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Council stalls completion of beautification project
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A project to beautify the medians of Golden State Boulevard and the Monte Vista Avenue/Highway 99 interchange and install wayfinding signs throughout Turlock stalled out Tuesday night, as the Turlock City Council held off on appropriating $3,797 to complete the design plans over maintenance cost concerns.

The City of Turlock has already invested $78,825 in the design, and has $3,797 remaining in the contract budget. The landscaping plan has been in development since March 2009, and has its roots in the 2003 Beautification Master Plan.

The near-finished design incorporates iconic visual elements from the area to represent Turlock’s agricultural and architectural history.

“We wanted a look that was special to this community, that was memorable,” said David Gates of Gates and Associates, the firm contracted to produce the landscape design. “It’s not just another row of trees like suburbia everywhere.”

The landscaping proposal calls for a “green quilt” resembling fields of crops, with distinct squares of grasses, trees, and shrubs filling the existing Golden State Boulevard median. The design suggests decorative monoliths, walls, and fences inspired by downtown architecture at key intersections, offering directional signs to Turlock landmarks.

Throughout the design process, Gates said, native and Mediterranean plants were chosen to cut down on maintenance costs while providing colorful, natural landscaping. Watering costs should be lower as well, he said, thanks to water-efficient plants and rainwater retention basins.

“We’re trying to be very efficient about sustainable elements and costs,” Gates said. “… We feel this is as low maintenance and as high an impact we can get for you.”

According to Gates, maintenance costs should be around $1 per square foot per year. Current landscaping costs are closer to $1.50 per square foot per year, he estimated, due to expensive tree trimming.

But Gates didn’t have a firm maintenance cost on hand for the completed design, which worried Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher given the City of Turlock’s budgetary issues.

“The city is in a very tough financial spot right now, and it doesn’t look to get any better any short term into the future,” Spycher said. “… I would think it would be prudent to have that number before we went any farther with this project.”

Spycher made a motion to postpone the item until the Aug. 10 Turlock City Council meeting to allow for maintenance cost projections to be drafted.

Mayor John Lazar and Councilmember Mary Jackson opposed the motion, while Councilmember Amy Bublak supported tabling the measure. Councilmember Ted Howze was absent from the meeting, leading to a hung vote.

Spycher reintroduced the motion, and won the support of Lazar in the second vote while Jackson remained opposed.

As the additional funding was not approved, Gates and Associates has no budget to continue working to prepare those maintenance cost estimates.  The estimates will need to be developed by City of Turlock staff.


Motel voucher program renewed, expanded

The Turlock City Council approved an $84,490 contract with Community Housing and Shelter Services to continue providing dedicated staffing for a motel voucher program and counseling services to homeless families in Turlock.

This year’s agreement differs from last year’s $68,543 plan in containing funding for $25,000 of motel vouchers and an additional $2,000 in transit passes. Vouchers were previously funded through CHSS Emergency Shelter Grants.

Otherwise, the agreement is largely a continuation of last year’s program, providing motel vouchers only to homeless families with a verifiable income, picture ID, and the motivation to move into permanent housing. The vouchers last seven days, on average.

A CHSS case manager will continue to be in Turlock for four hours each weekday, operating out of an office rented from the United Samaritans Foundation. That caseworker offers help with housing and budget counseling for homeless families, in addition to administering the voucher program.

During the first year, CHSS reported seeing more than 1,200 clients, including 150 for shelter, 144 for shelter follow-up, 182 for housing counseling, 45 for rental assistance, 77 for foreclosure help, and more than 500 with general questions.


Change to delinquent utility bills

Customers delinquent on their Turlock Utility bills will no longer have the option of a protest hearing, but will receive a separate mailed delinquency notice, following a Turlock City Council decision on Tuesday.

Customers will have a five day grace period after their bills are due before a $10 penalty is assessed and the bill becomes delinquent.

Previously, when an account became delinquent, a notice was printed on the subsequent month’s utility bill detailing outstanding charges and notifying customers that their service was subject to termination. The notice also informed customers of the right to attend a protest hearing to contest the charges, but attendance at such hearings was very uncommon, city staff said.

California law requires utilities to notify customers 10 days prior to the date of termination, but does not mandate a hearing. The city’s former billing system did not allow separate termination notices, and the hearing process was used to provide the 10-day notice of termination.


On Tuesday, the Turlock City Council also:

• Approved the fiscal year 2010/2011 assessment for Turlock’s Benefit Assessment Districts. Residents of the 189 districts will pay a total of $2.4 million toward street lighting, landscaping and maintenance.

• Reduced the cost of Concealed Weapons Permits, in accordance with state law. Turlock charged $180 for an original filing and $100 for a renewal, but the California Penal Code mandates the maximum cost recovery/fee for original permits at $100, and renewals at $25.

• Approved a taxicab permit for Yellow Cab applicant Christopher Duncan Sansom, Sr., of Winton.

• Joined the League of California Cities in opposition to legislation which would allow Internet travel companies to purchase hotel rooms at a discount rate and resell them to travelers at a higher cost, but only pay Transient Occupancy Tax to cities at the lower, wholesale rate and not the price paid by consumers. Currently, TOT money accounts for 1.55 percent of the City of Turlock’s General Fund Budget.

• Appropriated $260,000 of Capital Facility Contingency reserves to fund the preparation of the Morgan Ranch Master Plan, environmental review, and fee nexus study. Morgan Ranch is a proposed community development by Quad Knopf bounded by Lander Avenue on the west, Highway 99 on the South, E. Glenwood Avenue on the north, and Golf Road on the east.

• Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher requested a new ordinance requiring council members to vote either for or against any agenda item, disallowing abstentions. The item will come before the council at a future date.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.