The purchase of a refurbished ladder fire truck was approved during the Los Banos City Council meeting Oct. 17, Shaunessy Village Park was delayed, turf improvements for the Officer Noah Jones Ballpark were approved and 13 individuals spoke during the public forum.

Councilmembers were also appointed to selection committees to fill future commission and committee vacancies. In a continuing trend, Councilmember Deborah Lewis pulled five items from the consent agenda for a separate discussion. At the beginning of the meeting, the council recognized many individuals assisting the homeless. Kaylie Mello, a nurse with the Golden Valley Health Center’s Street Medicine Team, accepted a certificate of recognition on behalf of the Golden Valley Heath Center’s Street Medicine Team.

Renee Davenport was also recognized for assisting the homeless in securing housing. Recently, Davenport helped a homeless vet find permanent housing. “She’s always willing to help,” Mayor Paul Llanez said, “and works tirelessly to change people’s lives.”

At the last city council meeting Oct. 4, resident Hariett Schott was vocal during the public forum in expressing the need for a new ladder fire truck. At this meeting that need was met via the purchase of a refurbished used $829,000 ladder fire truck.

According to Los Banos Fire Chief Paul Tualla, the truck will have a lifespan of 10 years, with the last five years in reserve. Councilmember Lewis spoke on the need to plan for future new equipment purchases, “We can’t operate our city on old equipment.” The Shaunessy Village Park was delayed due to two expensive and two error-filled bids. The park was one of the consent agenda items pulled by Lewis. According to Parks and Recreation Director Joe Heim, the project is set to go back for a rebid. This will delay the park’s construction for several months.

Turf improvements at Officer Noah Jones Ballpark were approved at a cost of  $168,467.13. The improvement contract was awarded to Ronny’s, Inc., of  Los Banos. Ronny’s will improve the turf via grading, removal of existing lawn, new sod and replacement of sprinkler heads. The ballpark, previously the Seventh Street Ballpark, is one of the older sites in the city that has gone through decades of wear. “This field has gone a long time without getting anything done,” Llanez said. During her report, Lewis justified her trend of pulling items from the consent agenda as a way to correct the lack of comment on the items. Lewis does not feel that recent items on the agenda have been routine as required in a consent agenda. “When you’re spending a lot of money,” Lewis said, “the taxpayers need to have a say.”

Llanez responded in his own report, “It is my understanding that Councilmember Lewis did not reach out to staff at all this week.” Llanez focused on the inefficiency of asking staff questions at the meeting that could be made in a phone call.

Council members were appointed to selection committees to fill upcoming and current vacancies in commissions and committees. Thirteen positions are projected to be vacant within the next year. Appointed to selection committees were Councilmember Douglas Begonia, Jr. (Airport Advisory Commission), Councilmember Kenneth Lambert (Measure H Citizen’s Oversight Committee), Councilmember Brett Jones (Parks and Recreation Commission) and  Lewis (Tree Commission). The main concern of the 13 public forum speakers was transparency, including topics such as grants, employee contracts, the budget, De Anza Road and the progress of the animal shelter. Kathy Ballard expressed her lack of trust with the council. Ballard asked for transparency regarding grants and for a reason why a lease-to-purchase contract for printers was not a was not a lump sum purchase.

Gracciano Rubio focused on Interim Finance Director Brent Kuhn’s employment contract. Cami Avilar asked for a reconciliation of the budget and commented on City Manager Josh Pinheiro’s experience.

Former Los Banos District 2 City Councilmember Refugio Llamas asked the councilmembers what they were doing to enforce Stonefield Homes’ obligations regarding De Anza Road.

Beverly Viets echoed her previous public forum statements by asking for an update on the animal shelter and for the creation of an Animal Advisory Commission. In his report later in the meeting, Mayor Llanez gave an update on the shelter. According to Llanez, the shelter has doubled in staff, hired a vet to spay animals and began opening on Saturdays to accommodate commuters. In response to all the requests for transparency, Mayor Llanez and Councilmember Lambert focused on the need for speed in government. With so many projects ongoing in the city, from homeless, to animals, to firetrucks, they said that projects aren’t just disappearing when not mentioned. “Our department heads are working on it,” Lambert said.

Javier Powell