By Chris Furguson
At the meeting on February 16, 2010, the Brawley City Council said they would be willing to look at a proposal to create a county-wide enterprise zone without making a full committment to the project.
Brawley’s 4-1 vote comes off the heels of a 5-0 vote from the Imperial County Board of Supervisors in favor of the idea at their meeting last week.
The issue was brought to the board’s attention just in time for this afternoon’s Joint Powers Authority (JPA) vote on the issue. The JPA consists of two voters from Brawley, two from the county and one from the IID, all of whom vote on the direction of the Imperial Valley Enterprise Zone (IVEZ) that includes Brawley.
Jurg Heuberger, County Planning Director and voting member on the JPA, requested the item be placed on the Brawley agenda.
Heuberger said that the change from two enterprise zones to one would benefit the entire county.
“It would be a great opportunity to expand the scope of the enterprise zone,” Heuberger said. Heuberger also added that it would allow California the chance to grant a new enterprise zone if the IVEZ combined with the Calexico County Enterprise Zone (CCEZ).
Opposition to the proposal came quickly as City Manager Gary Burroughs, one of the city’s voters on the JPA, said he would recommend that the council vote against the idea.
“We have great synergy between (IVEZ Manager) Diane Cason and the city staff. That would be disrupted for two to three years if we changed now.”
Other council members voiced similar concerns as wel, including Mayor Ryan Kelley.
“We lost two to three years when the IVEZ started up,” said Kelley, who also added his concerns about adding other entities to the zone.
“We’re starting to see the zone being used and we’d like to see that continue for the time being.”
For the rest of the time, support and opposition to the change came from various people, inlcuding Mark Grant, a council member from Imperial, and John Hart, who helped with the IVEZ formation.
“People are acting as if competition between cities doesn exist and isn’t healthy and nothing could be further from the truth,” said Hart.
Hart also told the council that one supposed business wanted to move an area near the Imperial County airport but wouldn’t commit due to a lack of an Enterprise Zone.
“I want to ask the company if anyone suggested they look at Brawley, which has a fine airport,” said Hart. “I want to know if any of the other cities are thinking regionally like we are being told to think? I think the answer is ‘no.’”
Tim Kelley, director of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation, added that combining the enterprise zones would help the county in business retention, one of the primary purposes of the system. Kelley also said that the enterprise zones helps him and the IVEDC in promoting the area to outside businesses.
“The IVEZ is a big part of our toolkit,” said Kelley.
Council member George Nava said he was interested in looking at the countywide proposal but wanted “to see a benefit to Brawley.”
Council member Sam Couchman, Brawley’s other vote on the JPA, echoed Nava’s sentiments.
“I don’t see a benefit to Brawley in this,” said Couchman. “There’s a benefit to the rest of the county, but I just don’t want to see Brawley go back to square one.”
Mayor Pro Tem Don Campbell, who voted against the proposal to look into the idea without a total committment said that he didn’t have enough information to cast a vote for or against.
Included among the items not known at the present time are the leadership of the proposed new zone, how new entities would enter into the project and what would become of the current management of the two enterprise zones.
The proposal itself began as Heuberger’s request to the JPA that the money generated by the enterprise zones, some $360,000, be better spent.
In November 2009, at a training conference for enterprise zones, the EZ director for California’s Housing & Community Development Department, John Nunn, suggested that both the IVEZ and the CCEZ could be combined to increase the amount of qualifying space for benefits and free up an additional slot for the state.
Heuberger then requested that both the Calexico and Brawley City Councils look into the issue.
There is an August 2010 deadline for new enterprise zone applications that the county is trying to reach.
When the IVEZ was formed, Brawley, the IID and the County had to pay for several items, including consultants and an environmental impact report. The costs were also factors in the Brawley Council’s reluctance to support a county-wide zone.
By Chris Furguson