At the Jan. 24 meeting of the Los Banos Planning Commission, the site plan review approval and California Environmental Quality Act exemption for a proposed gated Snowgoose Drive townhomes project was pushed back because of water drainage concerns.

The proposal for 25 planned townhomes on Snowgoose Drive was continued to another meeting over concerns voiced by Grasslands Water District’s Ellen Wehr. In an email comment, Wehr stated that the run-off would flow into the San Luis Canal, managed by the district. According to Wehr, the canal “lacks additional stormwater capacity and at times exceeds the maximum allowable flow under the drainage agreement.”

Wehr expressed that before the project moves forward, there should be two conditions. The city needs to commit to working with the grasslands district to update the drainage agreement, and the city needs to agree to make improvements to the canal to handle more run-off from this project and future projects.

In addition, Wehr asked that the city prepare an Initial Study under CEQA for the townhomes, “A CEQA exemption is not adequate at this time,” she stated. At the commission meeting on Jan. 10, a representative of the grasslands district and another of the Central California Irrigation District also had concerns about the run-off of a planned expansion of Paradise Tomato Kitchen.

Staff recommended the item be continued to an undetermined future meeting, with Community and Economic Development Director Stacy Elms assuring the commission, “We’ll bring the item back.” In an e-mail to The Westside Express the day after the meeting, Elms said the city would be meeting with grasslands representatives to discuss the issue.

Additionally, a new vice-chair of the commission was elected, and a conditional use permit for a business to permanently use a 20-foot shipping container was approved.

Commission Chairman John Cates was re-elected to his position, with Christopher Perrecone being elected the new vice-chair. Katherine Uhley, the former vice-chair, arrived near the end of voting due to a power outage in her neighborhood. In their reports, Commissioners Uhley, Elias Reyes, and Cates congratulated Perrecone on becoming vice-chair for 2024.

The commission approved a permanent 20-by-8-foot shipping container for a Conditional Use Permit and a CEQA exemption. The container will be located behind a building at 525 I St., which has operated as a smoke shop since 2012. A wooden facade will be placed around the container, which will be used to store overstock. The CEQA exemption was granted on accessory structures grounds.

There were no major concerns from the commission, but Commissioner Rob Robinson asked if the facade was done yet and what color it would be and was told the facade would be a natural wood color and is not done yet.

During her report, Elms mentioned the attendance of Imagine Way More’s Gabriel Ortiz. Ortiz is now the Social Media Content Manager for the city. She said Ortiz would highlight how “business friendly” the city is.

Elms then mentioned the transition of the city to Tyler Technologies, Inc. for a permitting and licensing system. “This should help make our process much more user-friendly,” Elms said.

The new system will allow residents to apply for licenses and permits online and see permits and licenses being issued. The transition will be “staff intense,” according to Elms, but will make the process more efficient once completed. Elms expects the system to go live in June.

During their reports, Chair Cates and Commissioner Robinson congratulated Imagine Way More on its contract. “This is something I’ve felt the city needed for a very long time,” said Robinson. “I’m really happy to hear we’re finally stepping into the 21st century,” said Cates, who added that he was glad to see more publicity for the planning commission.

Cates concluded his report by thanking staff,  the press and a single public attendee. The meeting ended at 6:20 p.m.

Javier Powell