Prior to adjourning for closed session and later reporting out that Josh Pinheiro had been terminated as city manager, the Los Banos City Council at its June 15 meeting adopted the 2022-2023 fiscal year budget of $101 million.

City staff’s report on the budget included the analysis that fiscal year 2021-23 is estimated to finish with a $2.4 million deficit, but because of a plentiful reserve, there will be an overall fund balance of over $20 million.  

Included in the budget’s expenditures for the next fiscal year are

  • $1 million towards building a new police station
  • $1 million for animal shelter upgrades
  • $600,000 to build pickleball courts and
  • $555,000 for RAD Card funds

Funding is also allocated to city-owned tree trimming, replacing police equipment and expanding homeless programs. 

Los Banos Mayor Tom Faria was not present for the open session meeting, but he later joined the closed session over telephone. 

The council also reviewed the general plan for the development of two two-story multi-family structures with 16 residential units totaling 18,136 square feet (about four times the area of a basketball court), located at 1133 F Street south of the Macarthur Apartments. 

Community and Economic Development Director Stacy Souza Elms said, “We are looking for pockets throughout the city where we can spread multi-family housing so it’s not concentrated in just one area in our community, so we can provide different income levels of housing throughout the community.” 

Council Member Refugio Llamas asked if there will be an increase in traffic in the area. Elms replied that because of the low threshold of units, there will not be a significant increase in trips per day. Elms also responded that there is adequate parking to Council Member Deborah Lewis’ inquiry about limiting how many cars each unit can have.  

During public hearing, Rick Mummert from Benchmark Engineering noted that  50% of the units are one-bedroom and 50% of the units are two-bedroom.  

“We know that this is a vacant area, and I think that with this project and with the new police station, it’s going to start redeveloping this area,” Mummert said. The proposed resolution is set  to be adopted at the next regularly scheduled city council meeting on July 6. 

Speakers in the public forum at the beginning of the council meeting included Nancy Klein, a citizen of Riverbank, who voiced concern about the Los Banos Animal Shelter, which she had been visiting twice a week for over a year to evaluate and find placement for animals.  

She said that the shelter was needlessly putting down an average of three dogs per week and the shelter is only open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., when most potential adopters are at work. She expressed dissatisfaction with the condition of the shelter. 

“The shelter is dilapidated,” Klein stated. “The front half of the office building has had caution tape around it for many months. The inside, quite frankly, is a mess.” 

Susan Corozo, a resident of Los Banos, said that there are very few volunteers at the animal shelter despite the town’s increasing population, “There are so many changes that need to be made in our town in regard to animals,” Corozo said, “including creating cheaper spaying and neutering, requiring animals to be microchipped and adding at least  another animal control officer.” 

During an agenda discussion item previously requested by Councilmember Debra Lewis, the ongoing conflict between those experiencing homelessness and residents of Rancho Los Banos Mobile Home Park was addressed.  

Police Chief Gary Brizzee provided an updated PowerPoint presentation in which he explained that the individuals experiencing homelessness congregated in the field next to the mobile homes park after being asked to vacate the Project Room Key site (behind La Plaza Inn) for cleaning. 

Brizzee explained that by law, the individuals cannot be removed from the field because there is not adequate housing for them. So, working with community-based organizations, the solution was to erect a fence structure in February 2022. 

The fence was not intended to solve the issue completely, but Brizzee maintained that they are hoping to provide a permanent solution. 

Chief Brizzee then provided recent images of homeless encampments in Los Banos, demonstrating that this issue is widespread in Los Banos. Some of these included locations near Food4Less, Dollar Tree on East Pacheco, the Pioneer Rail Trail and off Highway 152 near Denny’s. 

Despite the issues Chief Brizzee shined a light on the positive progress regarding the issue of homelessness. After the Project Room Key program, the number of unsheltered individuals in Los Banos went from 109 in 2021 to 51 in 2022. The program permanently housed 21 individuals, 35 others found transitional housing and 17 found employment.  

Brizzee concluded on an optimistic note, “There is a lot of work behind the scenes to see if we can come up with a longer-term solution for our community to have a longer lasting effect on minimizing and [reducing] homelessness to zero. That’s our goal. It’s a lofty one but I think we can do it.”