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City Manager's Blog

Nov 09

Pursuing A New Perspective on Downtown

Posted on November 9, 2018 at 2:04 PM by Thomas Reeves

I am very pleased to announce a new initiative aimed at refreshing the city's perspective on what our downtown could and should look like.  A few months ago, my team set out to re-imagine and re-design one of our key downtown streets, and in the process, we heard loud and clear from the community and stakeholders about the need for a larger, more encompassing vision for all our downtown streets and public spaces.  

You spoke, we listened, and the message we received was that our residents and downtown partners want an exciting and vibrant place to live, work, and play.  It is quite clear that in our planning efforts, our neighbors want a robust plan that considers how public spaces (streets, open spaces, and civic buildings), new and re-imagined land uses, economic development, and infrastructure and technology will help the City achieve the vision of the downtown.  

And we won't know what that vision is, or how the vision addresses the needs and desires of all our neighbors until we go through this master planning process.  

Drawing Upon Our Past
Modesto was founded in 1870 as a stop on a rail line, which at the time was constructed to connect northern and southern California through the San Joaquin Valley.  Modesto’s original layout is still visible today, a 640-acre tract oriented parallel to the rail line: the City’s current Downtown, a one-square-mile section of numbered and lettered streets, which serves as the civic, cultural and entertainment hub for the City and region.

Incorporated in 1884, the City of Modesto has grown significantly and is the 18th largest city in California and the 103rd largest City in the United States, behind Spokane, Washington, Des Moines, Iowa and Boise, Idaho.  As the City has grown, the downtown has shifted in prominence and importance both to the City and the region.  Today, the downtown serves as the epicenter of the region, but it was not always that way. 

After thriving for decades with numerous hotels and ample retail options, the downtown was severely impacted by the development of the Vintage Faire Mall, changing lifestyles, and urban development.  Subsequently, less than 20 years ago, it was perhaps unfathomable that Downtown would or could become a vibrant civic, cultural, dining, and entertainment hub for the region.

While some redevelopment efforts of the late 1980s and 1990s were unsuccessful, others, such as the DoubleTree Hotel and Convention Center, Tenth Street Place, and Brenden Theatres have helped to bring vibrancy to the downtown.  This in turn led to further development such as the Gallo Arts Center, which includes two large theaters and a proliferation of dining and entertainment options, as well as the refreshing of 10th Street between I and J Streets, which is home to two fine reception halls.

While downtown Modesto is a regional dining and entertainment draw, the county seat, and regional employment center, it still has great potential to build on its recent successes and provide greater retail, entertainment, dining, and employment options.  This is a primary purpose of this planning effort.

Recent Efforts
Over the last several years, the City of Modesto has explored a redesign of J Street, a primary thoroughfare within the Downtown.  With approximately $1.5 million in State gas tax funds, the City recently considered reducing the number of lanes and adding new parking through a repaving effort along J Street.  Ultimately, it was decided that the City should develop a downtown plan to ensure decisions such as these fit into the broader vision of the downtown.

The City has developed and commissioned a number of great planning documents and policies that will serve as the foundation for this effort.  Additionally, the City has approved certain streetscape features, such as street lights, benches and trash containers, which help define the aesthetic quality and character of the downtown, as well as utilities master plans, which address the City’s ability to serve both existing and new development in the downtown.  

There are two major projects currently underway that could significantly alter the downtown; therefore, this is an ideal time to comprehensively consider its future.  First, the State of California, in coordination with Stanislaus County, is expected to construct a full-service courthouse on the city block bordered by 9th, 10th, H, and G Streets.  The courthouse project could be completed in 2023.  Second, the Altamont Corridor Express is planning an extension of their passenger rail service to Modesto in 2023 (or sooner, dependent on funding).  This extension will provide greater access to bay area markets, and is even expected to increase opportunities for large companies to locate in Modesto.

One other significant item of note is the Tuolumne River Regional Park (TRRP) system and the significant work that has begun on the network of parks along the river – including the TRRP Gateway park project adjacent to downtown Modesto.  All great cities embrace and utilize their natural amenities.

This Downtown Master Plan should set a vision for the future of Modesto’s city center and also identify ways to realize that vision. This Master Plan will consider how public spaces (streets, open spaces and civic buildings), new and re-imagined land uses, economic development, and infrastructure/technology will help the City achieve the vision of the downtown.  

This is an ideal time for the City to comprehensively imagine the future of the downtown and the City.  
We can't wait to get to work on this with you!

For the official Request for Proposals, check out the city's contracting page.
Oct 23

My Performance Goals as City Manager

Posted on October 23, 2018 at 3:11 PM by Thomas Reeves

At tonight's City Council Meeting, the full council will formally adopt the last remaining component of the contract that I've accepted as Modesto's City Manager. In full transparency, I wanted to ensure the public has the ability to review my goals, and so in addition to posting them as part of the blog, my team is also developing a place on our city's website for you to see the status of each goal.  

