2007 State of the City Speech

State of the City 2007 State of the City Speech
City of Modesto
Given by Mayor Jim Ridenour
January 16, 2007

Mayor Jim Ridenour

I. INTRODUCTION

Good morning and welcome to Modesto’s historic State Theatre. I am pleased to be here today. The State is a wonderful example of community effort and partnership. This beautiful theater was renovated through the generous efforts of community members and a renovation team led by Mike Zagaris. This cultural amenity was restored and operates today supported by private donations and ticket sales.

In a moment, I will introduce the vice mayor and council members present. Before I do so, I would first like to recognize my wife and best friend Renee. From her, our faith and our family, I draw my strength and support. In a way, it is because of them that I serve this community – to give back for all that I have received from my family and this wonderful town we call home.

I would now like to introduce this years Vice Mayor, Brad Hawn and the council members who are with us today. Would you all please stand and be recognized? Please join me in thanking them for their service to this community.

We have a number of our managers, key staff and department heads in attendance. They are the folks who run the day-to-day operations of the city and I thank them for the job they do for Modesto.

II. ACCOMPLISHMENTS

2006 was a year of progress for Modesto. I want to briefly highlight the accomplishments made because it is important to celebrate the progress and results that have been achieved so that we can see where we have been and continue to work towards a better community.

    Some of our accomplishments for 2006 include:
  • Adding two major employers to the community as a result of the collaborative effort among the City, the Alliance and the Beard Industrial Tract. Placing our community in a State Enterprise Zone is paying dividends as employers receive tax breaks on needed buildings, equipment upgrades and a portion of employee costs.

    One company, Plastipak - leased 180,000 square feet with an option on 20 acres in the Beard District. This facility is a plastic blow and injection molding manufacturing operation. This is the first plant for the company in the West and in California. The company is headquartered in Wisconsin and will begin with 75 employees, growing to 150-200 in the first 3 years.

  • The second business, Fastenal - purchased a 300,000 square foot facility in the Beard District and are moving to Modesto from Fresno. This distribution center and fabrication operation will generate over 100 jobs.

Linking business to the world and expanding our economic reach is an important objective for the city. This morning I want to again share some good news about our airport, which is a vital tool in our overall economic strategy.

  • The Modesto City-County Airport secured a $550,000 grant to enhance additional commercial flight service to and from Modesto. In June 2006 we commenced four daily flights from Modesto to Los Angeles and added an additional flight from Modesto to San Francisco. This service reduces traffic congestion and improves air quality by decreasing multiple car trips to the Bay Area and Sacramento. Citizens also save money since free parking is provided at our terminal. Continued support by all Modesto is essential to maintaining and expanding this transportation service.

In June 2006 the remodeled and greatly expanded Maddux Youth Center reopened with community-based programming including a state-of-the-art computer lab, reading room, gym, fitness room and and Police Activities League Boxing Ring, as well as a Community Room.

Additionally,

  • The City of Modesto completed a Wastewater Collection System and Treatment Master Plan that gives us the “roadmap” to rehabilitate and expand the City’s sewer and wastewater treatment systems through the year 2030 and protect the area’s rivers and streams.

For the community’s safety:

  • The fire department added 12 firefighter positions and an additional ladder truck company to Station 11, which opened last year. The addition of the truck company augments firefighting capability in north Modesto and the ability of the fire department to perform specialized rescue operations is enhanced.
  • The fire department also added paramedic response to Station 2 serving west Modesto. In partnership with American Medical Response, the fire department strategically located this unit to speed the delivery of advanced life support care to those in need.

III. CULTURAL AMENITIES

Our community is undergoing both a renaissance in the performing arts and development of new facilities. Last February, we saw the renovation and reopening of this theatre.

Presently, the auditorium at Modesto Junior College is undergoing a complete remodel. Once completed, this facility will have improved sound-proofing, enhanced seating and new and improved technology. Along with these improvements, the facility will boast additional performing arts classroom space, and in house studio facilities for producing recordings.

