PLANADA -- Residents came together this week to meet county leaders and try to get questions answered during Supervisor John Pedrozo's annual town hall meeting here.
A room full of people packed into the Planada Community Center and challenged leaders about education, safety and traffic.
Pedrozo introduced a new format to his ninth annual series of meetings. Residents broke out into stations to speak directly with officials from the county's mental health, planning, public health, assessor, law enforcement and animal control departments.
Olivia Gomez, 36, an attendance secretary at Planada Elementary School, said the meetings cut down on the need for a trip to Merced.
"It's hard for us to go to Merced and look for all the offices," she said. "It's nice to be able to come here and have all the agencies together in our back yard."
Claudio Cortinas, 85, came to the meeting to see what's going on in the community. "I don't ask questions. I just listen to what's going on," he said.
The 60-year Planada resident has attended several of Pedrozo's town hall meetings, but said there's still one concern he's looking to resolve.
"There's a group of dogs roaming around all over town," Cortinas said. Worried about them getting hit by a car, he's called Animal Control several times, but nothing has been done.
His neighbor, Harold Ybarra, 57, has lived in Planada most of his life -- 50 years, to be exact.
He came to voice concerns about the town's dairy, which he said causes a strong smell. "They said it was a 'modern-day' dairy with no smell or flies," he said. "But I don't see any change."
If representatives didn't have immediate answers, Pedrozo said they would get back to residents.
Through a translator, a Spanish-speaking resident said Planada is "behind on education" and wanted to know how money would be invested to improve it.
A representative from Sen. Anthony Cannella's office responded that money from Proposition 30 would make its way soon to "rural communities."
Questions about Planada's sidewalks were fielded by Merced County Public Works Director Dana Hertfelder.
He spoke about the Planada Pedestrian Project -- a $708,000 venture that includes traffic-calming measures to slow drivers and improve safety.
But perhaps the most heartfelt request came from 13-year-old Jonathan Hernandez. The César E. Chávez Middle School student spoke to Pedrozo about not having a restroom on one side of Planada Elementary.
"They should make rest- rooms for the other side of classrooms," he said. "When I walked to the bathroom, I was scared that if something happened, I wouldn't hear it."
Pedrozo said he would relay the message to the superintendent of schools, although it can be difficult to change things that aren't in the county's jurisdiction.
But if the meeting helps even one resident, Pedrozo said, it's well worth it.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.