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Progress between south Merced advocates, city leaders

Against the Wind: A Column by John Whitaker

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Merced County Times Editor Jonathan Whitaker.
Merced County Times Editor Jonathan Whitaker.

So a lot can happen in a week.

In this column last published Thursday, the concerns of four community leaders from major organizations were brought up — in part — regarding the well-being of south Merced and having its residents represented fairly in Merced city government.

First off, the city’s Citizens Advisory Charter Review Committee set forth their report to the City Council last Wednesday. The report recommends that a Charter amendment should include wording that all appointments to the city’s Planning Commission and the Recreation and Parks Commission be made by districts.

That move paves the way for District 2 in south Merced — the area of concern brought up last week — to have direct representation on those panels. If the council agrees, and voters pass a proposed Charter amendment on the March ballot, it should be a done deal.

Meanwhile, I talked to District 2 Council member Fernando Echevarria. He said he has been working closely with Fernando Aguilera, president of the Merced Soccer Academy; Allen Brooks, the president of the local NAACP chapter; Patricia Ramos-Anderson, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); and Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza. All the people I talked to for last week’s column.

Echevarria certainly supports improved District 2 representation on city commissions and panels. He also pointed out that a few days ago he had a meeting with City Manager Steve Carrigan on that very issue, as well as, bringing groups like the Soccer Academy and the NAACP to the table for discussions on positive changes for the city, and funding for District 2.

According to Echevarria, Carrigan also stressed the Police Department’s license plate readers were not being used to share information with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on undocumented residents that are otherwise law-abiding.

“I told him it was a major concern among the immigrants in the community who don’t have full citizenship documents,” Echevarria said. “They are living in absolute fear. They don’t want to go out of their house. They don’t want to get in their cars.”

The councilman also said he attended a recent Latino round table with Congressman Jim Costa, again about funding for underserved and underrepresented areas in the south Merced. It was a positive meeting, he said.

Also, Councilman Echavarria will be holding a townhall-style meeting to address concerns from residents on Nov. 7, at 6 p.m., in the Stephen Leonard Park community center managed by the Merced Soccer Academy.

What are they up to

I got some responses from sources I know who were interested in the underlying strategy that’s driving the community leaders I recently interviewed.

Allen Brooks of the NAACP was pretty straight-forward in his thoughts. He said a recent letter to the City Council and other actions are basically a paper trail local groups are creating to ensure accountability among city leaders in the search for meaningful civic engagement.

“The strategy is to bring attention to the community of what’s actually happening, and for the leaders to bring us to the table,” he said. “They can’t be fixing these problems, if they don’t have any of us at the table. We are the people who get the calls from the community. How can you fix the problems if you are not event getting the calls …

“The city says it’s tackling certain problems. They consider tackling problems on the South Side. Or they talk about the problems with the youth. They even attempt to tackle problems with African Americans. But how can they tackle these problems when they don’t call any of these organizations?

“We have the most powerful organizations in the city. We are here to help the city with these problems they are having. But you can’t solve the African American or brown person’s problem if you don’t have any African Americans or brown people representing. You will only see one side.”

Brooks went on to say city commissions and committees have been “white-washed.”

He said, “People ask me why I’m fight so hard for the South Side, and it’s because that’s where I get most of my calls from … The people on the South Side are hurting. They dont’ have park to go to. They don’t have anything.”

When I brought up the large community park known as McNamara Park, Brooks had this to say: “You don’t see the drugs? It’s all around. The park has been unusable since 2002. It’s in need of repairs. The bathrooms are bad. The children’s play equipment is bad. You go to the North Side and parks are new and beautiful. Applegate Park is beautiful with the Zoo and Kiddieland. But tell me something. If you had family who came to visit Merced, what park would you take them to on the South Side? Name one park where you would say, ‘Hey, let’s go there.’

Now that was an interesting question …

Brooks also mentioned the city’s recent application for Prop. 68 grant money to fund three parks in north Merced.

“It make no sense,” he said. “The grant money is to build new parks and upgrade existing parks. Well, people have been complaining for years about Stephen Leonad and McNamara Park Why wouldn’t you take some of the money to upgrade these parks?”

Missing the mayor

I said I was going to talk to the Mayor Mike Murphy about all this, but I just haven’t got to it yet. He did return a call while I was driving with my daughter to get some takeout from the Pizza Guys. But my daughter had my smart phone, and when she’s watching YouTube videos on it, she could care less if the mayor is calling. I think she hung up on him twice. When I did get back to him, he was driving back from Fresno and the connection was bad. I got some info from him about the Charter review process and then the phone cut out. No worries. The mayor has been working to bring about by-district appointments, and I’m sure he has a lot of positive things to say. Stay tuned.

Tit for tat?

It was interesting to hear Merced City Councilman Anthony Martinez when he spoke during the public comment portion of Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Did what he say promote cooperation between the county and the city. I’ll let the readers decide. Here’s what he said:

“Back on Aug. 5, Supervisor Espinoza addressed the City Council of Merced and I appreciate his comments, and I appreciate him exercising his rights. It kinda moved me to do that as well. He mentioned things like funding South Merced. He mentioned things like helping the youth in south Merced.

“Well I come before you today because I have five ideas in which we can help south Merced and help the youth of Merced.

“Baker Drive, Mission Avenue, Gerard Avenue and Childs Avenue …

“All of these streets go through the city and the county. They are in poor condition and they need assistance from the city and the county.

“In terms of Measure V money, maybe this could be looked at, or maybe other funds, to help build up these streets. This would help south Merced and provide funding to the area that you are calling into question.

“Secondly I would say CP42. It’s a community park that the city of Merced wants to design. It happens to lie on the outskirts of Merced near county land. When the next round of Prop. 68 regional grants comes around, they are going to talk about regional park requirements. I believe the city and county can work together to create CP42 in south Merced for the youth. …

“But I guess what I’m getting at … If you have criticisms about what the council can do … well I accept that challenge, and I’m here to call your bluff. Let’s work together then. These are four different streets and one park where we can help improve Merced, and I would hope you give us a call back so we can work on this because I have to say, if all it was was talk, than I think it was just political maneuvers. I don’t think that helps people get anything done. But, if it’s not political maneuvers — which i have no reason to believe it is — and you really are genuine about helping the people of Merced, give us a call, and let’s work together.”

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