laud 'big win' for local residents
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
August 10, 2017
the fast-moving Trump news era, it’s safe to say it
was a “good week” for the City of Merced.
Councilman Michael Belluomini summed it up this way in an
email to the Times after Monday night’s meeting at
“Last night's meeting was especially notable for four
significant achievements: the approval of 50 units for the
homeless including veterans at K and 13th St.; the purchase
of the Sun-Star [property] for a new police station site;
the hiring of a new interim Finance Director; and the approval
of a 77-acre shopping center at Mission Ave and Highway
99. These are remarkable accomplishments that improve our
It’s all true, but the news may not be noticed in
that particular order.
The big applause came after the council unanimously approved
plans for the Merced Gateway Development which aims to bring
a new regional shopping center including stores, restaurants,
a hotel, a theater, and a public gathering space near the
ever-growing Campus Parkway that extends from the Highway
“This retail center is a big win for our residents,”
said Mayor Mike Murphy, who noted new employment and shopping
The project is being developed on land that had been part
of the Pluim family dairy from 1928 through 1986. The family
joined with California Gold Development Corp., a Sonora-based
firm to form the Merced Gateway Development.
“The development team estimates that the $150 million
project will generate 800 construction jobs and 900 full-time
jobs, and a $30-million payroll by full buildout,”
said Economic Development Director Frank Quintero.
It’s estimated the center will generate $30 million
a year in sales tax, the developers said.
Campus Parkway runs through the middle of the project, which
is bounded by Cofffee Avenue on the west and Gerard Avenue
on the north and Mission Avenue on the south.
The developers plan to built the center in eight phases
over 5 years. Plans also include a city fire station. The
owners said they plan to hire local workers and subcontractors
to build the project.
of Sun-Star landmark
The change has been astonishing since the McClatchy Corporation
rolled into town and purchased the Merced Sun-Star —
the city’s oldest company — and five nearby
non-dailies for a crisp $40.5 million in cash in 2004.
At the time, the Sun-Star was owned by Pacific-Sierra Publishing
(it was previously owned by the Lesher family), and the
other newspapers included the Los Banos Enterprise, the
Chowchilla News, the Atwater Signal and the Livingston Chronicle.
“The Merced Sun-Star has a long and proud history
of serving the city of Merced and Merced County, and we
plan to continue and advance that heritage,” said
McClatchy’s former CEO Gary Pruitt. (He now leads
the Associated Press). “We will devote resources to
continue to improve the journalistic quality of the newspaper
Meanwhile in Modesto, then-executive editor of The Bee,
Mark Vasche, was leading a round of applause in the newsroom,
pointing out the acquisition was a game-changer for local
news in the region.
Only seven years later, in 2011, the Sun-Star announced
it was moving its printing operation to the Fresno Bee,
eliminating 20 full and part-time press support positions
in Merced. Eventually, editor and design team members were
transferred to Modesto, standard reporting positions were
not filled, and overall local content in the Merced print
The Atwater Signal, by the way, has all but vanished.
The Sun-Star’s online presence, however, has expanded,
and that operation requires little office space. That’s
probably why the Sun-Star staff currently only occupies
a quarter of the room at 3033 G Street.
The landmark building (with the eagle out front) was state
of the art when it was built in the early 1970s. It went
up for sale a few years ago. And that’s when the City
of Merced began to eye it as a potential location for its
new Main Police Station / Headquarters.
On Monday night, city leaders unanimously OK’d the
purchase of the entire 5.5-acre site for $1.62 million,
and agreed to lease it back to McClatchy for $2,500 a month
for at least a year. There was no discussion nor debate.
Now the city’s plan is to bulldoze the Sun-Star building,
and create an all-new, state-of-the-art police station —
for about $30 million.
The city, of course, doesn’t have that kind of money
Leaders are looking into hiring a consultant to figure out
if some kind of bond measure, or some half-percent sales
tax increase, or some other type of taxpayer money can foot
There’s no easy answer, they say.
There was good news this week for the city’s HUD Annual
Action Plan by way of a half a million dollars in unexpected
revenue. The amended plan will help fund all the local nonprofits
who requested public service funding from the plan’s
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. The additional
funding also gave a boost to the Home Investment Partnership
Housing Program Supervisor Mark Hamilton said several sidewalk
and street improvements will completed near Rivera School,
John Muir School, and at the Gateway Terrace II project
in south Merced. The latter project, Hamilton said, now
is fully funded to support 50 units for homeless people,
especially those who are military veterans.
The city announced the hiring of an Interim Finance Director
to fill the place of Brad Grant who retired in March. Her
name is Venus Rodriguez, a longtime city employee and accountant.
Cracks In Case?
Are you wondering if charges will be filed or dropped in
the arrest of five men (all college students, including
one from UC Merced) after a scuffle broke out involving
12 Merced police officers attempting to serve a search warrant
during a July 9 party at the Chandelier’s Hookah Lounge
on Main Street?
Police have said they met an aggressive crowd and one officer
was punched in the face. Students say that an officer threw
the first punch and the warrant effort caused fear and confusion.
Some of the incident was captured on a cellphone video that
was published and gone viral on the Internet. One scene
shows an officer firing an anti-riot weapon to push back
Here are three points to consider:
1. This week — a month after the incident —
police have revealed the officer they say was assaulted
lost his body camera during the melee. It was not recovered
after a search.
2. On Monday night, in a rare move, an investigator with
the District Attorney’s Office showed up at the Merced
City Council meeting and spoke during the public comment
period asking anyone with additional cellphone images of
the event to please share it with investigators. He noted
there were multiple cellphone cameras viewed filming during
3. The investigator was followed by the second line of student
supporters — mostly female UC Merced students of color
— in as many weeks to plead with city leaders to help
drop the charges against the students. While decrying police
brutality and racism against African Americans, the supporters
have also listed positive qualities the arrested students
have demonstrated over their academic lives.
(The Black Student Union at UC Merced plans a "Drop
The Charges" press conference on Aug. 11, at 3:30 p.m.,
at the District Attorney’s office located at –
175 E 20th St, in downtown Merced.)