Dozens of local residents turned out for a look at Escalon’s future, the large crowd gathering on Wednesday night, Feb. 27 in the city’s Community Center.
Members of the Escalon City Council hosted the event, designed to get input from residents on the direction they want to see the city move in the future.
Mayor Pro Tem Ed Alves suggested the ‘listening session’ and said he was very pleased with the turnout and feels it is something the council should do at least once, if not twice, a year.
Areas touched on ranged from the city’s current slow growth policy to the possibility of allowing cannabis – either cultivation or dispensaries – in the city and discussion also featured the need for improving the city’s infrastructure.
Much of the discussion early on focused on cannabis and the majority of those in attendance gave a thumbs down to cannabis in any form entering the city. A handful of residents were in favor, including one man who said he wanted to bring a medical dispensary in to the city. That prompted a couple residents to indicate they would put their homes up for sale if that happened, noting the amount of crime a dispensary – or any form of cannabis – can bring with it.
Whether or not the city can continue to grow was also touched on, as even with the current ‘slow growth’ policy of a maximum of 75 homes per year, Escalon still wouldn’t reach a population that could draw major businesses for several years.
That point was also somewhat moot, as city officials said the aging infrastructure needs to be upgraded to handle any more growth.
A new lift station is in process along McHenry Avenue but there also need to be provisions made for additional water and sewer service, more police and fire and possibly some city financial backing for the member-supported Escalon Community Ambulance.
“This is fantastic,” Mayor Robert Swift said to kick off the session, noting the large crowd in attendance. “This is democracy in its purest form, an unscripted town hall.”
Swift also thanked Alves for suggesting the meeting.
“We realized we had to start somewhere,” Swift said.
Council meetings, typically held twice a month, don’t draw much of a crowd and Alves decided it was best for the council to get out and meet the community.
Many of those in attendance said they would welcome new businesses but agreed with the roughly 7,500 population, many ‘big box’ type stores or fast food chains aren’t interested.
The council, and residents, generally agreed they would like to draw a business that could ‘capture’ the traffic along Highway 120, the main thoroughfare from the Bay Area to the Sierra Mountains.
“We’re at a crossroads in our community,” agreed Alves. “Our job, we’re supposed to listen to you, it’s critical to get your input and I’m so pleased so many of you showed up.”
Other topics ranged from improving the school system by adding more languages and AP classes, the possibility of a bond issue to help finance needed infrastructure improvements and potential changes in the growth policy.
Several members of the city’s planning commission attended as well and encouraged residents to attend their meetings to stay up to date on happenings within the city.
Though no formal decisions were made, all the council members agreed the session was worthwhile and having the chance to hear directly from residents will be helpful down the line.
“We’re very pleased with the turnout tonight,” said councilman Jeff Laugero. “We very much appreciate everyone being here.”