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Developer says improvements are almost ready for downtown

A consultant Wednesday evening told a meeting of the Madera Housing Authority and the Successor Agency to the Madera Redevelopment Agency about how he sees chances for improving downtown Madera by building low-cost housing where now are empty parking lots and unused buildings.


Michael Sigala, who first addressed the Housing Authority in May, said as much as $10 million eventually could be made available through grants from state programs such as Cap and Trade to improve air quality.


Building affordable housing downtown would reduce the need for motor transportation, he said, and would contribute to energy efficiency. Thus, he said, CalTrans is “at the table.”


He said that so far, he has been working with County Assessor and former mayor Gary Svanda, city development director Dave Merchen and city planner Christopher Boyle.


“We’re funded and we’re well staffed with the city,” Sigala said. “Now, we’re looking for money. We’re working with the city on traffic improvements. All the  funding is just around the corner, just one or two months away. The state would like to do projects where they haven’t done them before.


“We met with the architect today, who has been working on some plans. He wants to do something incredibly nice for Madera.”


Council Member Will Oliver, who has been working with Sigala and others on an ad hoc committee to move the project foreward, said, “I thing we are looking at projects that can be handled.”


Councilwoman Cece Foley Gallegos said veterans she had talked to “want studio apartments because they can’t afford more.”


Oliver said the city had been awarded a $300,000 transportation grant.


Sigala said the grant money will be awarded in June 2019. “The fastest we can get there is a year and a half to the start of construction.”


At least one downtown project is under way. Restaurateur Maria Melgar is buying the former office building at 5 E. Yosemite Ave. She plans on using the property for a sandwich shop. She owned the restaurant Maya on Yosemite Avenue until about a year ago.


In other business at the joint meeting, code enforcement officer Viola Rodriguez explained to an exasperated Mayor Andrew Medellin why the rental housing inspections begun last year haven’t yielded more money for the city.


Revenue projection for the 2017-2018 fiscal year was $29,060. Actual income from the inspections was $3,420.


“We went in thinking it was going to take us an hour, and it didn’t take that hour. Of the 114 inspections we have made, most have been mitigated by the time we get there.”


In other words, the responsible people — usually the landlords — have made the necessary repairs, and avoided paying large inspection fines.


“I’m a little dumbfounded,” Medellin said to Rodriguez, and I’ll tell you why. I have seen photos of sewage on floors. What you’re saying is that we really don’t have a substandard housing problem? Should we add staff? Should we charge more?”


Gallegos said, “We didn’t start this ordinance to make money, we started it to improve the quality of rental housing in Madera. It has been successful in that regard.”


Council Member Derek Robinson said, “We set this up to improve the city and it has worked.”