GONZALES — California’s state budget includes $15 million for essential public safety projects in five communities of the 12th Senate District, with $5 million of that set aside for the City of Gonzales’ teen innovation center, announced Sen. Anna Caballero.
“Small, rural communities desperately need resources to improve the infrastructure, health, safety and youth opportunities in their communities,” Caballero said. “We worked very closely with every community to identify their priorities and we listened to their concerns. I am very pleased that the budget included funds to go directly to these cities to meet their needs. This is an example of what can be accomplished when we work together.”
The teen center is a component of the upcoming Gonzales Community Complex. Total funding needed for the entire complex is estimated at $30 million, with a capital campaign planned to launch soon to raise more money toward that goal.
Gonzales Mayor Jose Rios said the city expects initial work to begin midyear next year, with such initial tasks as clearing asphalt and the eucalyptus grove.
“I cannot put into words how much your efforts to obtain funding for our new community center will mean to our entire community,” Rios said about Caballero’s effort to secure funding for the project. “Our community is very young — approximately 32% of the population is under the age of 18. The $5 million state grant will help create a youth innovation center. The center will be a safe, centrally located place where our youth will have access to high-speed internet, computers, printers and other amenities, that will help them better prepare for their future.”
As far as funding, Rios said the city is seeking funds, and a number of groups have stepped forward with offers to donate to the community center. In addition, recreation impact fees paid by the estimated 3,400 new homes to be built in the coming years will help toward the goal.
“We anticipate we should be able to get the rest of it within the next couple of years,” he said.
Rios noted the need for a community center is paramount.
“This pandemic, if it taught us anything, is that we’re ill-prepared to continue to educate our children when they can’t amass in groups,” he said.
Complicating matters, Rios explained, is many community members are farm labor families who can’t afford computers for their children, and even when schools provide the computers, access to the internet isn’t common. He compared a $40 monthly internet fee to the amount of groceries a family could buy with the same money.
“I’d love to have all these farmworkers make a minimum wage, but if that was the case, then you and I would be paying, instead of a dollar a head of lettuce, it would be $5 per head of lettuce,” Rios said.
The community center will be a place families and youth will be able to access computers and the internet, among other services.
“Children living in multi-households will be able to walk over to the center to use it to finish their homework,” Rios said. “There are a lot of families living together, not because they want to but out of necessity to be able to meet the rent. Try doing your homework when everyone is yelling or playing, it takes away from being able to focus.”
According to Carmen Gil, director of community engagement and strategic partnerships, Measure X funds have helped the city to start the community center project. Programming is still being planned, Gil said, as well as what services will be offered at the center.
“We will bring in partners as well to help with programming needs; however, that is still a ways out,” she said.
Rios explained that initial programming and services could include study spaces and school counselors within the 5,000-square-foot facility. He said that if everything goes on schedule, Gonzales could see a completed community center by 2024.