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The cry: Say no to stimulus
People want Ripon council to turn down to $1.1M
StimASK 0298
“It’s time to revolt!”, Tae Kwon Do business owner Ray Schaffer told a group of business leaders as he held up the list of 42 shop owners and professionals who voted against much of the reconstruction of the city’s main business section. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin
RIPON - The message was clear: Washington can keep its stimulus funds as Ripon can manage just fine on its own without help from “bankrupt” Uncle Sam.

Federal stimulus funds got a resounding thumbs down vote Monday night in Ripon at a special town hall meeting in the American Legion Hall.

The use of federal stimulus money to upgrade Ripon’s downtown section has drawn the ire of business leaders who would rather give the money back to Uncle Sam than to use it where they feel it will only inhibit their businesses and cause them to lay off employees.

Margaret Lopez, visiting a Ripon business owner from the Southern California community of Ventura, warned city officials to be careful in accepting stimulus funds.  

She is the fiscal manager of the Ventura County Public Works Department where she and her staff of 19 control 30 separate budgets amounting to $40 million in expenditures.

Lopez urged city staffers to read the fine print where the federal government states the stimulus funds can be used only to “create and sustain” jobs with the use of the funds.  She said it is likely the government may come back and ask for their stimulus funds to be returned if the jobs are not sustained.

Some 125 business members and residents gathered at the meeting united against a city council decision that is about to accept $1.1 million in federal funding slated to help in updating a section of the downtown business section with construction activity that will last for up to six months weather permitting.

The total project is expected to cost $1.6 million with the remainder coming from city redevelopment funds to provide underground electrical wiring, new street lights, parking area pavers, removal of a car wash and the construction of a round-about at the east end of the street.

When questioned, city engineer Kevin Werner noted that among the reports the federal government requests from cities in the use of the stimulus funds, the loss of jobs due to construction upset in a business community is not considered.

A consensus agreed that the round-about and the pavers weren’t needed with one member of the group interjecting that there had never been a serious accident where the traffic turnaround is planned.  

Use fund for communities
that are more in need

They all seemed to agree that the stimulus money should be given back and the necessary improvements accomplished by using only the half million redevelopment funds.  The funds can be used in some other community more in need, or help with the “bankrupt” federal coffers.

They also felt that they needed to present the numbers of the business community objecting to the plan at the next city council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7, hoping they could have the project revisited.

The last renovation of Ripon’s Main Street was in 1995 when city crews undertook a much needed construction effort with the downtown business leaders showing their support.  

Monday night’s moderator, veterinarian Dr. Debbie Daniels, said that the business community was  then an integral part of the planning that saw new sidewalks, roadway replacement, landscaping with power lines moved underground as well as new street lights.

“It was a complete transformation.  Granite Construction did a great job and actually finished early to earn a bonus.  Our Main Street still looks beautiful,” she said.

She added that last year in 2009 the city council voted for a downtown plan that included closing down Main Street for six weeks per block to install pavers in the entire street and elevate the center of the street costing a half million dollars.

The business community quietly organized and attended a September 2009 council meeting, speaking out against the proposal.  They were in agreement even then that the closing of the main business roadway downtown during the recession would be a “financial disaster” for business.

That night the council further debated the plan and voted to amend their reconstruction proposal to put the pavers in the parking stalls only and allow through traffic only in a one-way flow.  The plan to raise the center of the street was also dropped.  

Dr. Daniels told the group assembled in the Legion Hall that it was almost a year later that the business community was notified of a meeting with the city and the city engineer Kevin Werner, saying they weren’t asked for any input into the stimulus funded proposal.

“This was not going to be a workable deal for the downtown,” she said.  

The city proposal called for closing down sections of the street five weeks at a time over the course of the six-month project.  There were a series of “deal breakers” in the plan, she insisted.  The turnaround or round-about itself would take away four parking places.  

The group of business leaders is totally in favor of tearing down the old car wash at the end of the street to make way for more parking spaces.  

“If the downtown needs anything, we need more parking,” Daniels said.
Enhanced landscaping is also on their wish list, but they don’t want the large ornamental pots seen farther west on Main Street.  “They would be out of place downtown,” she continued.

She further added that the downtown merchants wished they could have had Monday night’s meeting in the very beginning a year ago.

“I think the council and the city staff underestimated what a negative economic impact this plan would have and how strong people’s emotions are when it comes to their livelihoods,” Daniels said.

Last project helped reduce
business from 11 to 4 stores
Mary Ortel, owner of Mary’s Tax Service on Wilma Avenue, said the reconstruction that occurred near her business in erecting a stimulus-funded roundabout and clock tower drove her business down by some 30 percent.

“We had 11 (storefronts)  in our strip mall.  It was tragic.  We have four empty business spaces now,” she said.  “People are creatures of habit.  When they can’t get to your place they will go elsewhere.  We have lost a tremendous amount of business and have still not recovered.”

Marcus Sheehan of the Ripon Road House restaurant said that his experience is much the same noting that the public will seek out other businesses that are easy to reach.  

“The downtown is now accessible no matter what time of day,” he said.

He questioned whether the city’s investment in the project would ever bring returns.  He also questioned what the street pavers are going to do for anyone’s business.  Sheehan noted that he has rear parking and a back door entrance, saying he was more concerned about the business owners who have no back door or accessible parking.

Ripon chiropractor Dr. L. M. Tevdt said that front door access is critical to his patients who walk from their cars to enter his office using the parking stalls in front of his door.

Sheehan added that in today’s economy businesses are doing their best to survive, pay their bills, pay their rent and their employees and take something home at the end of the month.

“I’m doing the best I can to survive,” he said. “But don’t ask me to close for six weeks.”

The group was also in agreement that while the city had planned to only close sections of the business district one at a time, the consumers would tend to stay away from the construction for the entire six months.