CALIFORNIA CITY – The fourth time was the charm for the city’s Off Highway Vehicle Recreation Program’s quest for a new building.  Approval was given at the Aug. 27 City Council meeting for construction of a $1.1 million visitor center and equipment shop at Borax Bill Park, with funds largely coming from federal and state grants.

“The total amount needed to complete the building portion of the project is now covered by the available funding via the RTP (Recreational Trails Program) grant the awarded OHMVR (Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation) Division development grant, the retained earnings from the permits fund, the net revenue from the 2018-2019 fiscal year and the projected net revenue from the permits fund for 2019-2020,” said Karen Sanders of the city’s OHV program.

A capacity crowd, many of them supporters of the program, were on hand for the presentation which has been brought before council three other times. Jessica Terry from the California Department of Parks and Recreation OHMVR Division, who administer the state grants, was also on hand to answer questions.

“Part of the urgency that was brought to us in the past was that there wasn’t adequate time to complete the project (within the grant time frame,)” said Council Member Nick Lessenevitch.

“Yes, I apologize,” said Sanders. “I should have said that at the beginning of my presentation. I had two conference calls with the Federal Highways Administration. And with Jessica from the OHMVR Division. The gentleman with the Federal Highway Administration recommended that the OHMVR Division give us an extension on the on the project. One of the things that the gentleman from the Federal Highway Administration said was he they want the money spent, they want projects to come forward. They understand the circumstances, the time constraints. So we’ve actually been given an extension until August of next year.”

The city first secured a grant for the building some three years ago in the amount of $748,990. Construction costs have increased since then, pushing the lowest bid to complete the project over $1 million.

“We’ve learned of (receiving) an additional state grant and the amount of $78,782 of which $23,150 is a required match,” said Sanders. “This grant will help offset some costs on the visitor center side of the building.”

Completion of the  project will also rely on anticipated revenue from the 2019-2020 permit fees. Sanders estimated revenues of $85,000, based on what’s been collected in previous years.

“Bottom line, according to my calculations, it’s not going to cost the city, because I’ll have a surplus of $2,848,” she said. Sanders said she has also looked into selling commemorative bricks as an additional way to offset city costs.

The educational aspect of the visitor’s center garnered praise from the state OHMVR division.

“I would say at the division, we were very excited about this project,” said Terry. “Which is part of the reason that she won the award for it. We are excited to learn that there was going to be an educational aspect where people could come in and learn about impacts on the desert tortoise and that sort of thing. We’ve seen a lot of positive things come from education.”

Council Member Don Parris said he was somewhat ambivalent about approving the building until he learned about the educational aspect.

“Every year it’s the same thing,” he said. “We’re pulling kids out of these deserts that are dead or dying (from OHV accidents). Educating one person, saving one life out there - it’s worth it.”

After additional questions and comments from council and members of the public, approval was given with a vote of 3-2 with Council Member Ron Smith and Mayor Pro Tem Eugene Stump voting against the proposal.

In a related matter, council also reauthorized use of a OHV trail into the city after tabling the matter at the previous meeting. Council voted unanimously to reauthorize the trail established in 2008 on the east side of Neuralia Road, allowing six months for the city’s attorney to secure permission from property owners where the trail crosses to a parking lot off the north side of California City Boulevard.

In other business, the council extended an interim spending authority by another month as work continues on the 2019-2020 budget. This was the third extension, allowing for spending of up to 25% of the 2018-2019 budget.

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