The Gallo Center for the Arts is scheduled to open this September. This state-of-the-art complex will feature two theaters, meeting facilities, and will be a top-notch venue for music, theatre and all that the performing arts have to offer. Because of the Center’s strategic presence in downtown Modesto, we anticipate increased activity to downtown restaurants and nightclubs. We are delighted to have this important cultural arts amenity as a Modesto attraction.

For the second year in a row the Downtown Arts Festival was held in the plaza at Tenth Street Place. We saw more interest and nearly double the number of exhibitors in 2006. The festival combines art work with a day of music and performances. It provides a venue for local artists to display their work and wares and links the event to the Mistlin Art Gallery at Tenth Street Place. The annual event provides Modesto with a weekend snapshot of what is available in the community. My hope is that the event will generate additional community support for the arts and draw visitors to the Mistlin Art Gallery and other local studios.

Increased performing arts venues and increased awareness of local artists is indicative of the potential we have in Modesto to enhance our standing as a community that embraces the arts. While art may not be for everyone, I encourage that as a community, we support fine arts and the performing arts in Modesto.

IV. YOUTH

At this time, I would also like to thank the members of the Coalition for After School Programs in Stanislaus County. The Coalition has embraced after school programs expanding their interest countywide and have been successful in bringing key stakeholders from education, public safety, the faith based community and private sector to collaborate in providing quality after school programs.

They are shining the light on the need for after school programs and have been very active in helping change legislation at the State level to provide quality after school programs in Stanislaus County.

V. CONSTRUCTION AND REPAIR OF ROADS

One of my goals for last year was to increase the construction and repair of roads. Although, there is still much to be done, a tremendous amount of work was completed.

In all, over 71 lane miles of roadway were either repaved, rehabilitated or added to our roadway system.

Over 11 lane miles of roadway were repaved which included:

  • Oakdale Road between Sylvan and Hashem
  • Pelandale Avenue between Bluebird and Gagos
  • Dale Road at the Snyder intersection
  • And Prescott Road between Rumble and Kit

Additionally, a significant amount of road improvements were completed as a result of development. For instance the Dale Road and Pelandale Avenue intersection was enlarged to improve traffic flows and Pelandale Avenue between Sisk and Dale Roads now boasts three lanes in each direction. Another significant project was the widening of Floyd Avenue from 2 to 4-lanes between Roselle and Oakdale Road.

VI. QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES

One area we must continue to improve is the quality of life in Modesto. Our residents are a pretty understanding and resilient bunch. They know that when the big things don’t work well that there is usually a reason. An example of this is a water pressure decrease during a water main break or road blockages due to some incident. But there are lots of other things that tend to bother people when it affects what they consider to be a quality of life issue.

A case in point is the maintenance of our parks and open space. The city staff previously assigned to maintain the parks were good and skilled people. Municipal finances being what they are, we saw this as an area where we could improve the condition of our parks for our residents and visitors. Far too often I heard complaints about the condition of parks and the lack of maintenance. As a council we accepted that the city could not provide an acceptable level of maintenance at the costs incurred using city employees to do the work. Through managed competition and contracting we have been able to almost double the schedule of maintenance for our parks. In doing so, we have provided additional employment opportunities in the private sector and we were fortunate to absorb displaced city employees into other available city jobs. Now, instead of complaints, I receive compliments.

But I’m still not satisfied that our parks are used to the fullest extent by citizens and visitors. My view is that parks should be a sanctuary for people to play, rest, view sports activities and to enjoy the outdoors. This is why in order to stimulate even more use of our parks I intend to recommend to our public safety committee chair Will O’Bryant that his committee move ahead to explore the opportunity to create specialized park security forces to patrol and monitor our parks. The model I prefer is a program in Southern California that uses city park rangers to patrol parks. These rangers enforce park rules and regulations and learn the uniqueness of each of their parks. They also possess specialized medical training to become first responders to medical emergencies in and around the parks.

