than two 4-year terms.”
  • The members of the City Council, including the mayor, shall receive an “appropriate” monthly stipend for their services based on the recommendations of a citizens commission.
  • At-large appointments by the council to the Planning Commission and the Recreation and Parks Commission shall be changed to: “Six members appointed from each of the six city districts and one member will be appointed at large.”
  • Give the city’s finance officer a direct role in reporting the city’s financial condition to the City Council.
  • The elimination of a “cash basis fund” established in the Charter as an annual cash flow buffer ($4 million) that’s required to be at the same level at the end of every fiscal year.
  • The creation of a single Tax Transparency Commission empowered to provide oversight on each existing and any future special tax measures.

The City Council voted 5-2 to move forward with these items and have staff prepare them as a single Yes-or-No question for voters on the March primary ballot.

Said Murphy, “I think there was only a question on how to present them. It wasn’t that all these things weren’t worthwhile and positive. There are ballot costs we have to consider. We will do polling on this. The goal is to get this passed because it will be good for our city.”

Regarding district representation on the two Charter-level commissions, Murphy said: “This is something I and my colleagues have been working on for quite some time. But I think it’s important, for example, on the Planning Commission, when there is a project that’s happening in one corner of the city, that there is a member who lives in that geographic area. I think that’s going to be an important change. And it’s the same with the Parks and Recreation Commission. We have 36 parks in the city, and the Parks and Recreation Commission does a lot of important work in terms of making policy recommendations to the City Council about how to run our parks and our youth service programs. To have geographic representation on our Parks and Recreation Commission is really important. Those things have been in motion for quite some time. I’m glad to hear that we got other representatives of the community that were thinking the same thing. And I hope they’ll rally around it as well for the March ballot, and get it passed.”

Murphy added that district representation is also the way to go for other committees and commissions created by the council.

“You have a unanimous council that’s in favor of the concepts and the substance [of the Charter changes],” he said.

Regarding stipends for council members, Murphy said: “We have a lot of really talented people who would make excellent council members, but they are not able to serve because they need every hour of every paycheck. If a few hundred dollars a month is the difference that allows us to have those people serve, than that’s a good investment for the City of Merced.

“You look at District 2 in the last election. There was one person on the ballot. Let’s change that. If providing a few hundred dollars a month is a way to change that so our residents have more of a choice than that’s an investment worth making.

“We should all see that for what it is. … It may not be the politically expedient thing to bring the discussion forward. But it’s the right thing to do.

“The reality is the makeup of the City Council has a real impact on people’s quality of life. Let’s remove the barriers that in the past have prevented people from being able to serve.”

The mayor also referred to a former colleague who had to pay a babysitter to attend City Council meetings. “I think that was a hardship,” he said, adding that the colleague decided not to run again.

A review of the City Charter ballot entry is set for the Oct. 7 council meeting at the Civic Center.

Code Enforcement Has A Top Ten List

Did you know the Merced Police Department has a Code Enforcement Division, and it’s part of a citywide Joint Task Force that includes the Fire Department, the Buildings division, and the City Attorney’s Office?

The City Council was presented with an update on efforts during their Sept. 3 meeting. The most common code enforcement complaints include:

  • Unmaintained property, overgrown lawns, trash, non-compliant vehicles
  • Discarded furniture, appliances, mattresses
  • Basketball hoops blocking sidewalks, left in street
  • Garbage cans left out in view
  • General dilapidation, landlord unresponsive to repair requests
  • Abandoned and boarded up homes / squatters
  • Vehicles parking on the lawn
  • Major vehicle repairs in driveway or on yard.

Chances are you’ve seen some of this on a neighborhood street near you.

In 2018, there were 2,521 task force cases opened and serviced with an average compliance date/time of 30 days or less, and nearly 300 vehicles abated. The task force gained voluntary compliance — something they welcome — on many of the Top 100 properties on their list. The city abated one severe nuisance through receivership and the result was a completely refurbished home that was sold on the market.

This year, the city abated a large residential lot at 1716 E. 23rd Street that what was deemed a public nuisance, and a health and safety hazard. The property owner failed to comply with all requests and posted demands. The task force obtained warrants and abated the nuisance, clearing the lot and liening the property.

The task force is currently working on the following “Top Ten” properties: 1) 296 E. 11th St., 2) 1041 Northwood Dr., 3) 7W. 20th St., 4) 1050 Rambler Rd, 5) 832 W. 11th St., 6) 255 E. 9th St., 7) 2434 N. Hwy. 59, 8) 1435 W. 7th St., 9) 245 W. 16th St., and 10) 1463 W. 25th St.

If you see any unsafe living conditions in your neighborhood or around the city, you can call Code Enforcement at 385-6912 or use the Merced Connect app.

Cannabis Dispensary OK’d For Downtown

It was a longer that expected permitting process for Harvest of Merced — a company that aims to open a cannabis retail dispensary at 863 W. 15th Street. Harvest received an initial Planning Commission approval way back in Sept. of 2018, but then controversy erupted due to its proximity to the Wolfe Education Center run by the county’s Office of Education. The city requires such businesses to have a buffer of under 1,000 feet from a school. A debate and legal wrangling went on for months, including among competing firms wanting a precious permit (the city ordinance only allowed four at the time). The definition of a “school” was called into question, and the city ended up adopting an ordinance that defined schools and updated the amendment process for commercial cannabis permits.

In the end, Harvest of Merced won out with the help of the property owner going through the process of a lot line adjustment. Now the property is 1,001 feet from the “school.”

That was OK with the Planning Commission, and the City Council unanimously agreed.

While marijuana product deliveries are happening in the area, Atwater may have the first full retail dispensary to open. A grand opening event is set for this Saturday. Stay tuned.

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