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Colusa candidates sound off on economic development

Not since 2012 has there been this much interest in Colusa politics.

It has been eight years since the City of Colusa last saw six people vying for the three open seats on the City Council, and, once again, one of the issues for a larger than usual field of candidates – outside of streets and basic services – centers around economic development.

Colusa residents will select three City Council members on Tuesday from a field that includes two incumbents, Brent Nobles and former Mayor Greg Ponciano, and four newcomers, Denise Conrado, Ryan Codorniz, Matthew Reische, and Daniel Vaca.

“We have been stagnant and it’s time for Colusa to move forward,” said Vaca, at a candidate’s forum last month. “I don’t want Colusa to stay as it is. I want Colusa to be better, not just for my kids but for generations to come.”

At the forum, hosted by and steamed online by the Chamber of Commerce, the candidates were asked how they felt about Colusa taking another deep financial dive into economic development.

The City Council invested heavily this year in the old Pirelli Cable property to bring a mix of biomaterial industries to Colusa, and has also authorized the hiring of a fulltime economic development director to revitalize the downtown, bring tourists to town, and host new community events.

“I love our town and I want to see it grow,” said Nobles. “We have great potential here. We have a lot of great things in progress, but one thing I’ve learned being on city council is that things do not happen overnight. We may approve something today but groundbreaking may not happen for many months.”

Despite an economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 candidates are all relatively optimistic about taking the same path the city council took before a contentious 2012 election.

At issue then was overwhelming disapproval for the city’s hefty investment in economic consultant, Mark Mayuga, who had a previous business relationship with then City Manager, Jan McClintock.

Mayuga was paid about $200,000 to revitalize the downtown and pitch Colusa to companies that might be looking to start or relocate commercial and industrial interests. His focus: the former Pirelli Cable plant converted to a methanol plant, in which he had a vested interest. When that failed, the city’s focus shifted to a biomass plant that would use rice straw and almond hulls to generate electricity, which also didn’t see the light of day.

In 2012, the council included (the late) Kirk Kellerher and Tom Reische, who opposed Mayuga’s contract, and Donna Critchfield, Kay Hosmer, and then Mayor Patrick Landreth, who supported the investment.

Kellerher, who originally announced that he would not seek a second term in 2012, ultimately changed his mind after blowing the whistle on what he said was “reckless and irresponsible” behavior, the lack of transparency, and excessive spending by his peers.

The complaints were echoed by the 2011-2012 Colusa County Grand Jury, which ultimately concluded the City Council violated the city’s competitive bidding process policy when it hired a hand-picked economic development consultant at $7,800 a month, and that the council possibly violated the Brown Act regarding McClintock’s own contract.

The City Council denied the grand jury’s allegations, but by the time the  election rolled around in November, the damage from the city’s failure to produce any desired outcome from the investment had been done.

On Nov. 6, 2012, only Kellerher won his bid for reelection, with challengers Greg Ponciano and Marilyn Acree securing the seats previously held by Landreth and Hosmer.

Fast forward to 2020 and Ponciano is still somewhat skeptical of the city’s lofty financial investment on the same goal, which now includes a full time economic development director, with a lucrative salary and potentially lifetime benefits.

At the forum, Ponciano said he opposed the position, not on its merit but the lack of transparency, and the near repeat of what occurred in 2012 when the city manager asked the council to approve his selection for the position, at a salary he recommended, with no public input, no previous discussion by the council, no previous direction given by the council, no open recruitment, and a whisper of impropriety about whether a decision by a majority of the board had already occurred behind closed doors.

“I took a very open stance on that, and it really had nothing to do with the position itself,” Ponciano said. “It had everything to do with the process, and I still believe today the council was cheated out of some very good opportunities to have constructive conversations on what we really wanted. And as painful as the process is in government, it’s there for a reason. It’s there for transparency, it’s there for public input, and it’s there to protect everybody. I feel that we were cheated in that process.”

But since the position, which requires extensive grant writing, was approved by the majority, Ponciano said he would now stand behind whoever is selected “100 percent.”

Conrado said she would also, if elected, work with the new director to bring new opportunities to Colusa, even though the position should be reevaluated annually to see if the cost is covered by grants, as promised by the council majority.
“We have to do something,” Conrado said. “We are talking about what businesses we need to bring in but we need a little more expertise. Grant writing is very technical. It’s not just applying for it, but also monitoring the grants once they are here. We don’t just get the money and spend it. We actually have to monitor them and do record keeping. I think that position has the potential to make a difference here in Colusa, but we need to monitor it.”

When asked about what type of businesses the candidates said they would like Colusa bring in, Reishe said the biggest need is a new quality grocery store, which would help stem the flow of gas, restaurant, and other sales tax dollars to Yuba City – and spur other businesses to open and thrive.

“That would be the first thing I would look at,” Reische said.

Cordoniz said another prize for the city would be additional ag friendly businesses that provide good paying jobs, which would also drive the creation of new secondary businesses and service operations.

“I would like to see people come to Colusa and stay,” Codorniz said.

Polls open Tuesday at 7 AM and close at 8 PM. A drop box for ballots has been placed in front of the Hall of Records, located at 546 Jay St., Colusa, for convenience. 

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