Reedley Chamber event highlights city processes, projects

Reedley officials discuss ongoing projects at “Coffee with the City” event to keep residents informed on the functions of their local government

Russ Robertson, the Reedley public works director, answers an audience question about street paving within the city during the second Coffee with the City event hosted by the Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce Nov. 28, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Russ Robertson, the Reedley public works director, answers an audience question about street paving within the city during the second Coffee with the City event hosted by the Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce Nov. 28, 2023. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published November 29, 2023  • 
2:00 pm

REEDLEY – The Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce had a strong showing at its second “Coffee with the City” event Tuesday morning, connecting business leaders and city officials on matters important to all. 

Directors from the community development and public works departments provided an overview of the work they do at the event on Nov. 28, answering resident’s questions and explaining the state laws that determine how the city operates. City Manager Nicole Zieba and Assistant City Manager Paul Melikian also spoke, going over current events in the city. 

The idea for the “Coffee with the City” event came from a new service agreement struck between the chamber and the city earlier this year as a way to better facilitate communication between city staff, local business owners and the public. 

“We really want you to understand your city, whether you’re a business person, whether you’re a resident, whatever you do for the city — and even if you’re outside of the city — we want you to understand who Reedley is,” Zieba said. “We think we’ve got something special here.”

City manager updates

Zieba told the crowd about the latest developments with the illegal biomedical lab located at 850 I Street, sharing that the man arrested in connection with the lab was denied bail and the case against him is ongoing. She also recommended residents read the report on the incident published by the Congressional Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party and mentioned her gratitude for the chance to testify before the Congressional committee a few weeks ago. 

“That was really exciting, and it was nice to know that we were taken seriously as a small city,” Zieba said. “They cared about what was going on here and they cared to hear about our experience.”

There will still be activity around the lab site, Zieba said, as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Branch of the California Department of Public Health will be working on cleaning up the remaining lab chemicals and the COVID-19 and pregnancy tests that are still in the building. 

On a lighter note, Zieba explained her reasoning for changing the Reedley Christmas tree tradition, as the city moved the placement of the tree from the middle of the G Street and 11th Street intersection to Pioneer Park in recent years. 

The logistics and costs of finding, cutting down and transporting a tree from the Sierra Nevadas to Reedley — especially after extensive drought, the 2020 Creek Fire and bark beetle problems — became too much for the city to shoulder, Zieba said. Additionally, Zieba said that lawsuits against municipalities have become excessive over the years, and placing a tree in the middle of the street where people could run into it and get injured opens up the city’s liability. 

Instead, Zieba said that Greater Reedley Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Erik Valencia, along with City Councilor Matthew Tuttle, brought up the idea of putting on Christmas in the Park, allowing families to take pictures around the tree and join in on festivities there. 

“We really did make a conscious decision to no longer have a tree in the middle of the street,” Zieba said. “I know there are many people in our community that would prefer that we put a tree in the middle of the street, but again, it’s harder to get, more expensive to get and the claims against governments just are really out of control.” 

Zieba discussed how the city tries to protect itself from lawsuits because of how expensive it is to respond to them. She said it can cost thousands of dollars just to fight a lawsuit, not counting how much money it would cost the city if they lost a lawsuit. 

“The problem is it costs us a lot of money to even fight that claim, and that’s your money,” Zieba said. “That’s not my money; that’s the taxpayer’s money for the city of Reedley.”

Melikian, who acts as the finance director in his capacity as assistant city manager, briefly discussed the city’s financial position. He said that while Reedley is in a good, financially stable, position, the city is experiencing the brunt of inflation just like residents are, and so costs are rising. 

To protect the city, Reedley has a policy in place that requires the city to keep three months of reserve funds in the bank to ensure that in emergency situations, city operations can continue as usual. Zieba said that this policy and all the city’s financial statements are available to access on the city website.

Community development and public works

Public Works Director Russ Robertson explained what his department does and how it covers street maintenance, parks maintenance, the storm drain system, water, wastewater and more. 

Robertson said that at any point if a resident notices something needs to be fixed, like if a street light is out or a sprinkler is broken, they should contact the public works department to report the problem. After hours, residents can call the police department’s non-emergency line and the department will dispatch a public works employee to take care of the concern. 

Community Development Director Rodney Horton, while sharing about ongoing housing and commercial development projects, also addressed comments he frequently sees on social media about what businesses come to the city and why. 

Oftentimes, people may see that another chain restaurant is coming to the city and they will comment that they don’t want more chains or they want to see a specific business. Legally, Horton explained that the city cannot deny a business from opening up except for very specific reasons; the city is not picking and choosing what businesses they want to come to Reedley.

“If someone is interested in coming to Reedley — which we love to hear that — our goal, our job is to get them across the finish line and not necessarily … try to push them to bring something else,” Horton said. 

Zieba added that if a resident has a desire for a specific business in town, they should consider pursuing the route to open up that business themselves.

The next “Coffee with the City” event will be held by the chamber in the first quarter of 2024. Also coming to Reedley in the new year will be a monthly city e-newsletter, which residents can sign up for by entering their email into the “subscribe” box on the city’s website.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter