First of three E.C. community meetings draws few

May 15, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

El Centro city officials on Monday had their first of three community meetings where a number of important local issues were discussed.

Too bad so few individuals showed up for the meeting at Sunflower Elementary School.

Presentations were made by city Police Chief Raymond Loera, Fire Marshal Linual White, Redevelopment Agency Assistant Executive Director Oscar Rodriquez and RDA economic development specialist Marty Tracey.

Among the issues of interest not scheduled for discussion but addressed anyway was the ongoing contract negotiations between the El Centro Elementary School District and the El Centro Elementary Teachers' Association.

Kevin Kelley, who's wife is a school teacher and who has done consulting work for the teachers, urged elected city officials to get involved in the contract talks.


"Politicians are elected to lead," he told Mayor Cheryl Walker, adding something must be done to bring "these two intransigent sides" together. To not do so would lead to another kind of blight to the city, he said.

Walker, speaking as an individual and not the mayor, said a day does not go by without someone from each side of the issue contacting her, and she is greatly concerned with what appears to be a continually worsening situation that could result in a teachers' strike.

"It's a troubling, troubling issue," Walker said, adding there are great people on both sides of the issues and they assuredly would like to put the issue behind them.

Separately, an advertisement in a San Diego newspaper seeks substitute teachers and administrators for the school district should there be a strike.

Meanwhile, White informed the gathering of the Fire Department's efforts in the areas of administration, communications, fire suppression, emergency medical services, hazardous materials and fire prevention. White said the department responded to 316 fires in 2000, 375 in 1999 and 367 in 1998. Arson is suspected in 13 fires from September through April.

Of the city's nuisance abatement program, White said there were 249 total inspections with 70 deemed noncompliant. Of those, 61 were assigned to forced abatement; three filed claims against the city, two claims were dropped and one is pending.

"I'm very pleased with the outcome of the program because ultimately it will enhance the quality of life in the city, and it's at no cost to the city," White said.

Loera said the Police Department is moving toward what's called community policing, that is, a decentralization of efforts. Under the concept, the city was divided into three areas, with police officers assigned "ownership" of those areas with the task of total familiarization with the areas.

Loera said the concept has not been totally successful yet, as there is shortage of officers in the department. He also said the work load is fairly widespread throughout the city. He said the most common crimes are car theft and burglary. Loera said the department responded to about 17,000 calls last year, down from about 18,000 the year before, and made about 1,000 arrests, down from 1,500.

Loera said he has assigned one police officer full-time to the downtown area.

On the redevelopment side, Rodriquez said the agency's three areas of interest include industrial development, housing and commerce, in that order. He said one will lead to the other. The key for the city, he said, is the Centerpoint Business Park.

Rodriquez said it is good for the city that Home Depot is locating here. He added that Valley Plaza is considered blighted.

"We're not going to give up on it," he said, adding he expects the shopping center, at Main Street and Imperial Avenue, to eventually be a success.

Tracey said work in the downtown area is almost done. He said work remaining is at the downtown plaza and parking lot improvements. He said there are concerns with the security of the plaza area and that city officials are looking into various security methods including an industrial quality camera system to monitor the area. The cameras would be operated in real time at the Police Department.

Tracey emphasized the available storefront rebate program for downtown businesses. Under the rebate program, the city evaluates each application to modify a storefront and, if approved, will reimburse out-of-pocket expenses for remodeling up to 50 percent.

Tracey said there will be a meeting at 9:30 a.m. May 22 at the Old Post Office Pavilion to discuss the possibility of establishing a lighting and maintenance district for the downtown area.

At the end of the meeting, Walker complimented staff members for their presentations and their efforts, though she thought the six to 12 people who showed up was not enough.

"I was disappointed with the low turnout and I hope we get much better participation at our other meetings," she said.

The next meeting is at 6 tonight in the multi-purpose room of Kennedy Middle School, 900 N. 6th St.; and at 6 p.m. Thursday in the El Centro Community Center, 375 S. 1st St.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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