Another area affecting the quality of life in Modesto relates to the illegal dumping of trash and appliances, graffiti, roadside vendors, roadside car sales and other forms of blight. Here, I will propose increasing the number of code enforcement officers to handle business and neighborhood complaints quickly and effectively. I will also ask staff to look at the duties of our code enforcement officers to determine if some of their workload could be absorbed by other departments. For example, we have 14 mobile pieces of fire apparatus on duty in the city each day. I wonder if the fire department could effectively handle weed abatement and free-up our code enforcement officers to work on other community quality of life issues. I worked 30 years for a man named Parky Simon, for whom I still have a great deal of respect. Sadly, he passed away last year. If there is one virtue that Parky instilled in me, it is the notion that if you take care of the little things, the big things will fall into place. Increasing code enforcement activity will help provide a clean, safe and attractive community.

VII. RECENT CRIME ESCALATION AND VIOLENT EVENTS

Modesto does face challenges:

Like many of you, I am concerned about the recent escalation in violent crimes in the City of Modesto. I can assure you that crime and safety continue to be major priorities for the City Council. In fact, over the past year we were able to add 10 additional police officers to increase police presence and work towards a safer community.

Crime, drugs and gangs are not issues isolated to Modesto, but are concerns throughout the Central Valley. While there is a countywide gang task force to address the increase in gang activity and crime, I should tell you that these issues cannot be resolved by law enforcement alone. Solutions will require the hard work of the entire community. I am convinced that an involved, healthy and economically vibrant community is a big part of responding to criminal activity.

It is very important that we begin addressing core issues such as education, mental health, crisis treatment and substance abuse intervention, including preventive measures. A band-aid approach is not enough; long-term solutions are essential.

I propose the formation of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Crime Prevention Committee. This committee will be comprised of concerned citizens, faith based organizations, youth representatives, school district representatives, mental health professionals, law enforcement agencies, parole and probation offices, the district attorney’s office, and the chamber of commerce. This committee will examine issues related to violent crime in Modesto, make recommendations, and be part of this community-based effort to address crime and violence.

VIII. VISION FOR THE FUTURE

As your Mayor, I do not intend to stand in the way of growth, but I will continue to hold development accountable for impacts to the community. During my business life running a busy ambulance service I watched as calls for service increased, each year. This occurred not because we found ways to increase calls for service, but because more lives came into this world than were leaving; because people chose to live in our community and because people moved back to Modesto after attending school or simply chose to come back home. My point is, the community will continue to grow whether some of us like it or not; and whether as a city we plan for it or not. It always happens.

My colleagues and I have worked over the past several years to address important infrastructure issues. As a city, we have accomplished a great deal in addressing water and sewer needs, preparing master plans for each of our utilities, significantly increasing pavement maintenance and providing additional road capacity in the City of Modesto. If we want to remain an economically viable community and continue to provide attractive amenities for residents, we ought to embrace the opportunities that continue to come our way.

Because of our commitment to hold development accountable for the impacts to the community, I will work with staff and the council to continue regularly addressing and updating developer impact fees. Whether it is new shopping center, medical facility or residential development, I believe through proper and effective planning and financing of our needs that we can insure there are continuous improvements taking place to make Modesto a better place to live.

This is why after addressing infrastructure needs and fees, we are now undertaking the initiative to improve city planning and community development services. Although development takes the blame for a lot of things, it is imperative that the city must and will do a better job in the planning and development process.

It will take time to effect the changes and get the system working more smoothly, but the result will be better planning, better management of projects, better adherence to standards and constant improvement of city practices as they relate to managing development. We are also focusing on improving community building and design standards, the adequacy of city infrastructure and assuring proper levels of municipal services.

Along with the reorganization of the city planning and infrastructure financing functions, we must update our general plan. The general plan is, if you will, the city’s constitution when it comes to land use. We need to develop a comprehensive document that addresses future growth needs, assures well-financed infrastructure and includes high standards to guide attractive development in our community. Without a quality update to the general plan, reorganizing our development processes is futile. In addition, we are almost out of land for business parks, office complexes and other uses that generate jobs in our community. Updating the general plan will allow the community to address its future needs for economic development.

