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Another electric car company eyeing CG for manufacturing plant

CASA GRANDE — Another electric vehicle company was scouting for locations for a factory and technical center in Arizona last week and Casa Grande was on its list of spots to check out.

Electra Meccanica, a Vancouver, Canada-based electric vehicle company, is checking out possible factory locations in seven states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, according to a press release from the company.

The company makes the electric Tofino sports car, an electric two-seater eRoadster and is working on a single-seat, three-wheeled electric commuter vehicle called the Solo. The company has a 60-year history of building high-end custom cars and started work on electric cars in 2012.

The new factory would work with the company’s manufacturing partner, Zongshen Industrial Group in Chongqing, China. The U.S. factory would employ about 200 people and have an engineering technical center.

“It’s an extremely exciting project. It’s going to be a game changer,” said Tom Stringer, from BDO USA in New York City, referring to the Solo. Stringer is representing the company in its search for a location for a new factory in the U.S. He is familiar with Arizona and helped bring Nikola Corp. to find its planned location in Coolidge.

He confirmed that Electra Meccanica was in Arizona last week to look at several locations in the Valley and in Casa Grande for a possible site.

However, this is just the start of the site selection process, he said. No decisions have been made. The company is looking at several other locations across the country. It hopes to have a site under its control by the end of the year.

Lucid Motors is currently building a manufacturing plant in Casa Grande that is expected to create 2,000 jobs and $6.2 million in new taxes for the city. The company plans to manufacture at the plant this year and eventually reach 130,000 vehicles a year.

Electra Meccanica is looking at Arizona and Casa Grande for a number of reasons, Stringer said. The state has a good line of success stories when it comes to electric vehicle manufacturers and other industries. Arizona also has a workforce with the necessary skills, the infrastructure, the supply chain and the land ownership.

The state has “got a strong product,” Stringer said. But there are other sites out there that are equally as good, he said.

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CG library's new online programming aims to keep kids, adults engaged, reading

CASA GRANDE — Once a week, Casa Grande youth librarians David Brown and Julie Martinez sit down in front of an audience to read a book specifically chosen for children. The long-standing Storytime hour includes songs, stories, rhymes and sometimes costumes and puppets.

But the coronavirus has changed the way Storytime is presented. With in-person group activities temporarily unavailable, Storytime, like many of the library’s other programs, has gone virtual.

Brown and Martinez now read Storytime books to a camera rather than a live audience of children.

“It’s been a challenge, but our online videos have given us a way to reach out to the community and keep them engaged,” Martinez said.

Since the coronavirus prompted the shutdown of the libraries in March, staffers have made more than 40 videos, which can be viewed on the Casa Grande Public Library Facebook page.

New videos are posted almost daily. On Mondays, performances and Book Bites are posted, Tuesdays feature Lego-themed videos, Wednesday is Storytime, Thursday is a craft or puppet show and Friday is Science Day.

The videos reach an audience of about 400 families a week.

“Our first few videos had several thousand views,” Brown said. “And the feedback has been very good.”

Martinez’s children, Luke, 10, and Lola, 7, are also involved in some of the library’s video programming.

Luke hosts science videos for children that feature activities such as how to make a lava lamp, crystals or edible elephant toothpaste.

Lola often reads books to children on video. In a recent video, she read the book “Pizza Day,” then demonstrated how to make a pizza on English muffins.

Many of the library’s annual summer events and activities are also online this year, including its scheduled performances and shows.

“Every Monday we’ll have a performance, but rather than in person, it will be virtual,” Brown said. “We have bands, cultural events, dancing and other great events planned for this summer, but nothing will be held in person.”

The annual summer reading program, which encourages children and adults to read throughout the summer, began June 1. Registration is online at cg.azsummerreading.org and participants may log the book they’ve read on the website through July 18.

Last year, about 1,500 readers took part in the summer reading program and the library distributed about 800 free books.

This year, rather than the annual pool party kickoff event at Palm Island Family Aquatic Center, the summer reading program features weekly activity grab bags for participants. Each bag includes activities for entire families.

“The activities could include different things like building a ship or doing Mad Libs to practice nouns and adjectives or it might have a make-your-own-book activity,” Martinez said.

The grab-and-go bags and paper reading logs may be picked up at the Main Library Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Librarian Julie Andersen is creating a virtual art gallery for the area’s teen artists. Teens can submit a photo of any of their own original artwork to be displayed in the gallery that will be posted online.

“We also have writing contests and maybe a paint night planned,” Andersen said.

