City staff gave presentation on community and economic development

mgaytan@losbanosenterprise.comApril 4, 2014 

-- City officials see a bright future for community and economic development in Los Banos.

As business expands and buildings slowly go up, city officials told the City Council they are optimistic that Los Banos will become more marketable. That’s in sharp contrast to the dour forecast during the housing market crash and foreclosure boom, which started in 2007. The last American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, which combined data from five years’ worth of surveys, 2007 through 2011, showed nearly 15 percent of Los Banos houses and apartments were vacant.

Assistant Planner Stacy Souza Elms talked about current and future plans, including a proposed industrial park, downtown beautification project,and an economic development webpage.

One of the bigger projects on which the city has been working is the industrial park proposal for the Westside. The 1,000-acre park would be located on Highway 165 and Interstate 5.

The city would annex land and connect it to a municipal airport while relocating the existing airport. Officials hope to develop on the old airport property with a 60-acre regional hospital and set aside land for soccer fields.

A major project already is showing results in downtown. Since late December, the city has found a way to almost eliminate a budding crow problem that was polluting sidewalks with bird droppings. City staff also have added seasonal street light banners and resurfaced Los Banos’ monument signs.

The city is exploring grant funding for an additional “Welcome to Los Banos” sign to be placed on the west side of town.

Those who come to Los Banos to work or sell need a place to stay, and current residential plans are looking good, according to city officials.

The city is working with seven different developers. One in particular, AMG & Associates, is interested in building a 57-unit subdivision that will generate $1.6 million in impact fees.

“We feel this project is very important because it’s an economic development engine,” Elms said.

Local realtor Geneva Brett said the value of residential property in Los Banos is rising.

“We’ve got a much more stable market,” she said.

During the first quarter of 2013, she said, 115 homes sold for an average of $83 per square foot. In the first quarter of 2014, she said, 85 homes sold for an average $121 per square foot.

The demand for housing in Los Banos, long a draw for Bay Area commuters, also has helped push up prices on existing homes, according to real estate information service DataQuick. In February, the median sales price in Los Banos rose 42.86 percent to $197,500, which makes it the highest in Merced County.

On the commercial side, city officials are pleased with the progress of the Walmart expansion and the opening of other businesses, like Family Dollar. They also look forward to seeing the newly approved digital billboards that will light up Pacheco Boulevard.

In November, a site selector consultant specifically advised the city to have its own economic development webpage for potential business. “The site selector went through each of the six cities in the county and the county, and gave us an overview of what we could be doing better to attract industry here in Los Banos.”

Councilman Scott Silveira said although some plans may be 10 years out, he remains optimistic. “You got to start somewhere,” Silveira said. “If we want to increase the income level of our community, we have to be able to provide good liveable wage jobs here. I think that by starting the front end work of this stuff now, that eventually we’re going to get there.”

Reporter Marina Gaytan can be reached at (209) 826-3831 ext. 6562 or mgaytan@losbanosenterprise.com.

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