For the past several years, residents have spoken to the Gilroy City Council about the need to establish a youth center in the city to get kids off the streets and provide them with positive activities that keep them out of trouble.
All members of the council expressed support of such a proposal during a Jan. 28 meeting, but when the planning will take place, how the project will be funded, and where the center will be located are details that will likely take years to sort out.
The weekend Strategic Planning Workshop was an opportunity for the council to discuss goals over the next couple of years and check in on those it had set in previous years.
City Administrator Jimmy Forbis, who guided the discussions, noted the significance of holding the meeting in-person at City Hall, as the last such planning workshop was held virtually in 2021 due to the pandemic.
“We have moved past the pandemic,” he said. “It’s not that it’s not still out there and not impacting people, but it doesn’t drive our daily work. For the next two years, the pandemic isn’t a factor for us right now.”
Forbis walked through the more than 120 items on the council’s and city staff’s work plan, touching on projects such as the proposed ice rinks at the Gilroy Sports Park (Sharks Sports and Entertainment have resumed negotiations, with design work and financial discussions on the forefront of talks), the temporary fire station in the Glen Loma Ranch development (facing delays with Pacific Gas & Electric, according to Forbis), and improvements to downtown’s Gourmet Alley (expected to begin in the summer).
The city is operating at a very tight margin, which is expected to get even thinner as the years go on and with the continued rise of pension costs, according to Forbis.
However, it is expected to have a reserve of 50% this year, well above the required 30%. Such funds should be used to support one-time projects throughout the city, he said.
“We do not want to have 50% reserves,” Forbis said. “I don’t think it’s necessary. Too much reserves means you’ve lost opportunities.”
In the budget discussions that are coming in the following months, Forbis said he is going to recommend the council update the master plan for the Civic Center.
The 15-acre property, bordered by West Sixth, Church, West Seventh and Dowdy streets, consists of dated buildings, including City Hall, with only two that are worth saving: the police department and library, Forbis noted.
“We have an enormous amount of land here in my opinion that is underutilized,” he said. “It has great opportunity, and the best part about it is, the Gilroy taxpayers own this land.”
Its central location also makes it ideal for an intergenerational community center, Forbis said.
Mayor Marie Blankley said that funding construction of a new civic center would likely have to go to the voters in terms of a bond measure, and reminded the council that taxpayers are still paying off a bond measure for the library building.
Marty Estrada, who frequently voices the need for a youth center at council meetings, said the city can get creative with finding ways to fund the center, such as seeking out grants, and urged the council to put the item on an upcoming agenda.
“We really need to get this started,” he said. “It’s overdue. When can we start diving into this process? It’s really going to benefit everyone in Gilroy.”
According to 2021 estimates by the United States Census Bureau, nearly 29% of the more than 58,000 Gilroy residents are under the age of 18.
Sally Armendariz of Gilroy said she drove around the city and photographed 126 apartment complexes, where countless children live.
“These are all children who have nowhere to go,” she said. “We need a youth center. We need a community center, where people can go when they have no place to go.”
No decisions were made at the Jan. 28 meeting, as it was only an opportunity for the council and the public to provide general comments.