Santa Paula Times

Former Public Works Director Cliff Finley questions Council about bond-funded projects

October 27, 2010
Santa Paula City Council

The city’s former Public Works director had some comments for the City Council centered on utility bond funding and the status of projects that would boost the local economy.

Cliff Finley led the Public Works Department for about seven years and was interim city manager for seven months. City Manager Jaime Fontes abruptly terminated Finley, one of three finalists for the city’s top job, in mid-July.

Finley told the council at the October 18 meeting he had read the budget update presented at a previous meeting and, “One thing I didn’t see covered in the report was any discussion of the Santa Paula Utility Authority,” created in February, that generated about $35 million in bonds. Bond proceeds are earmarked for infrastructure and capital improvements, “Improvements to the community,” said Finley.

“It’s your economic stimulus package,” and Finley questioned the lack of projects launched using bond proceeds and, in turn, the jobs such would generate. Finley said it’s been eight months since the bond was approved and, “The question I have is what is the status of these projects, where are they, are we moving forward and, if not, why?”

As of April, several projects were ready to be started, said Finley, and “We need to get going... it’s important for jobs in this community.” Bond proceeds will help fix streets, upgrade the city’s water system and replace aging wastewater piping.

Finley said the funds “could help us putting people to work in our town. You don’t spend eight to ten million in town without people bringing us some money.”

The status of Santa Paula Branch Line Bike trail also concerned Finley, who noted that approximately $4 million in grant funds would expire if work were not launched. “I think the contract has been bid, we had a great contractor,” and Finley questioned why work had not begun.

Councilman Ralph Fernandez said he has his own concerns, and had discussed the issue with Fontes.

As long as the work order is completed by November 1, Fontes said, the funding is secure: “We have Carolla back in the mix” as the engineering consultant, and deadlines will be met.

John Quinn, Finance director/interim Public Works director, said the “most recent delay” was retaining a construction manager, and work would be launched this month.

“The construction management team is back?” asked Fernandez, who had been highly critical of a proposed $1.2 million, three-year Carolla engineering consultant contract scaled back in September by council action.

Councilman Dr. Gabino Aguirre said creation of the utility authority was fast-tracked: “To me that fast-tracking meant we would have that money available to use immediately.... I agree with” Finley’s question, “why is it just sitting there when folks are unemployed?”

“I think we just have to move on,” said Mayor Jim Tovias, and Assistant City Attorney John Cotti agreed, noting the public comment is not meant to prompt deep council discussion. The council later agreed to bring the issue back as part of the regular agenda.