EL CENTRO — Although it was not on its initial approved list of recommended expenditures, the El Centro City Council agreed to use some of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide one-time payments to its essential workers.
In doing so, the city joined Calexico in generously providing its employees with the so-called “hero pay” for the workers’ respective efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You are appreciated every day for what you do,” Mayor Cheryl Viegas-Walker said prior to the council’s unanimous approval of the resolution during its Tuesday, Dec. 7 regular meeting.
To receive the funds, El Centro employees must have been employed between March 4, 2020 and July 31. Full-time employees are slated to get a one-time payment of $3,000, while part-time employees can expect $1,500.
The one-time payments add up to $676,000. Previously, the city approved the use of $158,000 for the purchase of three police patrol vehicles and another $525,000 for a fire engine from its $14.1 million ARPA allocation.
Council Approves Cost-Sharing Agreement
In anticipation of the eventual development of the property at the northeast corner of Dogwood Road and Main Street, the council unanimously approved setting aside $300,000 for a cost-sharing agreement that would reimburse any prospective developer’s cost of having to pipeline part of the nearby Dogwood Canal and reposition a traffic signal.
Though the cost-sharing agreement was requested by Penske Truck Leasing, which is proposing to establish a business at the location, the approved resolution authorizes the city to set aside $300,000 in Measure D funds to reimburse any potential developer.
Currently, Penske is looking to lease the site from an entity that has entered escrow on the property, city officials said.
Because the pipelining of the canal and relocation of the traffic signal are considered a “regional issue,” the city is willing to share the costs of the intersection’s needed improvements, city Public Works Director Abraham Campos said.
“We feel that setting aside this funding would provide an opportunity of an incentive for the development of this corner which hopefully would be a catalyst for the area nearby,” Campos said.
The property in question is located at 550 E. Main St. and is conveniently located near freeway ramps on Dogwood and Fourth Street.
Once Penske, or any other potential developer, moves forward on the development of the property, the cost-sharing agreement would come back to the council for potential approval.
If Penske can secure a lease with the new potential property owner, it has plans to allocate about 50 rental trucks to the El Centro location. The transportation service provider’s closest operations are in the Phoenix and San Diego area and has been looking for a location to serve Imperial County for the past 36 months.
“We see El Centro as an excellent market for a much-needed facility where we current support approximately 14 customers that operate 125 leased trucks, tractors and trailers in the Imperial Valley,” said Chris Miller, Penske senior real estate manager in a letter he submitted to the city.
“From an employment standpoint, the operations will require (nine) employees with wages ranging between $42,000 to $98,000 annually.”
Mission, Vision and Values Statements Approved
The city of El Centro has a new mission statement, after two years of discussion among a designated taskforce and some 20 years after it was last revised.
“I’m very happy that we’ve reached this milestone,” said City Manager Marcela Piedra, prior to the council’s unanimous approval of the resolution approving the city’s mission, vision, and values statements.
The new mission statement reads: “Our mission is to deliver exceptional services and opportunities that enable a vibrant and resilient community for residents, businesses and visitors, while celebrating our rich culture and diversity.”
As for its newly adopted vision statement, it is accompanied by a tagline that highlights the heartfelt work the city employees put into their respective efforts.
The vision statement and accompanying tagline in English and Spanish reads:
“We envision an El Centro that is a thriving and welcoming community, advancing partnerships that boost the economy and enhance sustainability,” as well as “El Centro, the heart of the Valley” and “El Centro, el corazón del Valle.”
Lastly, its values statement is a series of bullet points that highlight different themes that the city stands for, including compassion, economic opportunity, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and happiness.
“I think that all of these are encompassed and reflected in everything that we do,” Piedra said.
Five-year Strategic Plan Approved
During the same time that the city was considering a revision of its mission, vision and values statements, its taskforce began discussing the creation of a five-year strategic plan that would include specific objectives and criteria to assess current and future projects.
That strategic plan, to run from 2022 to 2027, was approved by the City Council during its Dec. 7 meeting.
It identifies six goals in different areas, including: financial, governance stability and sustainability; environmental sustainability and infrastructure; community health, safety, and welfare; recreation and lifelong learning; city beautification, engagement and civic pride; and economic opportunity.
Within each of the six goals, the plan identifies ongoing, near-, mid- and long-term actions, as well as the city departments that will act as the initiatives’ respective leads.
“A lot of these goals are aligned with the previous goals that we had,” Piedra told the council.
Downtown Façade and Parks Master Plan Updates Provided
A pair of informational items regarding the city’s downtown facade improvement program and its park master plan rounded out the Dec. 7 meeting.
The downtown facade improvement program was created in May and allocated $125,000 of Measure P funding toward the initiative.
A total of eight businesses were approved for the program out of the 48 applicants that sought to take part, Community Services Director Adriana Nava said.
“I would say that there was substantial demand for this program,” Nava told the council.
Those eight businesses include the Gold Exchange, Karina Alvarez CPA, Yolie’s Antiques, Imperial Printers, Shaolin Kung Fu Five Animals; Servpro, Amelia’s Hair Salon and Vianney’s Closet.
Participating businesses were allowed to use funds for new paint, new sign or sign removal, new awnings, new foam moldings, plaster repair, repairs to arcade, new windows and/or doors, and architectural exterior lighting.
Five of those businesses have completed their façade improvements, while three remain ongoing.
“We’re hopeful that doing these improvements is catapulting the downtown to the thriving place we want it to be,” Nava said.
In addition to the recent façade improvements, the city had trash receptacles removed from Main Street between Fourth and Eight streets because of their misuse and overflowing refuse that ended up on sidewalks and clogging storm drains. New landscaping was also installed, and trees were removed.
The city is also currently exploring the option of using about $135,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to extend the façade improvement program.
The “tremendous” strides that the city has achieved since the 2008 adoption of its Parks and Recreational Master Plan were highlighted during the council meeting, as well.
A particular standout was the rehabilitation of the Adams Avenue corridor that now houses the Martin Luther King Jr. Sports Pavilion, Brett Driscoll Sidewinder Skate Park and the Aquatic Center.
The projects represent some $21 million in investment in the city’s parks and recreational facilities and have helped spur the rehabilitation of former motels along Adams Avenue into single room occupancy establishments, Nava said.
At Bucklin Park, about $1.1 million in improvements remain ongoing, and include the creation of additional parking, ADA improvements to its existing path and restrooms, and a fitness course.
Construction is pending next year for Buena Vista Park, where $1.3 million in improvements will target its landscaping, jogging trail, playground, and basketball court.
The $3.1 million in improvements to Carlos Aguilar Park are about 95 percent complete. Those include new restrooms, snack bar and rehabilitated playground. The addition of a new splash pad, new restrooms and snack bar at McGee Park also remain ongoing.
During her presentation, Nava also mentioned the possibility that the city would receive $5.7 million in state grant funds for its planned Gomez Park improvement project.
The Gomez Park project will construct three inclusive playgrounds for different age groups, a multi-sport field, two multi-sport courts, a fitness area, a walking path with exercise stations, an amphitheater, a picnic ramada, a restroom facility with concession stand, and a parking lot and access road.
New landscaping and lighting throughout the park, as well as parking lot renovations are planned, as well. The two multi-use courts will also allow patrons to play pickleball, which Mayor Viegas-Walker indicated is a growing form of recreation.
“We’ve been slowly tackling everybody’s hobby,” Nava said.
A proposed dog park located on Adams Avenue west of the skate park remains in its conceptual stage, Nava said.