My contract with the City requires that not later than August 31, 2018, I must develop a list of goals to attain as City Manager. On August 14, 2018, those goals were originally presented and discussed with the Mayor and Members of the City Council. Subsequent meetings were held, and a sub-committee of Council members Ah You and Grewal was created to finalize the goals. Those proposed goals appear below, but it should be noted that many of the goals will take more than one year to attain.

Certainly the goals and activities stated below do not attempt to represent the full range of issues and challenges any City Manager faces on a daily basis; rather, they are priorities as endorsed by myself and the Mayor and City Council. Unexpected issues always arise, and at the direction of Council, I will address those issues. As a result, there is an implied sense of flexibility given the dynamics of our large city. Also, if new substantive projects are added, this will have an impact on my priorities. 

I have proposed that the Council request a formal update on these goals at least every six months for a discussion of strategies, activities, and progress.

The Role of City Manager
The City Manager’s Office is established under the City Charter. Specifically, the City Manager’s Office executes Council direction; provides strategic leadership and implements policy; provides oversight to all city departments; develops and recommends alternatives to address current and future community needs; ensures the city’s financial integrity; provides information on city government to residents; ensures that city services are provided equitably and cost-effectively; and provides oversight for the development of the City budget. 

The City Manager’s Office also ensures that information is effectively communicated to the public, city staff, elected officials, the media and residents.

Here are the goals, as submitted to the City Council:

Fiscal Sustainability
  1. Develop a Financial Policy that reflect strategies that address pension costs, Deferred Maintenance and continues to meet Government Finance Officer Association (GFOA) standards
  2. Each fiscal year, prepare a balanced budget. The budget should be performance based and include department goals and objectives
  3. Assess and recommend PERS strategies for long-term fiscal sustainability for city operations
Economic Development
  1. Develop strategies and a comprehensive plan for funding and construction of transportation related projects that consider the multiple funding options 
  2. Finalize the current General Plan Amendment and begin process for Comprehensive General Plan Update
  3. Improve ease of doing business with City government by exploring strategies that streamline city operations
  4. Work with our Downtown partners to establish a vision for a vibrant Downtown
  5. Develop a comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that captures the efforts of our community partners that drives growth in the region.
Organizational Excellence
  1. Develop a new Strategic Plan that will guide staff toward Council priorities, with intentional goal- setting, benchmarks, and performance metrics 
  2. Develop a Succession Plan that will identify future leaders of the organization
  3. Conduct a Community Survey to assess how the citizens  view our City government
  4. Build an internal framework of standards and processes intended to engage and motivate employees
Public Safety
  1. Continue exploring data driven tools including predictive policing, community-based policing, and ensure high-quality neighborhood engagement
  2. Explore with our community partners a regional Fire service model
  3. Continue to partner with the County on Focus on Prevention and to implement the Community Assessment, Response, & Engagement (CARE) program and develop strategies in coordination with other governmental agencies and other sectors of the community to address ongoing issues with the homeless population
Oct 11

Organic Recycling and Modesto's Green Can

Posted on October 11, 2018 at 11:49 AM by Thomas Reeves

Since 1997 Modesto residents have used both a black and green can as part of their standard garbage service.  They’re the same size, picked up the same day of the week (sometimes even by the same truck), and taken to the same transfer stations in south Modesto to be processed.

But these two cans are radically different in what they contain, how they are treated, and their impact on the City. 

The Organic Recycling Container
The Organic Recycling Container (commonly known as your “green” or “yard waste” can) is where you can dispose of all organic or compostable material.  Yard waste – grass clippings, leaves, weeds, brush trimmings, and any other small yard waste – is the most commonly disposed-of item.  In the City of Modesto, residents are not permitted to pile up this green waste in front of their house for street-side pickup (except during December when city crews pick up only leaves for the winter leaf drop).  All of that kind of organic debris must go in the Organic Recycling Container.

You may be surprised to learn there are other kinds of waste that can go in the Organic Recycling Container. Any food, including meat, bones, dairy, spoiled leftovers, kitchen scraps and trimmings, can also go into the green bin.  

The City makes it even easier; thanks to our partnership with Gilton and Bertolotti, residents can have a free kitchen bin to hold food scraps until they’re ready to empty them into the green can.

Paper products – cardboard, paper towels, mail, newspapers, and magazines – are also acceptable items for the green bins.  These items are especially useful when the contents of the Organic Recycling Container are being composted; they absorb some liquid to make the product more evenly moist, and they provide extra carbon to balance with nitrogen acquired from grass, fruits, vegetables, and other food waste. 

