Citizens take action on homelessness
City Council is not sure if it should form its own committee or clear the way for private citizens group
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – The Visalia City Council isn’t sure it wants to form a committee to coordinate its efforts to reduce homelessness in the community, but the community won’t wait any longer.
Before the city council pulled an item from its consent calendar to consider discussing a Homeless Action Committee at a future council meeting, Visalia Chamber of Commerce CEO Gail Zurek spoke during public comment to inform the elected officials that a concerned group of citizens had already formed their own action committee, wanting to work with the council, or, if need be, push forward without them.
“We’ve gathered a group of diverse and concerned citizens who are tired of talking about this issue and are willing to work together to find local, city solutions,” Zurek said. “This action group intends to make that happen. We can no longer not act.”
Zurek is spearheading the committee along with former Visalia City Council candidate Merritt Wiseman and outspoken city council commenter Harold Myers. They have spent the last week compiling a list of 17 Visalia residents interested in investigating innovative yet reasonable solutions to addressing homelessness. The diverse group includes local realtors, small business owners, corporate officers, nonprofit leaders, and attorneys. She said the group was realistic and understood that significant change cannot happen without changes at the state and federal level, but that her group wanted to be innovative and responsive while still being thoughtful of their community surroundings.
“We want to help Visalia move forward in a smart and thoughtful way,” she added.
Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen said he was in favor of not forming a council-appointed committee so as to not impede quick progress that could be made by Zurek’s group of private citizens.
“To tie in with the city would bog down where you want to go,” Nelsen said. “You don’t need to be encumbered by the city’s rules and regulations.”
Councilmember Brian Poochigian questioned the reasoning for forming a task force when the citizens group could develop a plan in half the time it will take the city to just form its own committee.
“Once you become a public group there are guidelines that you have to follow,” Poochigian said. “With a task force, everything has to be agendized.”
Zurek said regardless of the city’s decision on forming their own committee, she said they will continue to meet and expect that their numbers will grow and that city staff has already been incredibly supportive of their effort.
“There is much to do and I am hopeful that others will join as more heads, hearts and hands are needed,” Zurek said. “We consider you partners in this work. We believe in Visalia. We believe in local action that must be taken. We can do this. We will do this.”
Mayor Bob Link said he wasn’t sure where he wanted to head with the city’s own committee but said there will need to be coordination with the council and staff to ensure that there are no issues with planning, land use, and permitting.
“The only way this will work is one group with some help from the city,” Link said.
In the end, every councilmember agreed forming its own committee or supporting a citizens committee was worth discussing further on a future agenda. That discussion should take place at its next meeting on Sept. 9. The citizens action committee is planning to hold its first meeting in the next two weeks. For more information on the committee formed by concerned citizens, contact Gail Zurek at 559-734-5876.