Gedney has lived in California since 1997 when she got her first job in Merced. She came to the Central Valley with a master’s degree in planning from the University of Tennessee, and she worked for the Merced County Association of Governments doing transportation planning. After two years, she became the city planner for the city of Gustine. While there, she met and married her husband.
In 2003, Gedney had two young children and needed a more flexible schedule. So, she and her family moved to Modesto where she worked for the city part-time doing infrastructure financing. Gedney worked with another part-time employee who was also a mother, and this situation worked for her family until 2012.
With her children getting older, Gedney and her family moved to Sutter Creek, where Gedney was a stay-at-home mom for 18 months. In late 2013, her husband, who works for Caltrans, told her about an opening for the Sutter Creek city manager position. The city-appointed her as the interim city manager in January 2014, and her appointment became permanent six months later.
Responding to the Pandemic
Gedney said that since the public health emergency went into effect in March, the city has been working to balance competing interests. “One of the interesting things that I’ve learned,” she said, “is that there’s a delicate balance in the tourism community. You do want that money. You do want those TOTs (transient occupancy taxes). You do want the sales tax from the restaurants and bars.”
There is also a split between business owners in the community. “We have some businesses who said there’s no issue and it’s fine, promote,” Gedney said. “And then we have other businesses that are saying, don’t have people come because we don’t want to invite more of the virus into our community.”
She added that as with many communities, Sutter Creek has worked to be flexible with businesses while staying within the rules set by the state. “The city is here for businesses in supporting them,” she said. For example, the city has worked with restaurants to accommodate outdoor dining, and the city awarded forgivable loans of $1,000 each to 24 city businesses.
What’s more, she noted, “I think a lot of our businesses have been working on innovating and trying to think of some new things and trying to be resilient.” Though no one knows if and when the rules will change, Gedney said, “it’s important to stay safe and healthy.”
Now that the public health risk level for Amador County has improved, restaurants can operate at 25 percent indoor capacity. However, Gedney said that she will present a resolution to the city council at this week’s meeting to keep outdoor dining as it is because “people really do like it.” Gedney and city staff are also planning for accommodating an influx of tourists for the wine crush and other autumn activities.
Getting the Right Words Out
Gedney has time to think about those changes now because September, she said, is usually a slower time of year because children go back to school and the grape harvest doesn’t happen until October.
This year, however, has seen much more activity on Main Street. Gedney noted that TOT revenue plunged in the spring, but now Sutter Creek is seeing increased activity and revenue. “People aren’t going to Europe,” she said, “so they’re coming within an hour or two drive. We’ve seen quite a bit more traffic on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which are the days our merchants typically don’t work.”
Inviting tourists to come to Sutter Creek, Gedney said, “has been a double-edged sword, and we’ve been trying to figure out what our message is.” Since the city owns all the social media platforms that are related to Sutter Creek, she added, “we want to make sure there is a consistent message.”
To that end, the city hired Melissa Haines Levin, the CEO and executive director of the Amador Council of Tourism, to manage the city’s social media efforts. Gedney said that because the city expects to see an increase in tourism from urban areas, Levin and the city will do more social media outreach to those markets.
Upgrades and Growth
Gedney said that past decisions to make upgrades to the city, such as the Main Street bridge, have invited complaints but have been important to keeping and growing business on Main Street. “Main Street has a zero percent vacancy rate,” she noted. What’s more, at this week’s planning commission meeting, she said that she will present sign request permits for six new businesses that are ready to open in the city.
For any future growth in Sutter Creek, Gedney is clear: “Growth needs to happen when the infrastructure is in place.” The city updated its general plan last year, and now the city is undergoing a zoning code and circulation element update. From there, she added, “we’ll be updating our impact fees to make sure that new growth is accounted for and pays its own way.”
Upgrades are what Gedney and the city are focused on, not more growth. “We’re in the midst of upgrading our antiquated wastewater treatment plant,” she said, “and then we’ll be looking at putting together constructing funding and financing for that in the next 18 months.” The city also wants to start tackling the city’s backlog of capital improvement projects, including roads.
“The money we get from the state is nominal compared to the money we need to pave over our 80-year-old roads,” Gedney said. “Because we’re slow-growing, the money has to catch up, and so we’ve been working to put together those pieces so make sure new growth would pay for itself, but we’re also taking care of some of our shortfalls.”
To that end, the city has placed a measure on the November ballot to increase the TOT rate. “We have a number of road projects that need to be completed, we have a number of some other infrastructure improvements we’d like to get done, and we’ve done quite a few in the past year,” Gedney said. “We want to do more, but we want to ensure that we’re not deficit spending and that we’re meeting the needs of our existing residents before we put big sites on for growth.”
Gedney added that one thing won’t change: “The city is committed to continuing to promote the assets of Sutter Creek, the businesses, and keeping Sutter Creek quaint and charming, which makes it a great place for businesses to operate.”
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