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Visions for Williams' economic future shaded
Williams is a divided city — at least geographically with Interstate 5 bisecting the old town to the west and the newer development to the east.
Some in the city are concerned it could become divided economically, too, with the old town losing out.
Four candidates for two City Council seats have definite thoughts about what Williams will look like in the future, and while not in conflict with each other's vision, there are shades of differences.
Bryan Shults sees a downtown that is in need of revitalization.
No one disputes that, but perhaps more than the other candidates, he believes that is a higher priority than other economic needs.
"What I would really like to see is the redevelopment of our downtown area," said Shults, who said grants, low-interest loans and even city investment are all options.
Councilman Don Barker, a two-term incumbent, is not convinced it is a higher priority, but he believes the city needs to make a better effort to drive visitors to the area.
He said more signs directing people to the downtown, and marketing will be part of that. "But we need something for people to come to," Barker said.
Mayor John Troughton also thinks it is a balancing act, but he views development in the so-called Vann Industrial Park as the financing tool for downtown revitalization.
Troughton said the city was given a blow when redevelopment was first raided by the state, then declared illegal in the courts.
Williams planned to use the program to raise funds for the downtown corridor.
"Now we are looking at extending Margurite Avenue (to Highway 20) and opening up that area, and hopefully the truck stop will still be interested," said Troughton, who is seeking a second term. "If we get the truck stop, that will allow us to do some of the things we want to do downtown."
Candidate Kent Boes agrees.
"Getting an anchor in there (at Interstate 5 and Highway 20) is the key," said Boes, who thinks the downtown area is not as bad off as some would like people to believe.
"The downtown is doing well so far, and the only problem ... is the new area might take business away from it," Boes said.
"I am a big supporter of small businesses, but I know we need a big anchor."
Estimates put revenues from a large truck stop facility at close to $1 million in sales tax annually.
But that is where some of the shading comes into play.
Barker thinks a truck stop is fine, but said the area needs to be designed so all that truck traffic does not roll down Margurite into an area that has been developed with a Yuba College satellite campus and other education facilities next to that.
And Shults is not convinced a truck stop alone — or any other heavy industrial or heavy commercial — necessarily fits into the character of Williams. "Everyone has driven down the highway and seen truck stops that are pretty scary places," said Shults, describing them as near stand-alone facilities without complimentary development integrated around them. "So I am basically for (a truck stop), but it needs to be a place that is not an eyesore."
At the base of all the arguments is funding, and just how much of the city's General Fund would the candidates be willing to use for economic development.
If Measure G fails, they all agree, the discussion will be over, anyway.
They also agree finding grants and other sources of outside funding is preferable, acknowledging of course that is still taxpayer money from a different pool.
Shults sees investment into the downtown area as a plus for the city.
He is not talking about giving property and business owners grants to help fix up their businesses, or even for start-up funds, but instead adding to infrastructure, improving the look of the downtown and similar projects would help.
And Boes thinks the city needs to find ways to get property and business owners to invest themselves, and if code enforcement is one of those tools, he thinks the city should swing the hammer.
Barker said the parking design of the downtown needs to change to be more traffic friendly, and in a sign of the times, said the city should consider using empty lots or other alternatives as recharge centers for electrical cars.
“They can leave their car to recharge for an hour and then walk downtown,” Barker said.