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Westmorland council meeting turns heated over zoning issue

September 06, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — Tempers flared during a City Council meeting here Wednesday night.

Things got heated after residents questioned the motives of actions being considered by the council.

The first hot issue was a proposed zoning change from industrial to residential for a section from First Street to Highway 86 adjacent to H Street.

George Galvan from The Holt Group of El Centro, the city's consultant, told the council the city needs to update zoning so everything in the city is compatible.

In that area is Ramirez Welding, whose owners requested a business license from the city about three months ago.

The city told the owners the land was residential so the business could not be set up there, but city officials later discovered the area was zoned industrial but was in the county.

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County officials then told the owners it wasn't county land but in the city of Westmorland. The business owners then met with Galvan to submit a business application.

Galvan acknowledged he was given a rough sketch of the proposed business map.

Galvan said he made some safety recommendations and asked the owners to create a final map with the safety changes and resubmit it.

Galvan told the council as of Wednesday night, no final map had been submitted.

Luis Ramirez, one of the business owners, was at the meeting and said the owners could not submit the final map because there was no council meeting in August.

As of today, the business is operating without a license and without water or electrical service.

The property owner, Larry Belew of Phoenix, said his father worked at that same location doing the same type of work until about a year ago, when he died.

Larry Belew decided to rent the location to Frank Ramirez.

Belew said, "There seems to be some personal thing between Mr. (Henry) Halcon and Mr. Ramirez."

Halcon is a city councilman.

"Ramirez did not get proper guidance from the city," said Belew.

"How do you fight City Hall?" Belew then stated.

Maria Olivas, a Westmorland resident, told a reporter the Ramirezes think they are getting the "run-around" from the city.

Other residents angrily addressed the council.

"Why won't you let them have a business license?" asked one resident.

Halcon responded by saying the area is to be changed to residential and a welding shop should not be in the area.

Residents responded: "What about Esparza's Welding?"

Galvan said Esparza's Welding was in its location before houses were built around it.

Councilmen Rumaldo Marquez, Larry Ritchie and John Makin kept quiet during the discussion. Councilman Thomas Marquez was absent.

Halcon made a motion to change the zoning from industrial to residential but that motion died for a lack of a second.

Later in the meeting, Luis Ramirez, another of the owners of Ramirez Welding, sought permission for a welding permit but that was denied.

That brought more angry comments from residents.

City Attorney Mitch Driskill told the audience whether the license is granted is up to the city, but as long as the business owners don't submit a final map, the license will not even be considered.

Another argument started during the first reading of an ordinance that would pay council members only for meetings attended and increase the salary of the elected city clerk to make it equal to that received by council members. It also would have included the use of a cell phone for the clerk.

The item was placed on the agenda by Traylor. Traylor told the council she wished to drop the item and make a statement.

She said, "In the last two years salaries of $4,400 at $100 a meeting were paid to members of this board for missed meetings. If council were getting paid for actual meetings attended this would have been a cost savings to the city of $4,400. We recognize that sometimes a missed meeting cannot be helped, therefore, we recommend that if council is to continue to get paid for missed meetings, policy guidelines are set.

"Missed meetings, especially when there is no quorum, are a real inconvenience to the public and other elected officials. A lot of work goes into preparing for a meeting, not to mention being able to notify everyone of last-minute cancellations when faced with no quorum. As council members we need to be more accountable to the people we serve."

Traylor read her statement from a letter that Makin submitted to the council with the signatures of Ritchie and Traylor.

Halcon suggested that council members give up their pay to hire a city manager, even if it would be a part-time position.

"I'm getting worn out," said Halcon.

Halcon said if all council members gave up their pay it would mean about $14,000 a year.

City Finance Director Rita Ramos said, "I would even adjust my wages and go back to where I started at if we could get a city manager."

Marquez responded to statements by Traylor that he had not called to say he wouldn't be able to attend the Aug. 15 meeting.

That meeting was canceled due to a lack of quorum when councilman Thomas Marquez, Rumaldo Marquez and Halcon did not attend.

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