Feeling a little queasy about outgoing council making such a momentous decision

Let me be clear from the very start — I am not accusing the current Susanville City Council members and city staff of any wrongdoing.

Don’t get me wrong. While some city residents bitterly complain of all the corruption at City Hall, I don’t live in that camp. Having said that, I certainly don’t agree with every decision the city council makes, and I believe we would live in a mighty boring world if everyone agreed with me 100 percent of the time. So, please understand — I don’t impugn anyone’s honesty or integrity in their public service. I honor and respect each and every one of you and thank you all for your service to our community.

But here’s the thing. The council is poised to make momentous decisions — hiring a new Economic Development Director in partnership with the Susanville Indian Rancheria and deciding how to expend about $2.5 million in unused ARPA funds — the remainder of $3.5 million designated to help keep the city afloat during the COVID 19 pandemic. Despite the obvious great needs, somehow the city couldn’t find a use for those funds for government services during the pandemic for which they were designed. Now the city is forced to spend all that unused money by the end of the year or lose it. The federal government has loosened the restrictions on the use of that pandemic funding, and it now essentially has become part of the city’s general fund to be spent at the council’s pleasure.

According to the staff report, the matter is up for a vote at the council’s Wednesday, Jan. 17 meeting.

The council proposes to use these funds in these ways

  • $1 million for economic development as an external investment. For example, improving Main Street building facades.
  • $500,000 for economic development as an internal investment. For example, hiring an outside firm to provide professional development training to city staff and recommend improvements to development processes;
  • $500,000 for marketing Susanville; and,
  • $500,000 for city facility repairs and improvements. Input has been provided by the public as well as city staff and council members.

OK. I have some issues. It seems to me spending $1 million on improving the facades on Main Street should be deemed community development rather than economic development.

It’s really just a gift of public funds to improve the properties of a few Main Street landowners, in my opinion. Aside from the wages earned by the workmen, there’s no economic development here unless you believe passersby will make that hard right turn at the base of Town Hill and suddenly decide to stop and shop Uptown simply because the facades look better. Or that local residents will flock in droves Uptown to admire the new architecture and spend wads of cash there. Both are doubtful to me.

And somebody tell me why the city needs to spend $500,000 on an outside firm to direct its economic development efforts when it soon plans to hire an expensive new department head who will assume that direct responsibility? While the city joyfully boasts about its relationship with the Rancheria, from where I stand, the economic development aspirations of those two entities are in direct conflict with each other.

While I’m certainly in favor of marketing Susanville, I need to know exactly how that $500,000 is going to spent before I can form an opinion on that expenditure.

I’m pretty sure without looking too hard, the city could find $500,000 for city facility repairs and improvements.

Here’s the rub. We need to hear how the council defines terms such as economic development. We need to learn the goals, the processes and the end game of all this. We need more than simply a list of ranked projects. I don’t have any big issues with the proposed list of projects. I like the idea of new Christmas lights, new decorations and pickle ball court improvements, but I don’t see how those can possibility be considered economic development. Most seem like the normal, everyday matters facing every municipality.

Loudly professing the values and benefits of economic development from the Dias means nothing to those of us living on the other side who are not privy to the city’s internal discussions. Please. Give us something concrete to ponder, not just another batch of great sounding, feel good but meaningless abstractions such as, Ya! Economic development! We rock! Tell us where we’re going and what we hope to accomplish. Share the plan, if there is one, with the city’s residents before you allocate these millions of dollars to every day projects.

I’m just saying we have a big chunk of now free change the current council couldn’t find a use for during the pandemic, and now it seems there’s suddenly a rush to spend it all like a bunch of drunken sailors just before they stumble back onto the boat. I think we can do better than this with $2.5 million. I suggest the council should figure out how to get a really big bang for our big load of bucks.

Spending these ARPA funds is the biggest expenditure of its kind the city has made during my 25 years in Susanville, and I believe these decisions should be made by the new city council that will be installed in very few days, soon after the March 5 election, rather than by a council that’s had no use for this money for years and now wants to expend this windfall.

I understand some councilmembers may feel these decisions are the crown jewels of their terms in office. I get that. But I’d feel a whole lot better if these important decisions were being made by a council looking toward our future rather than one that’s about to walk out the door once and for all for good.