The city of Chowchilla local business leaders have decided to team up for a new sign telling highway travelers they are entering town.
The City Council agreed last week to set aside up to $13,000 to replace a damaged city sign visible to motorists driving southbound on Highway 99. The chamber of commerce is gathering construction estimates.
The sign was struck by a hit-and-run driver in a pickup truck May 24, turning the “Welcome to Chowchilla” billboard into a structure that reads “come to chilla.”
Jacki Flanagan, chamber of commerce executive director, said law enforcement located the person responsible for the incident and the city will seek reimbursement from the driver’s insurance agency.
In the meantime, Flanagan said the chamber and the city agree that the sign should be replaced as soon as possible.
“Since it’s vital to identifying the city, it needs to be replaced,” Flanagan said.
Mark Cosentino, California Highway Patrol spokesman for the Madera office, said Paulette Jean Brooks, 55, of Chowchilla, was responsible for the accident. He said the incident was not reported until June 5. The accident is being treated as a civil matter. Cosentino said the investigating officer determined that Brooks did not leave the scene to avoid detection.
“Her insurance will take care of it,” Cosentino said. The district attorney “takes into account why they left the scene when they decide to press charges. The officer found out there wasn’t ill intent.”
Cosentino did not disclose why Brooks left the scene.
The sign was part of a pair in Chowchilla, one exists on the north end of the city.
Flanagan said she only has a rough estimate of what replacing the damaged sign would cost based on pictures. Flanagan said she’s asked sign companies in Merced and Modesto to provide specific pricing.
The sign, which sat on private property, was donated by a local developer in 2006. The sign offered a glimpse of Chowchilla’s history. It showed a symbolic arch that once was located on Robertson Boulevard during the town’s founding. The arch burned down in the 1930s, but has remained a town symbol. The arch was surrounded by a line of palm trees and a skyline.
Economic Development Director Ralph Kachadourian said the sign was important to the local economy.
“With the wide open spaces and farmland, it’s good to let people know there’s a town,” he said.
Flanagan agrees that the sign is important, but she said “it’s hard to quantify” the economic impact.
She said the sign will be rebuilt as soon as engineering plans and permits can be approved.