The Holtville City Council chambers went dark by 6 p.m. on Nov. 19 due to the cancellation of a Planning Commission meeting to hear residents’ arguments in favor of allowing them to retain cargo containers in their yards.
Instead a sign was posted on the building's entrance notifying the public the meeting had been postponed until Dec. 17. This was the second month the commission failed to attain a quorum and scheduled discussion on cargo containers was tabled.
Yet three residents who have been lobbying in favor keeping the containers were waiting nearby at the eastern edge of Holt Park discussing the issue. They included Gary Rodgers, Bernardo Millan and Steve Clark.
"The city said they were real industrial-looking (and received citizen complaints)," said Clark. "But that's my main point: you can keep the containers long term with low maintenance and they are much more practical than a wooden shed, and very affordable, just paint them every 10 years."
Clark is a building contractor who has been in business for 35 years. He remodels houses, does dry wall, plumbing, tiles, painting and floor coverings. He has had his container in his back yard for the last three and half years, painted to match his house and surrounded by a privacy fence with only the top third of it visible. He stores his tools there.
Previously, containers were only allowed in the section of the city zoned industrial. Residences outside that area with containers were in violation of that ordinance.
In spring it was proposed that the area in which containers are allowed be expanded to the “Downtown B Zone” along Fifth Street but excluding areas around the town square between Cedar and Fern avenues. It was adopted in September.
Yet at the next meeting the council decided to take another look at container use in residential areas following a public outcry about the restrictions. Six residents opposed the new ban and Rodgers, Millan and Clark stated their hope something could be worked out.
Under consideration now is an ordinance to expand container use to more residential areas.
All three received letters in August from then-City Planner Justina Arce that they needed to respond to her inquiry within 14 days. Millan has since removed his container from his property while Rodgers and Clark still maintain theirs.
"Containers are allowed in every city in the county but Holtville and allowed in the county with a permit," said Clark. "My suggestion: issue a permit for the containers that are presentable to city standards and the rest that are not, don't issue a permit. That would solve the problem and earn a little income for the city."
It was only after receiving a notice from Arce that Clark said he was informed his container was an eyesore. After attending a council meeting in August, all three residents submitted a letter to City Manager Nick Wells to place the container issue on the city council agenda.
"So far the council has been very cooperative," said Clark. "They were the ones who brought it to the attention of the planning commission. Two of the commissioners came to the council meeting about three weeks ago but they couldn't make a ruling. They obviously needed time to discuss and make a decision."
Before moving his container Millan added sheet rock, a roof and a mock window to it. Rodgers previously admitted the container is an industrial item and is ugly. But he is willing to add siding and a roof to make the container less imposing so as to better fit in with a residential neighborhood.
Clark expressed hope painting his container the same as his house would be presentable and not require side paneling or a roof.
"I did bring it up to the council," he said. "It's not a structure but a device, no different if it had wheels under it and could be moved into an enclosure. A structure is permanent. This is a mobile device and can be moved anytime. I've driven around town and know of at least 20 other containers."