NEWMAN – The city will bring in a consulting firm to conduct a public outreach campaign allowing residents to prioritize park projects and improvements.

The finished product will be development of specific park projects for which the city can seek Prop. 68 grant funding.

Kathryn Reyes, the city’s director of public works, said the community outreach component is a specific requirement of the Prop. 68 grant application and is crucial in determining which projects the city puts up for funding consideration.

“The grant requires very stringent outreach efforts,” she explained. “We want to make sure that we do that outreach according to those guidelines.”

But, Reyes said, because of the challenges inherent in conducting public outreach campaigns during the pandemic, the city turned to an outside consultant for assistance.

The City Council recently approved an agreement with RRM Design Group to conduct the outreach at a cost not to exceed $27,585.

The city applied for a Prop. 68 grant to create a trail system in a planned community conservation area during a previous funding cycle but was unsuccessful, Reyes said.

Whether a future grant application focuses on that project – which involves outdoor classrooms, walking trails, wetlands and demonstration gardens while at the same time creating a natural filtering system for storm drain run-off – remains to be seen.

Reyes said feedback from the public will guide the decision-making on what project – or projects – to put forward. Proposed projects can include renovations to existing parks or development of new parks.

“We want to let the community guide us,” she stated. “That is how it should be. We are getting as much involvement from the community as we can.”

Reyes also envisions the consultant hosting one-on-one meetings with other stakeholders, such as the school district, through the outreach process.

There are, she acknowledged, some guidelines that will shape the discussion.

Reyes said existing park acreage and median income levels in specific neighborhoods are criteria in determining eligibility for grant funding.

“We will focus on areas that will qualify, and then expand the community outreach in those areas,” she explained.

Reyes said the city has already collected general feedback from the public through outreach at community events such as farmer’s markets, the Fall Festival and Newman Together.

“RRM will start with those and expand on them,” said Reyes.

The outreach campaign will involve online surveys, Zoom meetings and other avenues to garner feedback while still maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols, she stated.

“The grant proposal is due March 12,” Reyes noted. “I expect that we will have intense meetings in the month of February.”