A photo of Blythe City Hall
A photo of Blythe City Hall. (Photo by Alicia Ramirez)

The Blythe City Council earlier this month approved its response to the nine findings and eight recommendations from the latest Riverside County Civil Grand Jury report regarding the city’s long term strategic plans in light of the upcoming closure of Chuckawalla Valley State Prison that the city said is now expected to happen in November of this year.

“City officials are resigned to the fact that the prison will close,” the city said in its response. “Although the Save Chuck campaign has been the city’s focus, behind the scenes the city [has] worked on a strategy to diversify the Blythe economy.”

The civil grand jury found that the city has failed to develop both a formal long-term strategic plan as well as a five-year strategic plan, fill the position of city manager on a more permanent basis and address ongoing financial concerns related to government pension obligations and other post-employment benefits.

The report also found that there are opportunities that the city can capitalize on in order to transform Blythe into a new “gateway city,” including additional business development at the Blythe Airport, which is run by the county, as well as cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and distribution and electric vehicle charging stations.

The report also found that more research needs to be done on the financial impact the prison’s closure will have on the community and that further conversation with legislators regarding how the city will be able to recover from the prison’s closure would be needed. The report also noted that the city felt the county needs to “make more of a commitment to Blythe.”

And while the city agreed with some of the findings pertaining to its current economic situation, its response noted that it has made substantial progress since May 2022 when the civil grand jury published a report that said the city was “dying.”

“Although a comprehensive strategic plan has not been adopted by the Blythe City Council, other policies and procedures were adopted to facilitate budget stability, including a reserve policy to save for rainy days, fund capital expenditures and address pension obligations and other post-employment benefits, adopting conservative and balanced budgets year over year, and assessing rates and fees for service every five years to achieve full cost recovery for services provided,” the city responded, noting in its response to the recommendation to create the plans that they would take considerable time and resources to prepare, but that they would get done in the future.

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As for the findings specifically regarding the prison’s closure, the city hit back against the grand jury report, saying that while the Brown University partnership did not delve into the actual financial impacts, an independent report commissioned by the city did.

“[The report] found that the reduction in Blythe’s jobs and overall economy will have a negative impact on city revenues and services, as well as on the Palo Verde Unified School District,” the city said. “It is estimated combined revenue losses to the City would be $2.9 million or 9.8% of its total revenues. The Palo Verde Unified School District is estimated to lose 207 students due to the prison closure, equating to a funding decline of $4.9 million.”

The city further said that it has discussed budget requests with the state to offset the impacts while working to diversify its economy.

“There are several projects in development to make Blythe the “Gateway to California,” which will help expand tourism in the city,” the city said. “City officials continue to work with Retail Strategies to attract new businesses to Blythe, all to sustain the economy after the prison closes.”

The city also said that it had extended its agreement with lobbying firm Joe A. Gonsalves and Son to provide its services for an additional year, bringing the total contract cost to $100,000.

As for the remainder of the grand jury’s recommendations, the city said the council would be providing direction to city staff regarding the hiring of a full-time city manager at the end of the year while leaving those regarding the Blythe Airport and action by the Riverside County Board of supervisors for the county.

The county’s response is expected to be brought before the supervisors at the regularly scheduled July 9 meeting.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.

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