Modesto is not an island and growth affects the region around Modesto. The mayors of the nine cities and members of the Board of Supervisors are currently involved in the process of defining our approach to growth and creating a strategy to address regional needs for roads, services, and utilities.

The work of this group will address community issues by reliance upon good technical data and modeling that develops a regional approach and the systems to address future growth. Key to this initiative is preservation of primary agricultural lands and maintenance of environmentally sensitive areas, while at the same time being realistic about growth and respectful of the growth goals of each community.

The process won’t be perfect and I am sure the outcome will not satisfy everyone, however this is an important step and healthy discussion for our county and cities and a process to which I am deeply committed.

Last year during his State of the State address Governor Schwarzenegger decried the lack of planning in California and the resulting lack of critical infrastructure. He pointed out that the failure to address these issues did not make them less severe or go away. He and the legislature acted by placing bond measures on the ballot in order to finance roads, levees, schools, courtrooms and other needed facilities. In 2006 Stanislaus voters rejected a transportation sales tax measure. Some say the voters didn’t trust their government to wisely spend the money. Others simply didn’t see the need. A more cynical group saw the opportunity to prevent progress, without an alternative to what was being proposed. Perhaps we could have made a better case to the voters and the opportunity exists to learn from what turned voters off. But I am convinced that after years of neglect we cannot get in front of the burden to maintain and expand our roadways unless the community financially supports the effort. Without this support, we will consign ourselves to poor air quality, poor roads and in the future if nothing is done, decreased economic opportunities as we attempt to compete with the Bay Area, Madera and San Joaquin, areas which have approved or renewed transportation measures.

We now boast three major full service hospitals in Modesto. Modesto is a regional hub for advanced medical, trauma and hospital care. Our neighbors at UC Merced are considering making a recommendation to the Regents to establish a medical school at the university. I want to do everything possible to position Modesto to benefit from this important educational, medical research and health care opportunity. As I said in my book when I ran for office, there is no reason why we should not locate a medical school here. I will work to encourage the local business and medical communities, as well as personally work to persuade state and local elected officials to help position Modesto for the opportunity to participate in the training of physicians.

What’s in it for Modesto lies not only in an improved health care presence, but the opportunity for local jobs supporting the medical school. Agriculture and manufacturing are a great foundation for our economy, but we must diversify in order to provide more for current and future generations if we want our children and grandchildren to learn, live and work locally.

I may be considered a “Pollyanna” about the medical school, but I believe we need to think big in order to promote good paying jobs and bring quality employers to Modesto. For too long we have been satisfied with the status quo. Granted, as a region we are better off today than we were even five years ago, but “better off” is not good enough.

Before I move on, I want to mention one more thing about jobs in our community. While I am convinced we recognize the need to emphasize education and encourage our youth to take college entrance exams, we need to also be honest with each other - college isn’t for everyone.

We must encourage vocational education and place more emphasis on job training programs. Governor Schwarzenegger has this issue right and his administration is looking to place more money into vocational education. As a community, we need to strengthen our focus upon quality job training and vocational education because the current model is not working. Along with our efforts to attract higher quality employers we have to demonstrate the ability to supply the skilled workers capable of fulfilling the positions offered by the employers we endeavor to attract.

IX. CLOSING

I want to thank you for joining me this morning to discuss the state of the city and to allow me the opportunity to present some ideas about how we can make Modesto a better place to live and work.

Modesto’s future is bright!!! I am encouraged with the results we have achieved together. We must continue to set the bar higher each year so that we continue to focus upon what is important and move forward. We also need to be persistent about monitoring the progress and reporting the results.

This is a great community. Great communities recognize there is wisdom in community goal setting and community involvement. The priorities I set out to achieve in the early days of my administration are not those of my own making. They are your ideas, your desire to make Modesto better and your ability to present what is important to you. I view my role as a servant-leader. I cherish the opportunity to fulfill this role and thank you for your confidence in allowing me to do so.

May God bless you and God bless the City of Modesto.

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