While the Vista Grande Library remains closed due to the pandemic, the Main Library lobby is open with curbside pickup available. Patrons may either reserve materials online or visit the lobby for staff assistance. As well as books, the library has videos, DVDs and music available to borrow.

Some library services, such as reserving a study room, using a laptop or printing and copying are also available.

“We’d like people to know that we’re still here,” Andersen said. “The library looks different, some of the programs are different, but the staff is here and the library is open.”

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CG panel rejects proposed homeless shower

CASA GRANDE — A new shower trailer to serve the homeless is still looking for a home of its own after the Casa Grande Board of Adjustment voted 3 to 1 against allowing the trailer to be parked next to the old auditorium near City Hall.

The Rest Stop, a new organization that is hoping to meet some of the needs of Casa Grande’s homeless population, asked for a two-year permit to park the trailer in the parking lot next to the auditorium at least one day and up to three times a week for five hours each day to provide showers for the homeless. Those wishing to use the trailer would have to sign up each day at the Seeds of Hope lunch program at Fountains of Living Water Church or at the CG Helps center in Peart Park in order to use the showers. The trailer would have been hauled to and from the location each day.

Several nearby residents, business owners and members of the public told the board Tuesday that while they really liked the idea of providing showers and other services for the homeless, they didn’t feel the auditorium parking lot was a good location for the trailer.

Cassie Boylan, who lives near the location, said the trailer would be within 50 to 100 feet of her front door. She has children under the age of 7 who stay in her home during the day and she worried about their safety. She said over the last five years, she’s had problems with the homeless sleeping in her yard and has to pick up needles and trash left in her yard.

“I don’t think this is an appropriate area,” she said.

Marge Jantz, a member of the city Historic Preservation Committee, pointed out that the location would be visible from Florence Boulevard and may not present the best view to visitors to the city. She also raised concerns that the homeless might congregate in the area while waiting for the trailer to arrive or linger after the trailer left. She pointed out that the city doesn’t have loitering or camping laws to prohibit people from lingering in an area. The city had to install a fence across the front of the auditorium to discourage people from camping out in the area.

“This action needs to be somewhere else or in a building,” Jantz said.

Casa Grande Roller Derby member April Stovall said the organization was in support of what The Rest Stop wanted to do with the trailer, but they too had concerns about the location. The trailer would be parked in a parking lot that the group frequently uses to access the gymnasium where they hold scrimmages and programs for families and kids.

Derby member Taralyn Gomez also raised concerns about what her young son might see while crossing the parking lot to practice while the trailer was there.

Stovall also raised concerns about the homeless crossing Florence Boulevard to get to the trailer. The nearest crosswalks are about a block away and she’s noticed people darting across the street in that location numerous times.

Casa Grande Roller Derby also has programs and events to help the needy, she said. The organization holds those events away from the Derby’s home base for safety reasons.

Stovall suggested that a better location for the trailer may be across the street in Peart Park, where many of the homeless tend to gather. She also said the Derby was interested in partnering with The Rest Stop, regardless of the decision on the location of the trailer, to help serve the homeless.

Peart Park was one location that was considered by staff, said city Planner James Gagliardi, but it was ruled out because the trailer might conflict with the number of events that are held in the park each year.

The shower trailer also had its supporters. Mary Felix from the Seeds of Hope lunch program on the other side of downtown said she serves about 55 meals a day to those in need. The trailer is greatly needed in the area, she said. There are a lot of homeless who are sick and will only get sicker without the ability to have a shower.

“It’s only a temporary fix, but it’s a chance,” she said.

Felix said she didn’t think people would hang around the area before or after the shower trailer arrived or cause a disturbance while they were there. They didn’t at the lunch program, she said.

“They know they have to keep the area clean or else they’re gone,” she said.

Joshua McIntire from New Life Church also voiced support for the trailer. He said he’s been involved in similar projects for the homeless in other cities in the past and found that the homeless will do their best to keep the area clean because they want access to those kinds of services.

Another resident, Joseph Wood, said he’s recently had to call the police several times for people lingering or sleeping in the alley behind his home and recently had items stolen from his yard. He also suggested that Peart Park might be a better location for the trailer.

A trio of downtown business owners, Melissa and Dave Engstrom from Deadlift Brews and Mary Ann Versluis from CookEJar, said they have been working on the homeless problem in the historic downtown area and worried the showers could draw the population across Florence Boulevard, causing traffic safety problems and other issues.

The members of the Board of Adjustment also seemed concerned about traffic and safety problems with the proposed shower location.

Board member Charlene Southern said she liked the project but asked if The Rest Stop would have to sign a lease agreement with the city that would hold the city harmless in case of a lawsuit.

