As we take on a new year of opportunities and challenges, I’d like to take a moment to identify some of what we’ve accomplished in Merced County in 2017.
There has been progress in economic development, transportation and employment. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we built momentum in 2017 to carry us into 2018.
Flooding/Drought – The five-year drought that plagued California ended last year just to be replaced by severe flooding. The Merced County Emergency Operations Center was activated for two weeks in February. Record rainfall flooded homes and fields while causing infrastructure damage. As the emergency developed, the EOC was activated with the primary focus on preserving public safety, protecting property and maintaining our infrastructure.
To prevent potential future flooding, Merced County is working with its Streams Group partners at the City of Merced and the Merced Irrigation District to construct a floodwater detention basin on the Black Rascal Watershed. We have received a $10 million federal grant and we’re working with our partners to find more funding.
Priority Workshops – With three new members joining the board this year, it was of particular importance for County policy-makers and Department heads to discuss priorities, goals and governance. During two open meetings – one on the east side and one on the west – elected officials and staff gathered to discuss County priorities. Those discussions set the stage for what turned out to be a fantastic year.
Port of L.A. Agreement – In October, the Board and the Port of Los Angeles forged an agreement that opens the door to significant investment and development at Castle Commerce Center and Castle Airport. The agreement directs the county and port to form a joint Business Development Plan, conduct exporter outreach in the Central Valley and to share business intelligence. This is a long-term partnership with the potential to turn Castle into a hub for manufacturing with rapid import and export capabilities.
Technology – Merced County began improving its web presence by revamping its website and building three new websites dedicated to economic development, allowing us to spread the message of what the County can offer. Several departments, including the County itself, grew their social media presence Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few. We also started live-streaming Board meetings through Facebook, providing more access for the entire community.
Cannabis Ordinance – Passage of Proposition 64 in 2016 set the stage for the County to review and adjust its cannabis policies. A new ordinance restricts personal grows to six plants per residence and prohibits commercial activity in unincorporated parts of the County. It does, however, allow an exception for medicinal cannabis deliveries. The County also set up rules to protect children by requiring marijuana to be grown only behind locked doors and out of common living spaces.
County Facilities – Many people have already seen our new solar structure outside the county’s Administration Building, tangible proof that our energy retrofit project is proceeding. More solar arrays are going up at other multiple County facilities and we’re converting much of our lighting fixtures to energy-efficient LEDs. We’re also replacing old plumbing and water fixtures at correctional facilities, and old HVAC units to make us more energy efficient. The project will cost $14.6 million, but will save the County $32.5 million over a 30-year period. The County’s “One-Stop Permitting Center” was opened in June, streamlining all the processes needed for those starting or growing a business.
Transportation Infrastructure – Our region got a big win with $100 million for the Campus Parkway and the state’s agreement to bring the Altamont Corridor Express train to Merced – both due to the efforts of Sen. Anthony Cannella and Assemblyman Adam Gray. We’re also moving forward in our efforts to build the Atwater-Merced Expressway, a critical project for bringing development to the Castle Commerce Center.
Public Safety – To recruit and retain Sheriff’s deputies, we’ve increased deputy’s pay. Already we’re seeing a positive impact at the Sheriff’s Office.
Budget – The Board adopted a balanced budget on Sept. 12, pushing reserves to $6.5 million.
This might seem like an exhaustive list, but in reality it’s only a snapshot. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and look forward to more progress this year under new Board Chair Jerry O’Banion, who, by the way, is the second-longest tenured County Supervisor in the state of California. I wish all of you a happy and prosperous New Year.
Daron McDaniel represents district three on the Merced County Board of Supervisor.