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King City leaders discuss area’s status and future

Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce host annual State of the City presentation

A King City entry sign welcomes visitors off First Street. (Sean Roney)

KING CITY — Rotary Club of King City and King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture hosted their annual State of the City presentation on Jan. 20, this time in a virtual setting over Zoom rather than with a luncheon format as in past years.

Mayor Mike LeBarre, City Manager Steve Adams and Interim Police Chief Keith Boyd provided updates on the city, while Fort Hunter Liggett Garrison Commander Col. Charles Bell shared information about the army base located near Jolon. 

A bilingual Spanish/English presentation of the address was held Jan. 27.

Adams started the speeches by noting how unprecedented the year 2020 turned out to be, not only globally but also locally due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It has been particularly challenging given the very small staff we have, but we have been proud of our response, which has involved a tremendous number of efforts,” Adams said. “In many ways, it really changed the overall mission of our organization overnight.”

Adams said city leadership focused on three points: address needs in the community as much as possible, maintain the city’s stable position and to prepare the city to come back strong after the pandemic.

“An emphasis has been placed on dedicating staff to help address those in the community with unmet needs,” he said, noting the assistance programs for those having trouble paying their utility bills and rent.

The entire time the city worked to help the impacted residents, it had to deal with a budget that contained $3 million in cuts.

“Part of this was due to the projected impacts of the pandemic, but was also partially due to projected cannabis tax revenues that have not materialized,” Adams explained. “As a result, we finished last fiscal year with a balanced budget, including a reduction in the negative General Fund balance, and we feel pretty confident about this year so far.” He added, “We are projecting the negative General Fund balance to drop below $1 million by the end of this year, down from $5 million in just the past five-year period.”

Pandemic policing

Boyd discussed how his department is doing with information based in the present. He focused on crime information, the current status of the department, and the police outreach and enforcement related to Covid-19.

“We experienced three shootings within the city limits during 2020,” Boyd said. “Unfortunately, the first of these three shootings ended a period of nearly 24 months within the city limits without a shooting having taken place.”

He noted video surveillance footage helped in the arrest of a suspect but that the other two shootings are still under investigation.

Due to the pandemic, the state ordered changes to the criminal justice system, including zero bail, reduced jail population and reduced court filings, which Boyd said collectively impacted crime in the city.

“Combined, these factors have created a challenge to manage the increased number of offenders who are out of custody while serving the needs of the community,” he said. “We have seen several cases for arrests made by our officers dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office due to Covid-19.”

Boyd said the pandemic started with an initial lull in crime, but it has since caused an uptick.

“We have seen an increase in domestic violence issues and violent crime, while at the same time misdemeanor quality-of-life crimes have become prevalent as well,” he said.

Boyd also explained that masks have made identifying suspects more challenging, but he did note in one instance the use of masks helped officers solve a three-year-old sexual assault case when a suspect was given a new mask by officers.

Enforcing health guidelines is something the department has taken up during the past year.

“Since the pandemic began, we have responded to 62 calls for service due to Covid-19 concerns,” Boyd said. “We have issued 36 verbal warnings, 35 written warnings and 17 citations, while at the same time providing 313 facial masks to members of the community. Throughout the process, we have accepted the role of being the city’s most visible staff in helping to educate the community as the pandemic has evolved.”

Military training

Bell discussed the way King City and Fort Hunter Liggett support each other by having built a strong, cooperative relationship. Of note was how the army base continues its pandemic protocols under HPCON B.

“We are continuing to build capacity to acquire and distribute the vaccine to our employees, soldiers and their families and anticipate that we’ll have the equipment and personnel to do so in the next few weeks,” Bell said.

Meanwhile, FHL continues to work toward enhancing quality of life and the collective training efforts.

“We are continuing to attract new courses of instruction to build our institutional training portfolio and the collective training will increase this year as unit commanders rebuild mission readiness,” Bell said.

Trainings are booked solid through July, with Bell having noted numerous divisions and groups coming to the base to perform exercises and gain practice in their skills.

Two upcoming events that Bell shared were the May 15 open house to celebrate the FHL’s 80th anniversary and the Boss Lift event scheduled for June 12. He said a garrison change-of-command ceremony is scheduled for June 30.

“We look forward to continuing to collaborate with King City on the multi-model terminal that would help us immensely to receive the soldiers to Fort Hunter Liggett to train,” Bell said.

Future forecast

Mayor LeBarre spoke about what can await the city in the future. He started by noting the teamwork necessary to bring the city to where it is.

“The progress that we have seen in the city is because we all play our parts and all do the work we need to do, working as a team to bring progress to our city,” LeBarre said.

That spirit of community togetherness was one part of an idea for a community celebration dinner. LeBarre said the idea was first inspired by an article, which featured a photo that looked like King City’s downtown area where the city had dinner tables set up outside along with outdoor lighting.

“It was a community dinner, a free dinner for the community, and ever since I saw that, I felt that would be a perfect fit,” he said. “We’ve been in this disconnected state, and this would be a great opportunity to reconnect us all back together and also get our businesses involved.”

LeBarre said the idea would be months out, planned as a post-pandemic celebration, but he would like to get others on board with planning.

In addition, he said the city should remain on track for fiscal solvency due to taking early measures to balance the budget before the pandemic.

“Since we took those early steps, it hasn’t hit us as hard,” LeBarre said. “We saw local sales tax go down, but we saw the internet sales tax portion come up. If you can’t find it in King City, buy it on the internet.”

LeBarre noted online sales tax uses the delivery address zip code to figure out where local taxes are sent, meaning an online sale shipped within King City could generate tax revenue for the municipality.

Just as Bell mentioned the future of the multi-modal transit terminal, LeBarre also set sights toward the future for that project.

“We received a year ago, a $1.5 million grant for the design,” he said. 

The city has worked with Union Pacific and Amtrak as it moves forward with creating a temporary train platform by the old train station location near Pearl Street. The temporary platform would then set up the city for a next step, grant applications for bigger build-outs of the location. 

Such efforts would go alongside the new bus yard being built by Monterey-Salinas Transit along San Antonio Drive, as well as improvements to the existing airport, making King City into a regional transportation hub.

On the development end, LeBarre said the empty lot on the west end of Broadway has development plans in the works, with space for a hotel, grocery store and other retail spots.

“In creating tourism options, you have to have hotels for that,” LeBarre said. “It’s one of those steps moving forward in the overall goal for South County tourism.”

The long-discussed arrival of cannabis dispensaries in King City could begin this year, LeBarre noted. Two applications are moving forward but not far along, while another application is moving forward for the Forum at Broadway, where the property would only have to be renovated and not built.

“That’s one that will go up fairly quickly,” LeBarre said. “It’s quite possible we could see that summer to fall of this year.”