CALEXICO — The Calexico City Council voted to dissolve the Housing and Economic Development Department, which includes the elimination of two positions, in the last regular meeting on Wednesday, May 3. According to supporting documents, the department is perpetually unproductive, has had no Director in years, and elimination will help free up funds to hire an engineer for the City.
“For the last two months, the City Council has been requesting to hire an engineer because of the lack of personnel,” said City Manager Esperanza Colio Warren. "Because of incidents that we have had in the city in which we’re really putting pressure to staff that are not prepared to do improvements properly, and we have been outsourcing several engineers and creating a higher cost for our projects,” said Warren.
Warren said she had looked into the budget and other areas and in every single department. Warren said she hates to make comparisons but that it was necessary in this case.
“The City of El Centro is a 44,000 population city, The City of Calexico is a 39,000 almost 40,000 population, so we’re almost 4,000 in population difference,” said Warren. “They are operating with 298 employees, the City of Calexico is operating with 153 employees, we’re so understaffed to the point that wherever I look for options to hire this engineer, there were no options,” said Warren.
Warren said that so many of the departments in the city are understaffed to the degree that she can’t touch them, Warren also said that many city employees are employed through outside contractors and that she also cannot touch that.
“There’s no room for me to hire this engineer this fiscal year, and you can see in the quarter’s report we’re barely making it, so I have no options but to look into the departments,” said Warren.
Warren said the City has not been in compliance with the state of California when it comes to their housing standards since 2014, and that they have not had a house in rehabilitation inspection in quite some time.
“I’m not talking about the regular housing projects, I’m talking about the housing rehabilitation inspector, which is only for a specific program that we have not had in the city for many years,” said Warren. "So seeing the budget that was allocated for that specific department, I had no other option but to secure the funding that is available in that amount in that department and to locate that funding through the public works department, because it’s what is needed. Otherwise I don’t see any other way that we can hire an engineer. You keep asking for an engineer, you keep seeing the parks are the way that they are, I have no options,” said Warren.
Mayor Raul Urena read aloud a public comment that came in from former Councilmember Rosie Arreola-Fernandez.
“Was the state notified about this? Now who will be responsible for handling housing and economic development projects that are still in place? Does the city have someone available being that the city is short staffed? It appears that the city council tends to make decisions without examining the repercussion it would have on the city once the position is eliminated, don’t they understand that such a decision to eliminate this position would overall have a dire consequence on the City of Calexico,” said Arreola-Fernandez.
Urena said Arreola-Fernandez was one of the councilmembers that previously voted to eliminate the director’s position that Warren needed.
“She herself set the precedent for what is happening today, but I do appreciate her concerns,” said Urena.
Councilmember Camilo Garcia asked city staff if this action has been cleared by the State. City Manager Warren responded by saying the State has no say in this matter whatsoever.
“Housing Rehabilitation Inspectors are different than a building inspector, a building inspector is a licensed individual that has the credentials to fully to do an inspection over a house,” said Warren. “A Housing Rehabilitation Inspector follows only a checklist of does they has, does the house have a smoke detector, check, does the house have the eight conditions, check, it’s all it does, there’s a lot of difference between one and the other, it doesn’t require the license and we haven’t had the program for many years,” said Warren.
Garcia said he was concerned about the lack of an economic development team, and asked who was going to be responsible for any kind of economic plan for the City.
“Most of the economic development nowadays are being managed by the city manager in combination with the public works department and the planning department, and the reason why is because for those who know and understand redevelopment agencies, when redevelopment agencies existed, all the funds were used mostly to maintain and operate a department, which was not the intention of the redevelopment agencies, the intentions were to invest that money for projects, and because that didn’t happen, the Governor decided to end the program, when that happened many cities lost their staff, and for that reason, most of the cities, specifically the cities that are struggling financially, are making the economic development to be part of the job description of the City Manager, planning department and public works department,” said Warren.
Garcia was not satisfied with that answer and said that he doesn’t believe that any city manager has the time to be responsible for economic development.
“Years ago I remember that this same department was responsible for retaining Applebee’s, they were going to leave,” said Garcia.
Councilmember Gilberto Manzanarez asked Warren about the potential benefit of hiring an engineer. Warren said that most of the infrastructure projects that the City has pending would be able to move forward by hiring an engineer.
Manzanarez said that hiring an engineer is in the best interest of economic development in the City of Calexico. Manzanarez asked Warren how many parks would benefit from having an engineer, and Warren responded with all of them.
Manzanarez asked what exactly the current person with this position was even doing and Warren said their only responsibility was answering phone calls.
Mayor Urena said all current councilmembers, excluding Manzanarez, were present and voted in favor of eliminating the positions they did back in October 2021.
“Ms. Fernandez that took the liberty to comment on this item was also here, if I remember correctly we all voted yes without batting an eye,” said Urena. “There were none of these disingenuous concerns about what that department is very clearly not doing, other than saving Applebee’s over a decade right,” said Urena. "I find it disingenuous and almost sexist that, that kind of ability was not questioned when City Manager Figueroa made that move for an equivalent amount for the dispatchers, but now it is being questioned whether you (Warren) can do economic development having more experience as a woman now in the city manager's position,” said Urena.
Urena praised Warren for her administrative cleanup of the city and said she is setting the foundation for any kind of economic development to happen.
“She’s playing catch-up to make sure that procedures are right, and that the foundation and the stage is set for economic development, she is more than capable on her position, and she is already being successful, so I absolutely trust Ms. Esperanza Colio over the work that we have not seen for decades from this particular department, and that this particular council and many members of this council previously voted to to dissolve positions without any kind of reverence or comments about you know, implying anything about the ability or the workload of the City Manager which has always been critical,” said Urena.
The council voted by a margin of 4-1 to approve the dissolution, with Garcia being the only no vote.
The city needs police officers and firemen more than a engineer, the council does not care about the safety of it citizens,they should resighn and take the manager with them
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