Council, youth discuss strategic planning

Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma (left) and Youth Leader Ceasar Hernandez talk about city council duties. Below, Brigit McGrath Massie leads the strategic planning discussion. (Photos by Samantha Bengtson)

Students meet with city officials

SOLEDAD — Soledad Youth Leaders joined the Soledad City Council to discuss what strategies city staff are working on to bring housing, economic development and safety to the city.

Community Development Director Brent Slama provided the youth with a snapshot of projects that are currently in development. The movie theater company has been given a building permit, and Los Coches Drive was torn up and piping was installed.

“One day it’s going to pop up,” Slama said. “From our standpoint, we’ve done pretty much all we can do.”

The commercial space next to the theater is in recruitment phase, deciding which companies are going to occupy the building spaces. Slama is working with Don Chapin on the Los Coches Adobe property and also with Nielsen’s Trailer Park area, which is zoned commercial and can be used to build a hotel.

“Nielsen’s Trailer Park is a touchy subject that has taken a lot of our time because it’s zoned commercial, which allows for hotel development, which is something the city needs,” Slama said. “Balanced against existing residents that need to be sensitively addressed.”

The entire state of California is in the midst of a housing crisis, and the City of Soledad has brought in Jennifer Nieto to focus on housing issues. According to Slama, there are nine active housing projects in various stages of entitlement and construction, excluding the Vista De Soledad project and the Miramonte project in the north section of undeveloped city limits.

“Over the years there has been a lot of housing policy that certainly has challenged autonomy on what we can do and how we do it,” said Nieto, economic development and housing program manager. “The climate in Sacramento is very housing focused. They just want as much built quickly and we’re finding a lot of policy that’s coming down for very big cities, so the challenge is how do we apply those policies.”

Housing prices are up and affordable housing projects are in demand, but they face the challenge of developers losing money when building those projects. According to Nieto, even though the State is offering grants for housing, the grants are geared more toward big cities than relatively small cities, such as Soledad, with about 18,000 people.

With housing and people comes public safety. Currently, the Soledad Police Department is fully staffed, according to Police Chief Eric Sills, who said the department has been at staff level for the past month-and-a-half and has two canine officers.

“Our staff continues to focus on proactive recruitment and retention,” Sills said. “ Some of the other agencies pay better than we do.”

Sills said that retaining officers is an issue with other agencies offering higher salaries and felt that part of the developing housing plans should factor in growth for the police department.

“Our focus for 2019 is trying to remain one of the top safest cities in the state,” Sills said. “As a city we need to continue to look at some type of revenue dedicated for law enforcement, such as a Community Facilities District or exploring other alternatives.”

Youth Leader Diana Mendoza learned a lot about where residents’ tax money goes and why it goes there.

“I always hear such negative things about Soledad and I kind of got on the bandwagon of ‘I’m leaving once I graduate’,” Mendoza said. “But now I think that maybe I do want to stay here and make a change.”

Youth Leader Noah Conchola was grateful for the chance to sit down with the City Council and hoped that it wouldn’t just be a one-time event.

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