Merced residents and at least one member of the City Council expressed frustration over the lack of advancement on common complaints that resurfaced Thursday during a town hall meeting in South Merced.
Crime, youth services and McNamara Park were hot topics, the same issues that have cropped up every year since the council began holding the public meetings in 2012.
“I feel like this is déjà vu,” Councilman Michael Belluomini said at the close of the meeting.
The meeting held in South Merced’s Tenaya Middle School typically is better attended and more contentious than meetings in the northern part of town. Many members of the community implored the council on Thursday to invest in programs for young people, which they say would be a preventive effort to fight crime rather than the punitive method of hiring more police.
Claudia Gonzalez, a Merced resident who works in the local nonprofits Merced Organizing Project and We’Ced Youth Media, said violence and incarceration are too common in South Merced. She said the council does not do enough to keep children from joining gangs.
“Over and over you ignore our concerns because the issues do not affect you,” she said.
All seven members of the City Council live north of Bear Creek.
I FEEL LIKE THIS IS DÉJÀ VU.
The council has contended for several years that the city budget is too tight to allow leaders to dole out money for new youth programs.
Still, other South Merced residents, like Teresa Franco, called for more police patrols through the southern neighborhoods. “It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel safe to live in my neighborhood,” she said in Spanish.
Police Chief Norm Andrade said about 17 percent of calls to police come from the area south of Highway 99. The Police Department uses a computer program to organize where police patrol.
Members of the audience listen to public comments during the first Merced City Council town hall-style meeting of the year on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. The recurring issues of crime and lack of youth services were popular topics. Thaddeus Miller firstname.lastname@example.org
He told the South Merced crowd they are “over-policed,” meaning the neighborhoods get a greater amount of police patrols than is warranted by the amount of calls.
Another resident, Rachelle Abril, the founder of the nonprofit Distinguished Outreach Services, said more patrols is not the answer. “We don’t need more police, we need more prevention,” she said. “That’s why we get involved in these youth programs.”
WE DON’T NEED MORE POLICE, WE NEED MORE PREVENTION. THAT’S WHY WE GET INVOLVED IN THESE YOUTH PROGRAMS.
Rachelle Abril, the founder of nonprofit Distinguished Outreach Services
Ultimately, Mayor Stan Thurston asked the youth leaders to come up with a wish list for programs before the council goes into budget season.
Longtime resident Tamara Cobb said the city needs to do more to replace the shade now gone from McNamara Park since all of its trees have died or been removed in recent years. The city put up shade structures last year, but Cobb said they don’t do the job.
“Every park in Merced has trees,” she said. “Why can’t McNamara have trees?”
The park has been a topic year after year.
A number of other residents complained about changes needed in the southern part of town to improve the quality of life. Residents said there’s a lack of lighting in many neighborhoods, too much graffiti, large numbers of stray dogs and empty lots that serve as de facto trash collection sites.