MERCED — About 65 Merced residents packed Tenaya Middle School's gymnasium Monday night during the Merced City Council's second town-hall-style meeting.
The council took questions from the public and heard residents' concerns over the lack of jobs in the city, lack of interpretation services during the meetings, stray dogs wandering the streets in south Merced and the increase in the city's crime rate, among other issues.
During the meeting, the council also heard a presentation from Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin on the Merced County Emergency Notification System. It also heard a follow-up report from the town hall meeting held last April at Sacred Heart Community Center.
City Manager John Bramble went over a few economic development projects the city is working on. Those included a grocery store at Canal Street and Childs Avenue as well as projects at the Airport Industrial Park.
Bramble also provided a brief update on Operation Ceasefire, a crime-prevention program modeled on efforts around the state. He said the project could start in Merced in the spring.
Frank Delgado, who has lived in Merced for 42 years, was among those in the crowd. He said residents hear of many projects, but nothing seems to get accomplished.
"The south side has not changed," he said.
He said there is violence and that people are living in fear. "There's a lot of fear here in the south side of speaking up," he said.
Councilman Josh Pedrozo responded by saying something has to be done "to make sure people are not afraid to speak up."
Delgado also said people can't find employment.
The council stressed that they are working hard to bring jobs to Merced.
Another concern was the language barrier with which many in south Merced struggle.
South Merced resident Cecilia Mendoza, through an interpreter, said the announcement for the meeting was done in English, but the majority of the residents in that part of town don't speak the language. She said there need to be more interpreters at such gatherings and more effective outreach to get residents to community meetings.
Mendoza said she has attended meetings in Sacramento and that interpreters are always available.
Mayor Stan Thurston said that was a good point. "We need to look into that very seriously," he said, adding that the interpreter Monday night had been hired by Building Healthy Communities.
Isabel Sanchez said stray dogs are another problem for south Merced. There are always dogs -- big and small -- roaming the streets, she said, and residents want to know what the city can do to help with the situation.
"They chase us when we are walking, and they also cross the streets when we are driving," Sanchez said.
But not everyone at Monday night's meeting asked the council to fix a problem.
Lee Pevsner said that if people want a great community, they need to do their part to make the community great. As an example, he cited the effort with which the community got involved last year to reopen McNamara Pool.
"If we want something to happen to us, we need to get involved," he said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.