After the pickup
Your Organic Recycling Container is picked-up once a week on your garbage day.  Depending on the garbage company (Modesto partners with two), the material is transported to the company’s transfer stations where it is ground and reloaded into larger trucks for further transport.  The ground organic material is then taken to the compost facility, and since the facility is owned and operated by the city, the garbage companies pay less per ton than they would at a traditional disposal site. 

The compost facility further grinds and filters the incoming waste from green cans and other pickup and maintenance work, reducing it to a size that will encourage faster microbial breakdown of the organic material.  The material is distributed into long windrows covering nearly 20 acres, churning, watering, and monitoring the process over the course of roughly 16 weeks.  Material in the windrows can reach over 150-180 degrees, which ensures that spores and seeds are killed in the process.  

When the compost is ready, it is a dark, organically-rich mixture with appropriate nitrogen and carbon levels to be used as a certified organic humus-like soil.  Monthly testing of pathogens and metals is completed, and a state inspector is onsite monthly to ensure the process follows state laws and water and air board regulations.

Why Organic Recycling?
The Organic Recycling Container was an early innovation, implemented before mandatory organic recycling, which today looms in California’s policy.  While other cities and regions are struggling to conceive of and implement organic and commercial recycling programs, the City of Modesto is perfecting our twenty-year-old program.  Even cities ahead of the curve on recycling transport their organic waste out of the county to privately-owned compost and organic processing facilities.  Modesto owns and operates its own.

New residents to Modesto frequently ask, “Why no blue bin?” The products that you typically think of when you consider recycling, like plastic, cans, and glass, actually make up about 25% of most residential trash.  According to studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency over 30 years, the majority of municipal solid waste is made of organic material.  

In a program like the City of Modesto’s, where all food scraps, paper, and yard waste can be composted, about 60% of the residential waste stream can be diverted away from landfills.  Additionally, recycling centers around the city will refund residents for glass, metal, and plastic, meaning that much of it doesn’t end up in garbage containers anyway.

How is the compost used?
The City of Modesto’s Compost Facility produces 30,000 tons of compost every year, which is sold to residents and businesses in the community.  The current price for one cubic yard is $18.00, and the site is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM- 3:30 PM; our team will even load your truck beds. 

The City of Modesto also uses compost in its own projects.  It’s used when planting new city trees or filling holes throughout our park and street systems.  The same organic waste you throw away could be used to facilitate growth in new trees planted along the roads in your community.  And when those same trees are trimmed by City, the waste is again sent to the compost facility to produce more compost. 

Here’s the challenge
The City has not been able to use much of its own compost for planting projects in parks due to contamination; in short, there’s stuff in your green cans that shouldn’t be there and cannot be composted.  Despite the constant monitoring of incoming waste, and sorting and filtering during production, trace contaminants – especially glass and plastics – do make it into the final product which greatly limits its application. 

If a resident dumps trash into the green can, the garbage truck driver may not see the contamination until he has already dumped it into the truck.  If the contaminants make it in with a truckload of green waste, that entire load cannot be treated as organic waste; it must instead go to the landfill. 

If contamination is not caught, the trash may be ground in with green waste and delivered to the compost facility, and I am willing to bet you don’t want bits of glass ground up with the compost material used in your yard or in our parks.  
Residents are responsible for keeping contamination out of the Organic Recycling Container.  Placed on every can is a green and white sticker that gives you more information about what can and cannot go into the green can.  If you are ever unsure, please call our Solid Waste division at (209) 577-5494 and the team can answer questions about acceptable items. 

How is the City of Modesto addressing this challenge?
Starting in November 2018, our Solid Waste division will be increasing random inspections of cans on collection days.  Any contamination or misuse of the containers will result in an immediate citation.  The citation schedule is as follows:
1st Offense $100 fine
2nd Offense $250 fine, removal of Organic Recycling Can and residents must schedule a meeting with the Code Enforcement Officer to have it returned
3rd Offense $500 fine and permanent removal of Organic Recycling Container

These fines are a direct result of the cost of additional enforcement and of the transportation of waste to the landfills.

The city will also be stepping up its enforcement with the garbage companies; less leeway will be permitted with contaminated loads.  We will be requiring truck drivers to notify the city daily of contaminated cans inspected on their routes. 

In addition to this increased enforcement, we’re researching new methods of sorting and grinding incoming loads in order to allow for more effective contamination removal.  

Ultimately, having a successful program relies on the homeowners, who should use the black and green cans to the fullest extent while keeping contaminants out; on the garbage companies, who are charged with being vigilant and cautious about how they process their incoming loads; and on the City of Modesto, which must enforce the code and use the best tools available to produce a clean product for our residents. 

Thank you for your help in keeping Modesto clean.