Calaveras County’s economic development department is less than 13 months old and it has a budget of $172,493, said Kathy Gallino, the department’s director and sole employee.

Ninety-five percent of that budget equates to Gallino’s salary and benefits, she said Wednesday. Her budget also includes $1,846 for conferences and training, and a travel budget of $999. Her position was created in July 2017 by the Board of Supervisors. She was selected for the director’s job in December 2017, and her first day was Jan. 22, 2018. She reports to the county administrative officer.

“My department was created to facilitate business attraction, retention and growth,” Gallino said. “The supervisors wanted to revive the county’s economy, especially given the downturn that started in 2008, and then the Butte Fire. It took a toll on our county, hit us hard.”

People in Calaveras County are trying to do economic development different from their next-door neighbors in Tuolumne County.

Less than four weeks ago, Tuolumne County supervisors voted unanimously Feb. 19 to dissolve the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority and end a partnership with the City of Sonora that dated to late 2008. The Sonora City Council also voted that day to withdraw from the EDA and begin the process of shutting it down. Two days later the TCEDA governing board voted 5-0 to terminate the chief executive officer Larry Cope’s employment contract.

Cope earned a base salary of $163,625 and his spending was the focus of a Grand Jury report released in June that led to audits of the authority’s operations and finances. Decisions to dissolve the TCEDA came a day after The Union Democrat published a report on Cope’s travel and business spending, which the newspaper found amounted to more than $100,000 in 2017 and 2018.

One of the findings made by a Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury report released in June was that Cope went to England for a month in 2017 and used just four vacation days, with the rest mostly labeled as “comp time.”

Other economic development efforts

Calaveras County used to partner with Tuolumne County in the Central Sierra Economic Development District and Central Sierra Planning Council, a former joint powers authority serving Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, Alpine and Mariposa counties, and the cities of Sonora and Angels Camp.

The council is now disbanded, but Calaveras and Tuolumne counties are still members of the district, and the district is administered by Mother Lode Job Training staff. Its stated aims include bringing workforce and economic development assistance to businesses and residents in the Mother Lode region.

Cope lists on his LinkedIn profile that he was executive director for the Central Sierra Economic Development District from August 2011 to July 2017 in Sonora. During his time with CSEDD, he says he designed and launched the region's first economic development website, and he updated and rewrote two Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies for the region.

The Central Sierra Economic Development District and Central Sierra Planning Council came under scrutiny in April 2011 after declining revenues led the agencies to empty their coffers and lay off an employee to remain solvent, The Union Democrat reported in June 2011. Part of the exit strategy for the agencies was closing the joint powers authority, and turning CSEDD files over to Cope and the TCEDA to continue multi-county programs.

The CSEDD still exists with a $25,000 annual budget and Dave Thoeny with Mother Lode Job Training is the executive director, Thoeny said Wednesday. John Gray, Tuolumne County district 4 supervisor, and Ben Stopper, Calaveras County district 5 supervisor, are on the current CSEDD board.

There used to be a Calaveras County Economic Development Company, a nonprofit founded in 1981. The company was absorbed six years ago by the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce, The Union Democrat reported in March 2013.

Longtime Calaveras County residents Al Segalla and Stephen Fairchild said Wednesday the Calaveras County Economic Development Company “folded for lack of support” and “people just stopped coming.” The Calaveras County Economic Development Company was not taxpayer-funded, said Segalla, who is president of the Calaveras County Taxpayers Association.

Moving forward

Jump-starting businesses, jobs and affordable housing are keys to economic development and growth in Calaveras County, Gallino said. Wednesday morning she met with 10 local business owners and business advocates in a second-story office at Copperopolis Town Square in Copperopolis.

The business round table included Cheryl Hoag with the Copper Area Business Association, Staci Johnston with the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce, Segalla, Fairchild, and Jack Cox, a representative for Dennis Mills, Calaveras County District 4 supervisor.

Copperopolis Town Square is a multimillion-dollar development backed by Castle & Cooke of Los Angeles that stood dormant for a decade until November when Mike Fletcher and other investors with CV Development Partners, LLC, and Copper Valley, LLC purchased the square and an extensive real-estate portfolio in Copperopolis that includes a 247-acre Sawmill Lake parcel south of the square, Saddle Creek Golf Resort, 1,770 undeveloped acres of Copper Valley Ranch, and other single parcels in the community.

Seven deeds totaling $18 million transferred in November by Castle & Cooke, according to the Calaveras County Recorder’s Office. Most of the grantees of the deeds were limited liability companies that began with the initials “CV.” Cox, who is also on the Lake Tulloch Alliance estimated $57 million has been invested in town square so far.

“What people need to understand is the value of business,” Cox said. “We live in a time when news agencies report 50 percent of young people believe socialism is the way to go. Some people don’t understand the basic value of free markets and businesses and jobs and tax revenues. These are the foundation of our free society.”

Gallino said local business communities in Calaveras County can look forward to the hiring of a new county administrative officer in the near future and a new county building official, steps that she says will help streamline permitting processes for construction and business licensing and business expansion.

“The old Calaveras, the pain-in-the-butt Calaveras, the hard-to-deal-with Calaveras, is going away,” she said.

That’s fine with Fletcher. He stood outside and said he and his partners are excited. Everything was dead there 10 years, and since November, Fletcher said, his people have spoken to 14 new businesses about moving into the square. He said he thinks they’ll be fully leased in the next three to six months.

“That whole bottom floor has seven storefronts,” Fletcher said, pointing to part of the square called Town Hall. “We’re planning it out now.” He pointed at other unoccupied spaces in the complex, saying “This space is taken, this space is taken, we just signed a lease with another new tenant up there.”

There’s been nobody to take the development forward since 2008, Fletcher said. Now the blanket is off and he and his partners are bringing in landscapers and new businesses like the recently-opened Copper Valley Café.

“This is going to be the gateway to everything up here,” Fletcher said. “My understanding is we see 4 million cars a year on Highway 4. This hasn’t had a local presence in a long time. We’re here now.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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