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Council approves all projects for RDA plan

POSTED October 6, 2009 11:16 p.m.
The Turlock City Council sidestepped the issue of predetermining what projects should receive Redevelopment funding over the next five years on Tuesday evening. Rather than picking and choosing from a list of wished-for projects and those currently funded in the RDA budget, the council agreed to include all proposed projects into their 2010-2014 RDA Implementation Plan, and sort out the funding later.
The five-year RDA Implementation Plan, which is due to the state by Dec. 31, specifies all future projects for the agency. By including all conceptualized projects, the Turlock RDA will be able to remain more flexible in adapting to anticipated budget fluctuations.
“It doesn’t mean necessarily anything gets done, but it doesn’t exclude anything,” said Vice Mayor Ted Howze, who will sit on a newly-formed subcommittee with Councilwoman Amy Bublak to review all RDA expenditures and projects.
The City of Turlock’s RDA budget remains uncertain, as the State of California has proposed taking $3.9 million from the city to repay their own debts. Also, as RDA funding is based on property tax income, the volatile housing market makes future revenue projections difficult.
Existing projects, previously budgeted for in the 2009-2010 RDA budget and agreed to for the Implantation Plan, include the construction of the Public Safety Facility, the Carnegie Arts Center rebuild, and improvements to Turlock High School’s Joe Debely Stadium — a controversial project which drew comment from eight of nine speakers at Tuesday’s meeting.
Supporters of the $2.8 million installation of an artificial turf track and field at Joe Debely Stadium argued that the field is currently overused and unsafe. More than 150 events are already scheduled for Joe Debely field next year, ranging from football games to marching band, high school graduations, and Turlock Historical Society events.
“Having been a part at the Relay For Life this year (at Joe Debely), after a night rain storm, I remember arriving at 6 a.m. only to find the track impassable due to water,” Nancy Backlund said. “It doesn’t benefit just the students.”
Detractors argued that other artificial fields — such as those in Oakdale, Sonora, and Escalon — were usually funded by donations, not city money. They also pointed out that even the proposed Carnegie Arts Center rebuild, which was included in the RDA Implantation plan, was paid for in part by community donations.
“I’m not against the field, I’m against the funding,” Mark Napp said. “We have other problems in this community.”
Howze stated that funding the Joe Debely improvements was in keeping with Turlock RDA policies. Redevelopment funding is intended to eliminate blight to increase land values in neighboring parcels, to conduct economic development, and for projects of community importance. Concern regarding Joe Debely’s location, outside of the Turlock RDA zone, was also brushed away, as funding projects outside of the official RDA area is permissible upon a City Council vote.
The Debely renovation, like the Carnegie rebuilding, is expected to generate sales tax revenue for the city’s General Fund though food and fuel sales to visitors. Both Joe Debely Stadium and the Carnegie Arts Center are especially appealing to the city, as they will require no ongoing upkeep and maintenance expenditures from the city, according to Howze. Joe Debely would be maintained by the Turlock Unified School District, while the Carnegie Arts Center Foundation would operate that building.
Mayor John Lazar was forced to sit out discussions on the Joe Debely renovation due to a conflict of interest, as he owns property within 500 feet of the stadium. He did chime in on one project currently funded in the RDA budget, however, as he stated that the proposed downtown parking lot could theoretically be delayed, as the current economic downturn has decreased the demand for parking.
Newly adopted proposed projects, which currently have no funding attached, range from renovations to the War Memorial building to development of a downtown square at the corner of Main Street and Broadway and improvements to Pedretti Park, the Regional Sports Complex, and the Fulkerth Road and Highway 99 Interchange.
The City Council also opted to add several projects previously not considered for RDA funding to their implementation plan on Tuesday evening including, comprising a youth center, to a bike and skate park on the Westside of Turlock, and a recreation center. Business development programs, gateway beautifications, Golden State Boulevard median improvements, an Assyrian American Civic Club motel refurbishment, and improvements to the intersection of Golf Links Road and Golden State Boulevard were added as well.
While plans for all of the most recently added projects are in their most nascent stages, Councilman Kurt Spycher expressed hope that the City of Turlock might partner with the county for a new regional library in the site of the current Turlock police station. He thought that the current library might then make a great youth center.
The proposed recreation center, as suggested by Councilwoman Mary Jackson, might include an indoor pool, bowling alley, and teen center. While funding could be difficult to locate, Jackson referenced a model $27.6 million facility built by the City of Morgan Hill, in partnership with the Santa Clara YMCA, as a multi-generational facility to promote physical well-being and offer indoor swimming in the winter.
“This would benefit my 5-and-a-half month old twins to my 96-year-old grandmother,” Jackson said.
With a list of programs now drafted for inclusion in the RDA Implementation Plan, staff will prepare a final draft of the plan for review at a public hearing of the Turlock City Council on Nov. 10. Should the council adopt the final plan at that hearing, the document would then be forwarded to the State of California before the Dec. 31 deadline.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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