CALIFORNIA CITY — An extensive list of potential projects was discussed by the California City council, staff and residents during an April 2 workshop money on how best to spend up to $2.6 million in federal money.
The money, according to Mayor Jeanie O’Laughlin, will come directly from the state under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package signed into law by President Joe Biden. The funds allocated to local governments and school districts are meant to help recover from losses sustained during the novel coronavirus pandemic that forced a shutdown for much of past year.
O’Laughlin said the city needs to submit a plan within 60 to 90 days, and once received, needs to spend it within two years.
“This is couched in the term recovery, so the intent was to give cities the money recover from the negative effects of COVID,” O’Laughlin said. “I’m not sure if our city has suffered as much as others because we don’t have the tax base, which was affected for a lot of cities.”
O”Laughlin noted the money could provide a means “to do something impactful for our city … something that can help us move forward.”
Councilmember Kelly Kulikoff recommended using the money to build a small campus on the old Par 3 golf course and lease it to another entity as an incentive to bring a small trade school or college to California City.
“Par 3 is big enough for campus development and we would not have to be forced to wait for a college to want to build here,” Kulikoff said.
Cerro Coso Community College owns a large piece of land near Par 3 slated for a potential new center, but plans have remained in limbo for years.
“If we wait, a college may never come here on its own and we need programs here to engage our community,” Kulikoff said.
He also recommended using some funds for a California City Boulevard corridor study.
Councilmember Karen Macedonio advocated for leveraging at least some of the money.
“There are three ways to look at money: we can spend it, we can invest it or we can leverage it,” Macedonio said. “This is one time money with a time frame to spend … and this is innovation money.”
She said when it comes to combining leveraging and innovation, it means increasing access to and quality of government services.
“I believe our residents deserve a very distinct two year plan that is budgeted for, is a line item and accounted for and our public can see how … it will benefit them and it will be leveraged to a different place,” Macedonio said.
O’Laughlin agreed, adding that a conference call with the National League of Cities advocated for a solid plan and developed metrics to assess the impact made.
“What the hope is going forward is if cities can do this in a good way and be able to provide outcomes to show the benefit, it may lead to more of these direct-funded programs so we don’t always have to go through the state and the county,” O’Laughlin said.
Mayor Pro Tem Nick Lessenevitch said an opportunity presents itself to address infrastructure issues.
“I was thinking back on the meeting where we had complaints about California City Boulevard and was wondering how far we could get at the railroad for expansion to four lanes and us eventually funding our own four-laning out to Highway 14,” Lessenevitch said.
Several members of the public, led by planning commissioner Carolinda Fleming, addressed the unsafe conditions on the west end of California City Boulevard, including high-speed drivers.
Lessenevitch added a corollary project could include expanding city water service to Wonder Acres.
He added a letter from J.M. Powers recommended subsidizing water rates for low-income families to provide “a welfare to the community.”
Councilmember Jim Creighton agreed with placing money into roads, but added road projects “cost about a million dollars a mile.”
City Manager Anna Linn suggested improving the city’s communications infrastructure, something O’Laughlin agreed needs to be worked on. Linn also suggested focusing on California City Boulevard improvements.
O’Laughlin added the city’s Granicus software, which is used for council meetings and other elements, can be built out to take advantage of the platform’s full suite.
“That can interface with our website, take all the forms we have and sent to the right person … it can save a tremendous amount of time,” O’Laughlin said.
City Clerk Denise Hilliker added the technical infrastructure in City Hall would need to be upgraded to handle Granicus.
“We’re not able to use all the bells and whistles of these great programs because the problem at City Hall needs to be fixed,” Hilliker said.
O’Laughlin suggested improvements to parts of the Aspen Mall Shopping Center area to bolster the city’s retail sector.
“The area behind Aspen Mall, in front of the new market, was actually designed to be an open walkway and I was thinking it would be nice to build it out and finish it up,” O’Laughlin said. “We could have opportunities for open dining and bring in more businesses along there, make it a place people want to come to, like with Tehachapi where you walk down town.”
Community member Duane Vasquez recommended improvements to the city’s website to make it more user friendly. He also recommended vertical banners on California City Boulevard’s center medians and upgrades to the city’s broadband infrastructure.
“One of the things the pandemic has taught us is that telecommuting is possible,” Vasquez said. “A lot of businesses were looking into that but weren’t sure, but were forced into it.”
He noted it would provide residents in the city with a new avenue of opportunities.
“Community for jobs is a problem, but if we have can telecommute, people have an opportunity to access good-paying jobs and still live in a place that has a low cost of living,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez also suggested hooking more homes onto the sewer system, which would increase the city’s service base and add ratepayers. Another suggestion was reserving money for local matching funds to grants.
Public Works Director Joe Barragan said he liked the concept of adding more homes to the sewer system, so long as the wastewater treatment plant can support additional hookups. He also supported making at least part of California City Boulevard’s two-lane section four lanes, but recommended purchasing a paver and roller for the cities ancillary road work in-house.
Macedonio supported the idea of improved broadband or Internet capability.
“The remote capabilities here if we focus on technology could open doorways to a lot of other growth for the city,” Macedonio said.
Kulikoff said he liked O’Laughlin’s idea of creating a open walkway in Aspen Mall, but stressed the city would also need to address the shopping center’s storefronts as well.
“You’ve got to incentivize them … pay a certain cost to clean them up so they we’re showing the looks a lot nicer,” Kulikoff said. “If we create something in the back that’s nice and something in the front is bad, we’re not really going to attract much.”
Developer D.J. Twohig recommended focusing on improving the city’s tax base, which could be done a number of ways. The key problem: a lack of available power.
“We have an impediment and so if we can prove the city’s function to solve that problem by attracting solar projects or a city utility by developing a model for the city to build out its utility, we have the opportunity to grow our tax base,” Twohig said. “If we also prove the ability to extend out our water lines down [Cal City Blvd], we can connect water lines to new businesses.”
He added if money could be set aside for matching funds, the city could hire a grant writer, pursue grants and “lobby our brains out like we’re on steroids with the county and state to get matching funds to build out CCB.”
O’Laughlin said the next step will involve working with the city clerk and city manager to refine a list to determine “what is feasible and what is not” and bring it back to the council for further discussion.