She also asked if it would be possible to give the trailer a trial run over the summer and see how things worked out before approving a longer-term permit.

City Community Services Director Steve Hardesty said a lease agreement would have to be signed and approved by the City Council and the agreement would include a liability clause.

Board member Chuck Wright liked the project and asked how staff would control any complaints about the use of the trailer on the property.

“At what point do the concerns shut this down?” he asked.

Gagliardi said it would depend on the severity of the complaint and the number of complaints the city would get. He couldn’t give an exact number of how many complaints it would take to shut the project down. But the city would want to work with The Rest Stop on any complaints to make any adjustments necessary to help the project.

Board member Gary Wood said he liked the project but raised concerns about people safely crossing Florence Boulevard.

Board member David Schlegal said he liked the project as well but was concerned that there was no mechanism in place in the permit for the city to stop the project if a problem arose.

Wright asked if the board would entertain a motion to limit the permit to three months over the summer to do a test run of the trailer. The other three board members all said their concern was that it was just not a good location for the trailer. The board then voted to deny the permit, with only Wright in favor.

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Live PD, PCSO partnership ends after A&E cancels show

FLORENCE — A popular cable television program that featured the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has been canceled.

A&E, the channel that airs “Live PD,” pulled last weekend’s episodes off the air. The network initially announced it was “evaluating” when it would bring the show back.

On Wednesday evening, A&E, in partnership with MGM's Big Fish Entertainment, announced it had made the decision to cancel the show, according to Deadline, an entertainment news website.

"This is a critical time in our nation's history and we have made the decision to cease production on Live PD," the network said in a statement to Deadline. "Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them. And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments."

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb regularly appeared on “Live PD” as a guest host. PCSO was one of the agencies featured by the show’s producers in 2018, and Lamb has attained a sizable celebrity status from his appearances on the show.

In April, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors agreed to another contract to have “Live PD” film deputies on patrol in the county.

The hiatus of the show leading up to its cancellation made it unclear what that meant for the latest PCSO stint on “Live PD,” although the latest footage had already been recorded.

“PCSO’s most recent contract with ‘Live PD’ resulted in approximately five weeks of filming,” PCSO spokesperson Lauren Reimer said in an email to PinalCentral on Wednesday afternoon before the cancellation had been announced. “Crews finished filming in mid-May and have already left Pinal County. We have not communicated with them since they left in May, so we are not aware of their programming plans.”

Public perception of law enforcement has been significantly damaged during the nation’s unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer May 25. Floyd, a black man, died after Derek Chauvin, a white officer, had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe.

Protests to end racial injustice and to stop police brutality against black people broke out around the nation and the world. That has led to attempted changes in legislation to reform police departments.

Long-running TV show “Cops” has also been canceled from Paramount Network, and Paramount does not have plans to bring it back.

“Cops” and “Live PD” are both reality programs that feature law enforcement officers patrolling, chasing and arresting suspects. This often leads to car chases, foot chases and physical confrontations. Critics claimed the shows glorified police.

The appetite for such shows may never be the same again.

“Live PD” is also under fire for destroying video footage of the March 2019 arrest in Texas of 40-year-old black man Javier Ambler, who died while being taken into custody by Williamson County sheriff’s deputies.

Ambler was chased by deputies for 20 minutes after not dimming his headlights. While being arrested he was shocked with a stun gun four times, and he pleaded with deputies that he had congestive heart failure and could not breathe.

Despite these issues, “Live PD” host Dan Abrams promised fans that the show wasn't going away.

“All of us associated with the show are as committed to it as ever,” he wrote in a tweet Tuesday evening. “We are still discussing some specifics, but I want to assure the #LivePDNation that we are not abandoning you.”

Under the leadership of Lamb, PCSO has been the subject of two reality TV shows.

In addition to “Live PD,” the Pinal County Adult Detention Center was the location of “60 Days In,” a show that chronicled behavior in the jail by using volunteers who are incarcerated as undercover inmates for 60 days. Pinal County was featured in the show’s fifth season, which aired in early 2019.

In January, the Sheriff’s Office also asked for permission to film another show called “Dope,” a Netflix documentary series that chronicles sheriff’s deputies pursuing drug traffickers.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to reject signing a contract for the show.

“How does this benefit the citizens of Pinal County?” asked Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, during that board meeting. “We don’t need bad press.”

Miller then asked PCSO Deputy Chief Bryan Harrell, speaking on behalf of the Sheriff's Office at the meeting, why Pinal County was chosen to be featured on “Dope.”

“I’m not sure why they chose us,” Harrell said, except for perhaps “the popularity of the sheriff.”