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Sonora Council Criticizes Tuolumne County Government Over Transparency

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Sonora, CA — Tensions are increasing between the Sonora City Council and Tuolumne County government over plans to purchase two properties in the city limits for homelessness programs.

We reported earlier that the county is moving forward with plans to buy the former Satellite Health building at 136 Columbia Way and two homes on a parcel at 720 Snell Street.

(There was also a six-unit apartment building considered by the county early in the process, but it was eliminated after hearing concerns from residents who currently live in the facility and would be displaced)

The City Council voted 4-1 last night to pass a resolution urging the county to reverse course regarding the two other properties.

Supervisor David Goldemberg, a proponent of the purchases, addressed the council Monday night, about the potential benefits.

Mayor Mark Plummer told Goldemberg that there was initially positive communication and transparency from the county leaders regarding plans for the Columbia Way project, as the housing will be utilized by homeless Veterans. There was a meeting between city and county leaders to find common ground. However, Plummer says the city was “blindsighted” when the county later added plans to purchase the properties on Shepherd Street and Snell Street. Goldemberg stated that Plummer’s comments were becoming “inappropriate” and he did not want to see the item turn into an argument.

Other council members also voiced displeasure about the county’s lack of transparency.

Councilmember Andy Merrill was the most outspoken, saying, “When we are not consulted, what do you expect? How many times do we have to go through this process of lack of communication, before whoever it is, supervisors, county staff, gets the message? It is easy. We are sitting here telling you what works, or what could work. Just do it, talk to us.”

The planned purchases were reviewed at a public hearing at a supervisors meeting last month, but Merrill says he was not personally notified about it ahead of time, and heard about the proposals from other members of the community.

Councilmember Suzanne Cruz referenced the $6-million in state funding allocated to Tuolumne County to address homelessness, noting, “I think we have a conflict of vision here. I think the county does not believe in the Adam Smith, ‘let the invisible hand do its work.’ I think the city is more for free markets, where the county is holding onto every dollar the state has. We have to remember that the government doesn’t have any money, it has our money. When we beg for it back, through a grant, we are always held to the conditions they set for us.”

The county property purchases will be funded with state grant dollars.

Mayor Matt Hawkins was the lone vote against passing the resolution in opposition, arguing that it is “Too little, too late,” at this point, and indicated it could further damage future city and county discussions.