Applause and some cheers erupted from the standing-room-only crowd at a public meeting on Monday after the Groveland Community Services District Board of Directors agreed to partner with Tuolumne County and donate 2.5 acres for the construction of a federally funded “community resilience center.”

More than 20 people crammed into the small meeting room at the GCSD headquarters on Ferretti Road, where the board voted 4-0 in favor of the partnership with the county. Most voiced support for the land donation, while several others expressed doubts about the location.

“I have goosebumps I’m so excited,” said Groveland resident Luci Tyndall, president of the Southside Community Connections, a nonprofit group that provides services and health-related programs for seniors in the area.

Tyndall said the center – proposed to be roughly 9,000 square feet – would provide more space for the group to house and potentially expand its services, such as its WHEELS program that provides free transportation to people who can’t drive due to age, illness, or lack of access to a vehicle.

The group has operated The Little House just off Highway 120 in Groveland that it describes as a “charming rustic house with a studio and activity center,” which it has rented from the county for $1 a year since opening in 2009.

More than 12,000 people visited the house in 2017 compared to 4,000 in its first year, Tyndall said. She added that 80 percent of the visitors live in Pine Mountain Lake, a gated subdivision east of downtown Groveland.

Tyndall said the proposed location for the center off Ferretti Road would keep traffic from PML off of Highway 120, a heavily traveled thoroughfare to the Big Oak Flat entrance of Yosemite National Park.

“We’re all very much in favor of this project and need this project,” Tyndall told the board. “We are serving meals at Little House and have outgrown it.”

Maureen Frank, deputy county administrator, attended the meeting to seek the GCSD board’s approval to form a partnership.

Frank said the county received three proposals from property owners for possible locations to build in Groveland, but the other two were determined to be cost prohibitive due to issues with road access and lack of infrastructure.

The county plans to build two similarly sized centers, one in Groveland and the other in the township of Tuolumne, using about $9 million from a $70 million grant the state of California received from the federal National Disaster Resilience Competition to benefit areas of the county impacted by the 2013 Rim Fire.

A parcel at Bay Avenue and Cherry Valley Boulevard North is being considered as the preferred Tuolumne location.

Frank said the county is seeking the 2.5-acres owned by GCSD because it’s adjacent to the 3.76-acre parcel the county would purchase from owner Lawrence Griffiths for the Groveland center.

The total price for the land is pending an environmental review by the county. Frank said the county can’t pay more than fair market value, which will be determined as part of the environmental review.

Sally Salinas, of Pine Mountain Lake, said she supported the center because it would also provide a place for performances by local musical groups.

Bob Asquith, of Pine Mountain Lake, said residents who lived through the 2013 Rim Fire remember having no place to go for evacuation, and the center would provide a gathering place in the event of an emergency.

Jim Goodrich, a former GCSD general manager who lives in Groveland, said the county has partnered with the board in the past for the construction of a youth center and library branch.

“It’s absurd for me to think anyone would object to this,” said Ron Selvey, of Pine Mountain Lake.

However, there were several in attendance who were concerned about the location and lack of payment for the land.

Louette Quesnoy, of Groveland, said she felt the board focuses too much on areas close to Pine Mountain Lake as opposed to other parts of its service area like the main part of Groveland and Big Oak Flat.

Quesnoy suggested the possibility of locating the property on land off Highway 120 commonly referred to by locals as The Scar, where several failed development proposals over the years left the land denuded due to excavation.

Frank said one of the two proposals that was ultimately determined to be cost prohibitive is located across Highway 120 from The Scar, and the county has a longstanding policy against condemning land for eminent domain.

Former GCSD board member Steve Perreira and another person raised concerns about smell in the summer from the district’s wastewater treatment operations located near the proposed location for the center off Ferretti Road, though the board ultimately said that will have to be considered by the county during the environmental review process.

Also at Monday’s meeting, things got heated between Perreira and GCSD board member Spencer Edwards over discussions about the district’s plans to apply for up to $6 million in grants from the state to replace failing sewer infrastructure.

Some in the audience expressed concern about the district including infrastructure that serves Pine Mountain Lake as part of the grant application because it’s generally more affluent than the rest of Groveland and Big Oak Flat.

Perreira said some of the $1 million in sewer line replacements are slated in areas of Pine Mountain Lake “where the millionaires live.”

“So, we’re going to pay for having the millionaires’ lines replaced?” Perreira asked.

Perreira then got agitated with Goodrich who said that separating the areas would require GCSD to form a capital improvement district, which led to Edwards standing up from his chair and telling Perreira not to disparage the former general manager.

The entire GCSD service area qualifies as a disadvantaged community because the median household income is less than 80 percent of the statewide median household income, which makes it eligible to receive grant funding for 75 percent of the project and a loan for the remaining 25 percent at 2 percent interest.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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