EL CENTRO – The Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a resolution authorizing the county to submit an application as co-applicant with Calexico to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Department Administration in the amount of $3 million for off-site infrastructure improvements at the Gran Plaza Outlets.
Additionally, the board approved a memorandum of understanding authorizing the county act as lead agency for the application submitted.
On June 20, the county received a letter from Calexico Interim City Manager Nick Fenley, requesting their assistance as a co-applicant in submitting an EDA grant application to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration (EDA). The grant would ask for $3 million earmarked for off-site infrastructure improvement on West Second Street between the airport and the All American Canal. Additionally, the city requested the county act as the lead agency for the EDA grant application.
The proposed infrastructure improvements will expand the current Gran Plaza Outlets and assist with the development of the new Gran Plaza Power Center in hopes of generating sales tax revenue and employment opportunities.
“This is only for outside improvements, only for the runaways from the city,” said Esperanza Colio-Warren, Community & Economic Development Manager. “This is not to cover the facility (Gran Plaza Outlets).”
The proposed off-site infrastructure improvements include earthwork, sewer system additions and upgrades, a storm drain system, water system additions and upgrades, surfacing improvements and under-ground utilities.
Colio also emphasized the possibility of creating jobs. If approved, she said the project would create numerous employment opportunities for county residents.
“This is all about job creation,” said John Renison, District 1 supervisor. “EDA would not jump into this unless they knew it was a viable project. Obviously, we have a way to go until this becomes a reality, but this is just a job creation tool of general monies where the county is not liable at all, and that is the only reason I would support this.”
District 5 Supervisor Ray Castillo agreed with Renison and said this is a win-win scenario for everyone.
“This is an economic development exercise and we need the county’s assistance and technical expertise,” said Armando Villa, newly appointed city manager for Calexico.
Accompanied by several other young adults with posters seeking the county’s assistance with job creation, Calexico resident Angel Esparza reminded the board that Calexico has a high unemployment rate.
“We came here today to show support for various reasons,” said Esparza. “Gran Plaza has created hundreds of jobs for the Valley and will create more on second and third phases. According to the statistics of the Bureau of Labor, Calexico has an unemployment rate of 24.6 percent which is comparable to the Great Depression. Please have compassion for our city that is in dire need of jobs, economic development — but most importantly, hope. If you approve this grant, not only will it build a road, it will create a stronger, more prosperous Calexico, ultimately, a better Imperial Valley.”
Joseph Moreno, who accompanied Esparza, also took the podium and expressed his frustration with regards to the job shortages in the Valley.
“I am speaking on behalf of the unemployed youth of Calexico,” said Moreno. “I have lived in Calexico all of my life. I graduated from high school last year and have been looking for a job ever since, but it’s not easy. There are a lot of people like me who are willing to work, but very little job openings. If approved, this project would help many of us in finally getting a job.”
Calexico Councilman Armando Real explained that Gran Plaza is the ship that is moving and sustaining the city of Calexico with tax revenues.
“I hope that you support this project keeping in mind that with the new border streets will have to be widened anyway,” said Real.
COLAB Executive Director Kay Pricola expressed her concerns with the project and asked the board defer any actions for one additional week until further viable information of the MOU is made available to the public.
In response, Colio said the MOU was simply to create a relationship between the county and Calexico and that a formal detailed application would be presented to the board at a later date for approval.
“It would behoove all of us for this to be on an agenda item in the very near future with a full disclosure for the public to know and they can rest assured that you are making a sound decision,” said Pricola. “We have all been down the path of promised jobs where they didn’t occur. I think this one will probably deliver the job, but let’s look at the information up front before we go far down the path.”
District 4 Supervisor Ryan Kelley said various questions raised had been answered, and he therefore supported the MOU.
“The county is not going to be in a position where any of this money will be going to Calexico,” explained Ryan. “This will be managed by the county. The county will have full control over the expenditures of the EDA funds and this will maintain, if this application is approved, our relationship with EDA and our standards as well.”
District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelley reminded the board of a similar situation involving the city of Imperial where the county also co-applied seeking funds to complete a project.
“We represent all of Imperial County and anything that we can do as a board to improve the community is our obligation,” said Michael Kelley. “We are not in jeopardy of hurting the county’s finances, so I have no problem with that.”
The estimated cost of improvements is approximately $6 million. If successful, $3 million of the off-site improvements will be funded by this U.S. EDA grant and the remaining $3 million by the developer.