Grover Beach had a smooth ride in 2015, according to Mayor John Shoals, especially after the city’s road rehabilitation project and other long-awaited developments officially got underway.
“It’s been a mostly fun year, and a very interesting year,” Shoals said in late December as he sat at Orcutt Burger in Grover Beach, taking a break out of his schedule to test out the fast food joint’s zucchini fries and chat with The Tribune.
Shoals returned to the mayor’s office in November 2014, after a two-year hiatus from city government when he was termed out of office. Now, as he completes his first year back in office, Shoals shares some of Grover Beach’s 2015 highlights and what residents can expect out of the city in 2016.
His biggest take away? — “2016 is going to be busy.”
The long road
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Chief among the city’s accomplishments this past year was getting construction started on its long-awaited road rehabilitation project, Shoals said.
“I’ve tried to be very disciplined this first year back,” he said. “Not going to start any new initiatives until you can get the streets rolling — let’s get some momentum behind the streets.”
In November 2014, voters approved Measure K-14, authorizing the city to issue and sell bonds to fix its crumbling roads.
Work on the first street repair project funded by Measure K-14 in Grover Beach began in September, after a few months of delays while the city conducted lengthy studies to determine which roads would be first up for rehabilitation, and how it would schedule those repairs in the future.
2016 is going to be a big year for roads.
John Shoals, Grover Beach Mayor
The council eventually decided on fixes to Brighton Avenue from 13th Street to Oak Park Boulevard, Nice Avenue from 12th Street to 13th Street and South Seventh Street from West Grand Avenue to Rockaway Avenue, all of which carried an estimated price tag of just under $900,000. The work included repairing pavement, curbs and gutters and construction of accessible corner ramps in some locations, the city said. Portions of North 13th Street, Saratoga Avenue, North Fifth Street, North Seventh Street, South 13th Street, South 16th Street, Lynne Street and Park View Avenue also were updated.
Most of the construction on those roads will be completed by the end of January.
In 2016, residents will see work begin on the second round of roads, including La Selva Avenue, Pebble Street, Encinitas Court, Stinson Court, South 13th Street, Longbranch Avenue, Newport Avenue, North 16th Street, Third Street, South Eighth Street and Mentone Avenue.
This year also will bring some improvements to Oak Park Avenue, Shoals said.
“2016 is going to be a big year for roads,” Shoals said. “I think that’s what you’re going to see in January and February. Momentum where we’ve got all of these streets going.”
Some Grand developments
Two major projects also took their next steps during 2015, though the bulk of the work on them will be taking place in 2016 and beyond, Shoals said.
First up was behind-the-scenes work on the Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center.
The project has tentatively been in the works since 2010, when Pacifica Companies submitted a planning application to the city for what would later morph into a 150-room hotel with conference center and restaurant.
Shoals was one of the early supporters of the project, and when he left office in 2012, he stayed on local committees for the development to help push the project through state approval. Upon returning to office, however, Shoals said he was surprised that it wasn’t any nearer to construction.
“I think that’s been a lot more challenging than I had anticipated,” he said. “If I had my druthers, it would have been under construction when I first got back into office. But I think we’ve worked through most of the details with the exception of the financing plan, so now we are really looking at all of the options for that.”
Shoals said the council is scheduled to discuss financing options in a closed session meeting on Jan. 11. If everything continues as scheduled, he said he anticipates construction will begin by the end of 2016.
Across the street from the future lodge, Grover Beach also has taken its first steps on a $2 million expansion of the Train Station. The new station will include a bus depot on the same side of the tracks as the train depot, and will add additional parking, Shoals said.
“It’s going to become that multimodal hub that we’ve always talked about,” he said.
The train station expansion hasn’t been all sunshine and daisies.
To make way for the new depot, the city of Grover Beach has taken steps to break up a well-established homeless encampment on the land.
“The hardest decision we’ve had to make — we’ve taken steps to remove the homeless encampment at the end of Grand Avenue,” Shoals said. “We want to make sure that folks who live here and people who visit here are safe. And we know people are hurting. We want people to know that we are compassionate, but we have to try and live up to the interests of everyone. So that’s been a tough decision to move forward with.”
The decision was one in a long-line of homelessness-related concerns that challenged Grover Beach in 2015.
We want people to know that we are compassionate, but we have to try and live up to the interests of everyone.
John Shoals, Grover Beach Mayor
The city passed two ordinances specifically aimed at the local homeless community in 2015, giving local police more options for dealing with panhandling and aggressive animals.
Following the camp being broken up, however, many Grover Beach business owners complained to the city that they were seeing more negative behavior from homeless residents, and that the activity was impacting their business.
The city held a workshop with the business owners in December to address the concerns, but Shoals said the issue is far from over.
“The next step was to do the homeless encampments, but now we’ve got to figure out, that’s all fine and dandy, but where are these people going?” he said. “Do we look at, if it’s not a homeless shelter, what kind of creative solutions can we do? What can we do? Is there a way to do a youth hostel or some combination of that? I want to investigate that.”
Driving the bus
Overall, Shoals said 2015 was a year of adjustment for both himself and the city, as both remembered how to work with each other again.
“I see my job as being the driver,” he said. “I wasn’t in office for two years. I think the City Council and the city manager at that time did a good job of bringing us out of the recession. But I think that now we are seeing clear signs of the economy turning around, and we have big plans and big visions in Grover, so we need someone who is going to drive that vision, drive that train.”
To that end, Shoals said he is planning on running for reelection again this November.
“My preliminary thoughts are we still have work to do, and they still need me to be their driver,” he said.