At its Aug. 2 meeting, the Los Banos City Council heard an update on the Small Business Assistance (SBA) Grant Program and approved staff’s recommendation to create two city technical advisory committees related to standards and design. In addition, the council rejected all bids to construct a downtown welcome sign. All members of the council were present at the meeting. The Small Business Assistance Grant Program was created by the city on Dec. 7, 2002, from the $500,000 left unspent within the RAD card program. The update on the program was given by Interim Finance Director Brent Kuhn The SBA’s goal was to directly help small businesses and nonprofits affected by Covid-19. According to Kuhn’s report, $476,000 had been awarded to 34 total small businesses and nonprofits. According to page 56 of the agenda packet, the five nonprofit organizations included in this program were awarded money for “community benefit” and because the entire community was negatively impacted by the pandemic. With three more applicants being processed, the program will soon be moving through completion into a compliance phase. The expenses of recipients will be audited to ensure the money was spent within its restrictions. After compliance has been checked for all recipients, then a full closeout report can be made, Kuhn explained. Councilmember Deborah Lewis expressed concern over the lack of in-depth detail provided in the update, but Kuhn assured the council that more information would be provided in the future closeout report. Lewis, addressing concern about transparency regarding the update, said “Once this program is closed down, I certainly hope there is going to be full disclosure as to who applied for it, how much they got, whether or not they complied and whether that money was returned to the city.” Following the SBA update, the council approved the creation of two technical advisory committees: one for Improvement Standards and Specifications and the other for the Community Design Standards. According to the agenda packet, the city’s “Standards and Specs” as well as “Community Design Standards” have gone unchanged since 2004 and 2008, respectively. On May 17, the city hired the consultant Mark Thomas and Company, Inc. to help update these standards for $580,658. “What staff is asking now is to establish a Technical Advisory Committee for both the Improvement Standards and the Design Standards as they will be running on their separate tracks,” Elms said. “They will overlap, and they are interlinked with each other,” she added. Elms explained that the Improvement Standards Committee will consist of seven members: two city councilmembers, two planning commissioners and one member each from the Traffic Safety, Parks and Recreation and Tree Commissions. The Improvement Standards Committee will focus on requirements and guidelines for new infrastructure and developments. The Community Design Standards Committee will focus on the city’s vision for the design of new developments. The four-member committee will consist of the same two council members and two planning commissioners who are on the Improvement Committee. Elms added that all members will be picked by the mayor and city manager and will be confirmed by the city council. Of the items approved on the consent agenda, a notable mention is the rejection of all bids to construct a welcome sign in downtown Los Banos. The architect working with the city estimated the total build cost to be $250,000.However, contractors Swinerton Builders and BZ Construction both bid around $1 million. Due to the high cost, the council decided, when it passed the consent agenda, to reject the bids entirely. During their reports at the end of the meeting, councilmembers, the mayor and city manager all thanked staff, the police department and donors of prizes for the annual National Night Out event. National Night Out was held Aug. 1 with the goal of community outreach from the Los Banos Police Department. “We know we had the best one out there,” City Manager Josh Pinheiro said, referring to this year’s National Night Out. Council member Douglas Begonia and Mayor Paul Llanez added that they were happy to see the new infrastructure work on San Luis Road with, according to Llanez, “over 30-plus sidewalks going in. It’s fantastic that we’re getting things done, not just talking about it.” Llanez also was thankful for the dialogue during his town hall meeting on homelessness and urged citizens to contact him if they had further questions. At the end of his report, he reiterated that police can only enforce laws that voters and legislators have made. For his Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG) report, Llanez echoed previous meetings, “Utilize the bus, it’s free [all summer].” The council’s closed session included a single item: a performance evaluation of William A. Vaughn, the city attorney. No action was reported out of closed session.

The Westside Express