Jon Hanken is the outgoing city manager in Ione, as he has announced his retirement at the end of this year after five years on the job. I interviewed Hanken ahead of his retirement to ask about his thoughts about the state of the city, his businesses, and what Ione has planned for the holiday season.
Ione is a city of about 8,000 people, but that population includes the inmates at the Mule Creek State Prison in the northwestern area of the city. “There are occasions when that works for us,” Hanken said, such as when applying for grants or funding. That job should be easier for Hanken’s successor because the non-incarcerated population, currently 4,200 residents, will continue to grow.
Homes Sprout Unabated
Hanken said that housing is being built at “a tremendous pace.” The Wildflower subdivision next to Charles Howard Park, in the southeastern area of the city, has already had about 100 homes built there. When this subdivision is built out, Hanken added, it will have 277 homes.
Another area of rapid home development is around the Castle Oaks Golf Club in the western part of the city, Hanken said. “Close to another 600 homes can be built there in three to four years.” Because of all this activity, he added, other property owners in the city’s sphere of influence are looking into bringing their property into the city limits and applying for development entitlements.
All this residential growth has sparked talk about commercial development. “We have some commercial land that we really want to work with those property owners to help develop,” Hanken said. “One thing that’s really talked about is the need for a hotel like a Holiday Inn Express. We think there’s a good location by the golf course, there’s a commercial area on the other side of Castle Oaks Drive near the Castle Oaks subdivision.”
There are also amenities Hanken said he thinks should be considered. “As the region grows, and Ione is one of the biggest growth areas in the county, we need to start looking at amenities and infrastructure,” he said. One area that could add amenities is surplus Preston Castle land. Even before Hanken became city manager in 2015, the state has talked about releasing 80 acres of surplus Preston Castle land to the city. Five years later, the state is still talking about it.
If the state gets around to releasing the land, Hanken wants to see a new elementary school and high school built on 50 of those acres, with the remaining 30 acres developed as mixed-use commercial and residential property. “As Ione grows and more families come in, the question of busing students up Highway 88 will become a bigger and bigger issue with the highway having more traffic and more businesses here,” he said. “Having a high school here would be a tremendous asset. Having a new elementary school would be an important asset as well because the current elementary school has, in my opinion, surpassed its useful life expectancy.”
Keeping Ione Moving
Like many cities, Hanken said Ione is doing the best they can to manage the public health emergency. “The city has been working with the Amador County emergency management people, with Dr. Rita Kerr at the county public health department, and with state agencies to get Amador County as open as possible,” he said. “The state sets the rules, so we are doing everything we can do comply so our businesses stay open.”
Ione has taken similar steps as other cities in the county, including forgiving late fees and fee deadlines as well as offering al fresco dining on sidewalks outside restaurants. Another step has been the creation of a grant program for city businesses, but Hanken said the process has been frustratingly slow.
“We submitted a community development block grant to the state Department of Housing and Community Development,” Hanken said. “That has taken longer than I have ever anticipated.” He added that the city started talking about the program in May, he submitted the application in early summer, and he hopes that the grant will be approved and funded sometime this fall.
During the public health emergency, Hanken said that though the city hasn’t strictly enforced mask-wearing and social distancing rules, he and other city employees encourage people to follow the rules and work to set a good example. “I make sure that when I’m seen in the community, and when I go from the office to my car, I’m wearing a mask.”
Hanken noted that he’s reluctant to say if the city will have any of its annual holiday festivities. “I am hopeful for Christmas and we’ll have the parade and our normal activities, but like with everything, we can’t guarantee it right now.”
The Work Goes On
At least one and perhaps two new city councilmembers will take office in 2021 along with a new city manager. Hanken expects the city council to discuss the hiring process for his replacement in October. Despite these changes to come, he said, “a lot of the same issues that need to be addressed, including wastewater, economic development, and housing.”
There are other challenges, of course, which Hanken said included the change in shopping habits to online stores, state regulations, and integrating modern technology with historic buildings. Despite all that, he sees the overall business climate in Ione as “extremely positive.” New businesses have opened up recently, and he singled out the new Ione Sweets shop for ice cream and other sweet treats. He added that as more homes are built, more commercial businesses will be built and established.
What’s more, Hanken said he isn’t going away. “I plan to do some volunteer work,” he said. “Retirement isn’t sitting at home in a rocking chair anymore.” He plans to focus on issues that are important to him, especially in the economic development field. “Anything I can do to keep our businesses open and keep people coming to this community is important.”
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