The city of Tracy has a new format for City Council meetings, and on Monday the council took care of a couple of items of business and got an update from City Manager Jenny Haruyama on city operations moving forward.
Tracy City Hall, including the council chambers, is closed to the public as of March 20 because of the statewide stay-at-home orders related to the coronavirus, but the council and city staff gathered for the Monday meeting.
The 1½-hour meeting was presented on the city of Tracy’s official Facebook page as a streaming live video, with the council taking occasional breaks to gather public input through email or Facebook comments. The live video showed how many members of the public were watching, many coming and going, with about 160 people tuned in by the end of the meeting. (Watch it here.)
Toward the end of the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Young asked Haruyama about plans for council meetings moving forward. Haruyama replied that she and her staff were working on ways to make the meetings more accessible to the public through online formats. More details on those strategies will be discussed when the council meets again Tuesday, April 7.
“My goal is to get council back on a regular schedule with a limited amount of items so that they’re not too lengthy, but just straightforward, to keep essential services moving,” Haruyama said.
The main item on Monday’s agenda was an emergency ordinance that extended deadlines for development projects and gave Haruyama authority for the next two months to take action on other matters that ordinarily would go before the council, such as agreements, projects and grant applications that pertain to economic development.
Those include professional and service agreements of up to $100,000 — the previous limit was $50,000 — and public works contracts of up to $1 million as long as the money is already allocated within the city’s budget. City Attorney Leticia Ramirez noted that no such public works projects were expected within the next two months, but the authority would be granted to the city manager in case something came up within that time.
Young noted that, with all city commissions suspended for now, there still could be some development projects that ordinarily would require planning commission approval.
Ramirez replied that the city could schedule planning commission meetings if needed.
“This is just covering the non-planning commission projects,” Ramirez said. “There may be an event or an opportunity, or a need to for us to have to go and convene the planning commission. We’re monitoring the pipeline of development projects.”
Councilwoman Veronica Vargas asked if the council would still be apprised of projects that need approval within the next couple of months, such as a new California Highway Patrol office on East Pescadero Avenue and a 47-home subdivision at the west end of Schulte Road.
Haruyama said she planned to keep the council informed on her actions, and the council still will take action in some cases, including the 47-home subdivision. It’s one of the items that is expected to be on the agenda for the next council meeting on April 7.
“One of the comments in the staff report was that I would be coming back to the council with updates on anything that I did take action on, so that there is transparency for the community, for you as a body, to know what is happening during that duration, particularly if there are things that I feel warrant discussion or input from the community,” Haruyama told the council.
Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom added that the council should get a list of projects that are due for approval.
“If we can get a few days, maybe a little public notice saying, ‘Pursuant to this ordinance this is the action and, hey, council, here’s the pipeline of what decisions I’m looking forward to making,’ I think that I would feel a lot better about that,” Ransom said.
Mayor Robert Rickman wanted assurance that the council still has the authority to declare an end to the local COVID-19-related state of emergency any time within the next two months should the state of California lift its quarantine order.
The emergency ordinance also extends deadlines for some development projects. Ramirez reported that planning and land use approvals granted by the city require developers to take certain actions within a set time frame.
Many projects now in progress have deadlines that will come within the next two months, at a time when City Hall is closed to the public and much of the city staff is working remotely.
She listed examples such as building permits, which expire after six months if work hasn’t started. Development review permits expire after two years if no building permits are issued for the project. In addition, all the city’s residential growth allotments issued in late 2019 are set to expire as of Tuesday if the developer hasn’t submitted a final map representing those RGAs. Ramirez noted that Tracy Hills, for example, had a final map up for approval at the council’s March 17 meeting, but that meeting was canceled because of coronavirus concerns.
All those deadlines have been extended for two months.
The only other item up for council action on Monday was authorization of up to $125,000 to hire the law office of Price, Postel & Parma LLP. The legal firm will negotiate property acquisition and eminent domain matters related to city infrastructure, including widening of Corral Hollow Road, plus land for a new fire station and storm drain detention basin.