Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

‘We are repeating history, and it’s worse this time’



The quote in the headline above is from Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke who was once again in the local government spotlight last week at the Nov. 28 meeting of this region’s Board of Supervisors.

For the second time since August, the outspoken sheriff gave an update on public safety operations and staffing, and once again he said, “It’s getting kind of scary.”

Actually, last time the sheriff said he was close to declaring a state of emergency.

Warnke is good about giving quick, dramatic, bullet points to get his point across. So here a some of the main ones:

• The Sheriff’s Department is down 18 deputies. On top of that, 15 are confirmed to be applying to other agencies, and eight are injured or on long-term leave.

• There are only seven deputies on patrol for the entire county. Think about that. Warnke said he doesn’t want deputies working alone, and if they go down to six deputies, that would mean three patrol cars covering 2,000 square miles. Or as the sheriff puts it: one patrol car “from Snelling to Atwater to El Nido.”

• Deputies are only responding to in-progress calls or felony calls within sight. All other calls for service must be reported online.

• Gang enforcement units already have been disbanded, and the department may have to pull back deputies who have been assisting a team that works with area homeless issues.

However, the kicker of Warnke’s presentation was when he brought forth a Merced County Times article from September of 2015 — eight years ago — when it was reported that the Sheriff’s Department was down 22 deputies and facing a staffing crisis.

“At that time we were down 22 deputies, now we are down 18,” Warnke said. “You think that’s all right?”

The answer has to be no.

The sheriff is basically questioning the county’s priorities and the way it manages taxpayer money. “We got to do something different,” he told the supervisors. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, thinking it’s going to change. It’s not gonna. We have to get more proactive.”

While the sheriff is dealing with recruiting and retention issues (wages are low compared to departments in nearby counties), the Board of Supervisors is dealing with various union negotiations. Rising healthcare costs are a particular sticking point with regard to compensation packages.

In response, Supervisors Lloyd Pareira, Daron McDaniel and Josh Pedrozo hinted at progress bring made in recent negotiations.

“We know we have to do something,” Supervisor McDaniel said.

“We’ve got to figure out a solution for this,” Supervisor Pedrozo said. “It’s just not safe.”

Let’s see what happens.

Welcome To Downtown

If you are traveling to Downtown Merced from out of town, the most common entrance is the Martin Luther King Jr. Way offramp from Highway 99. It used to be J Street in the old days, but they appropriately gave it a more important name.

You get off that exit, and you are met with a gas station, a Wendy’s, a Popeyes, a Taco Bell, an In-N-Out Burger, a shopping center set back to the side, a railroad crossing, a Starbucks just ahead, and the iconic Merced Theatre and Main Street just a short block away.

It’s a busy corridor, but it also has potential for being more of a “gateway” entrance. Some kind of “big statement” welcome sign (or arch) would be nice there. More street improvements could be made to add a nice scene for travelers, commuters and local residents.

The corridor also links up directly to “South Merced” and the Highway 59 route to Los Banos.

Last week, right before a weekend of holiday festivities, and the Christmas Parade, the City of Merced announced the Chick-fil-A chain will be opening up in 2024 at the northeast corner of MLK Jr. Way and W. 15th Street — a lot currently occupied by Merced Power Sports.

They called it a “Christmas miracle” and released a photo of woman holding a Chick-fil-A sign with a decorated tree in the background and a sign that read: “Merry Christmas.”

Well … it’s another big name on the block.

And they still have the empty lot at 16th and MLK to fill up. You know the one that used be Kentucky Fried Chicken before it was torn down five years ago.

Let’s see what happens.

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