One would hope that a positive and uplifting invocation would set the stage for an informative and upbeat meeting. Sometimes it does, other times, not so much.
There were a number of work-study items that preceded the regular council meeting. It’s not always possible to listen in on those items. The tail end of a discussion on homelessness was available when council member Karlee Meyers suggested finding a more humanitarian way to handle homelessness in lieu of the social issues associated with the homeless problem and the demanding and time-consuming paperwork that police are required to fill out. Mayor Russ Brown suggested an Ad Hock Committee to deal with the homeless issue and possible solutions, as there many facets to this problem. It seems that the council was kicking the can down the road, but Meyers pressed for an open council discussion so that information is available to all. Mayor Brown is determined to have an Ad Hoc Committee. The two can coexist peacefully and with some transparency.
As usual, there was an opportunity for both public and electronic communications by the public, with the two-minute restriction (as opposed to the 3-minute rule). Pat Gregory sent in an electronic communication asking why the City Manager (Chris Lopez) and Measure U Oversight Committee is not complying with Ordinance 1918 and why council members Krupa and Brown continue to ignore the Memo of Understanding in Resolution 4731. Both the items Ms. Gregory referred to can be found in a search at the city website.
A considerable amount of time was spent discussing a commercial project at Sanderson and Menlo Avenues. This project has been in the works for years. There are approximately 8.6 acres of land being developed for commercial use at this location. Why has it taken so long to get it going? Part of the problem appears to be with various engineering obstacles delaying ribbon cutting. City Engineer Steve Loriso made a presentation on why there was a necessity to modify the conditions of approval for this property. The request for this additional resolution concerns flood control (an ongoing issue within Hemet). The developer, Marwan Alabass, is encouraging the modification with an intention to add some beautification to the designated area. Hemet should be concerned about flooding due to the increasing number of residential developments. The original plan was made in 1984 with later amendments in 2017.
Councilmember Meyers questioned why this modification was necessary when it appears it won’t really have an effect on current or future circumstances. The engineer stated that the resolution was prepared to the “letter of the law.” Meyers went on to express concerns about the water flow, as did council member Perciful. Councilwoman Krupa attempted to clarify Loriso’s presentation. She wanted to know why this wasn’t included in the initial plan. There was momentary contention when Meyers questioned the viability of Loriso’s presentation. He stated, “I’m an engineer.” She deferred to his education. Flooding and water flow are an ongoing issue with multiple residential developments being approved for Hemet. Infrastructure becomes a primary issue. Another consideration is that Loriso came in “after the fact.” Developer Marwan Alabass, approached the podium, explaining that due to a steady stream of engineers, this was an issue that had not been adequately addressed. This is an example of Hemet employees rotating in and out on a steady basis. Believe it or not, there were no public comments made on this resolution. That seemed odd since flooding is such a contentious issue with Hemet residents. The council ultimately passed this resolution unanimously.
A happier moment came with Mayor Russ Brown’s reading of a proclamation on Fire Prevention. The first Presidential proclamation of Fire Prevention Week was made in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge. This is the longest-running public safety proclamation in U.S. history. Cooking fires are the primary culprit in residential fires. An emphasis was put on having an escape plan.
A second proclamation for Domestic Violence Awareness Month was given by Mayor Russ Brown. Sadly, no one was present to receive the proclamation. That sends a concerning message to the public at large. Domestic violence awareness month was first introduced back in 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic violence.
Moving forward to the Investment Portfolio. Hemet Treasurer Ms.Oltman is almost never present to update the council. A monthly report is submitted for the council’s perusal. This particular report was as of July, 2020. Here we are in October. We need more accountability.
Council has to vote on whether or not to accept the report. They almost always vote to accept, usually unanimously (as was the case at this meeting). There is a committee set up to oversee the Investment Portfolio, but we have yet to hear a report at the public level. As a matter of fact, during the discussion of committee reports, the Investment Oversight Committee never came up. I can tell you that the interest rates we receive are horrifying. The feds are granting a whopping 0% on investments. As for all other investments, you’ll be lucky to see 3% or more. In addition, not all investments are granted. That is a bit of a concern. I’m not the Treasurer and Accounting was not my major in college. It’s absolutely essential we vote on November 3, 2020. We have two candidates on the ballot and hopefully, we will see more public representation and transparency.
The 2nd report is called the Warrant Register. That report is a little easier to digest. If you have computer access, you can view that report online at the City of Hemet website. Look at the agendas and minutes of council meetings to find the reports. It’s there for all to see. It took a little perusing to get the hang of the Warrant Register, but it’s not all that difficult. Hemet spends a lot of money on benefits. Hemet spends a lot of money on everything. The operating expenses are generally realistic, but some others are questionable. The council voted to accept this report. It’s not clear whether any councilmember actually looked at the report.
As a side note, if, in the future, you are seriously considering running for a seat on the city council, be prepared to spend hours and hours doing the job for very little money. It’s a ton of work with few rewards. You must have a heart for service.
Towards the end of the meeting, there is what’s called a “consent calendar.” Generally speaking, items come up in council that needs repeated action. That explains why it may take tedious hours to approve something. With a consent item, it can generally be handled in one swift action. A councilmember can request more time with an item and occasionally, that happens. This is a lesson in how councils work.
The city regularly receives grant opportunities. Generally speaking, the grants are useful. This particular grant is in the amount of $29,031. According to a staff report that was presented to the council, (direct quote) “the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. The Federal Justice Assistance Grant allows states, tribes, and local governments to support a broad range of activities to prevent and control crime based on their own needs and conditions. The Hemet Police Department has submitted the annual sub-grantee application for the 2020 JAG Grant to the Fiscal Agent, Riverside Police Department (City of Riverside). ANALYSIS: The JAG Program – Local Solicitation is a one-time grant award that requires no local match funds. The Police Department has determined that the most appropriate use of this grant is to partially fund the year two subscription of our newly installed Flock Safety ALPR Camera System. This item will serve as public notice and allow the public to comment on the JAG Grant. Coordination will be needed with the Finance Department to establish an expenditure account.” I could not have said it better. It won’t cost Hemet a dime and will make a difference.
The city is exploring ways in which to fully or almost fully open up to the public, including the library, which comes with its own particular problems. A discussion took place as regards City Hall being a drop-off point for ballots. The city will make information available as they decide what is appropriate in terms of public safety and guaranteeing the integrity of the ballot. You may visit the city’s website for more information. The city is pretty good about sending out press releases to various outlets and social media.
One of the more enlightening comments came during city council reports.
Riverside County Habit Conservation Agency (RCHCA) designated that the species of the month is the Black Swift bird, approximately 7” in length with wings that are longer than its body and nests in the San Jacinto Mountains, migrating annually at least 1,000 miles to South America.
One of the more annoying items to come to the floor was a resolution approving a Supplemental Appropriation in the amount of $37,500 for ongoing maintenance of city-owned vacant properties. An attempt was made during public comments by a view to ask why it was necessary for supplemental appropriations when there several contracts for maintenance. There was no mention of maintaining vacant properties and one would assume vacant properties would be included with other properties. Councilmember Krupa stated privately that she would look into that.
Another grant! There was a resolution to accept the 2020 Federal Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) in the amount of $32,257[AS1].
Monday, September 28, 2020, the Infrastructure Committee met for the first time. All appointed members were present. Their main action was to appoint Carole Kendrick as chair. Street improvements are high on the list.
-Ann Smith – Contributor
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