With Councilmember Greg Collins absent, the Visalia City Council stalemated on its decision whether to discontinue the North Visalia Advisory Committee (NVAC) as an official Visalia entity.
During the February 21 work session three choices were on the table: continue the NVAC as an official city committee indefinitely, continue the NVAC as an official city committee until November 30, 2018–when district elections will be complete, or discontinue the NVAC as an official city committee immediately.
Councilmember Phil Cox and Mayor Warren Gubler voted to reevaluate the fate of the NVAC in November of 2018. Councilmember Bob Link and Councilmember Steve Nelsen voted to discontinue the NVAC’s official status as an advisory committee immediately.
The NVAC became an official city committee in 2000. Its purpose is “to serve as a liaison between the City and the North Visalia Community, serve as a forum for citizen complaints and problems, and make recommendations to the City Council.” In 2015 the boundaries of NVAC expanded north to Riggin, south to Murray (Goshen), east to Ben Maddox and west to Mooney. But the heart of North Visalia is, and always has been, the Oval.
Assistant City Manager Leslie Caviglia gave the staff report and stated that the council had questioned the relevancy of the advisory group given the fact that city council members are now elected by district.
The North Visalia region is represented by District 4, Greg Collins, and district 5, Nelsen. It was suggested that those councilmembers representing North Visalia could make the decision to form and administer their own advisory committee for the region.
The staff report also stated that the NVAC currently costs approximately 4-10 hours of staff time a month, depending on the issues discussed.
The Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) recommended that the NVAC be discontinued in 2016 and Nelsen agreed with that assessment.
Nelsen said one constituent approached the dais and asked why her community didn’t have an official advisory committee. Nelsen agreed, saying, “I don’t feel that one segment of the city deserves more than another. The NVAC was needed at one time and now that need is gone.”
Nelsen said that the
Neighborhood Church, along with help from the NVAC, made the Houston Park a reality but did it without any official affiliation with the city. He predicted that the NVAC would live on and continue doing great things for its community even without an official designation.
Cox, who was chairman of the NVAC many years ago, didn’t see the common sense in discontinuing a functioning committee “because they made too much noise or asked for too much from the city.” He added, “They are the boots on the ground and advocating for the neediest in the city.” Cox believes that the advisory committee is a good idea for a region of the city that has special needs.
Link commended the committee for doing a tremendous job in improving North Visalia. But he acknowledged that he has seen a lot of money spent between Houston, Ferguson and Highway 63 and “I see that as a problem.”
Link mentioned that the Washington School area and Central Avenue have just as many needs as North Visalia. He also pointed out that the city’s other advisory committees, such as the CAC, the Transit Advisory Committee and the Parks and Trails Committee serve all of Visalia and not just one region.
Gubler felt that North Visalia had special needs compared to the rest of the city. He said it is OK to be noisy and that he appreciates the different voices the committee brings to the city council meetings. Gubler did not see any hurry in changing the status of the NVAC and his recommendation was to wait until after the 2018 election.
Collins, who intends on making his final decision at the March 6 meeting, said during a telephone interview that he leaned towards waiting until November 2018 to decide the fate of the NVAC. He said that the advisory committee has a long history going back to the 1970’s and that it has made a valuable contribution through the years.
“The more inclusion of Visalia citizens in the decision making process the better,” said Collins.
He acknowledged that just having one region of Visalia with its official advisory committee does not square with the other committees. “But North Visalia has some unique attributes such as Highway 63 and the Oval that the other regions don’t have.”
Bill Huott, who has been a committee member since 2001, said “one less voice and one less committee is not a good idea.”
In a letter Huott said, “Instead of embarking down the road of dissolution of this committee, the council should be brainstorming ideas for this committee as a model for more outreach, more intervention and services, more lines of communication to the most needy, of outreach and services.”
He reminded the council that there had been two murders in Visalia this year, both of which happened in North Visalia, underscoring the regions special needs.
Vincent Salinas, who has also been a longtime member of the committee, listed off its many accomplishments, such as more lighting, better streets, improved housing and recruiting new businesses. He said it’s the heart of the city but so many houses and businesses are blighted. Maria Gonzales, another member, added that the committee gives a voice to the most impoverished residents of Visalia. She said they do not feel comfortable coming to the city council meetings so they rely on the advisory committee to be their voice.
Bob Ludekins agreed with Cox that it did not make sense to discontinue a successful working committee just because other regions of Visalia do not have their own advisory committees. Councilmember Collins did not attend the February 21 council meeting due to a minor medical procedure. The NVAC issue will be revisited at the March 6 city council meeting.