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City Manager's Blog

Aug 12

Downtown Master Plan Now Complete

Posted on August 12, 2020 at 1:17 PM by Thomas Reeves

In 2017, City staff considered redesigning J Street, a major thoroughfare through Modesto’s vibrant downtown.  As awareness of the J Street project grew, the City’s leadership team identified an opportunity to develop a more comprehensive plan for all downtown streets, not just the one.  This direction resulted in a complete Downtown Master Plan (DMP) initiative, to include land uses and development.

The final plan, approved at last night’s City Council meeting, includes a project background, overview of the public outreach process, design principles, streets and transportation designs, land use and development opportunities, parking concepts and implementation ideas.  There was a significant public participation program which led to consensus among stakeholders for the concepts presented in the DMP.  

The intent of the DMP is to assess and analyze opportunities related to land use and transportation.  In developing the plan, we considered upcoming development projects that will result in meaningful change to the downtown area, such as the new County courthouse, initiation of Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) passenger rail service, and new residential development.  

We’ve heard loud and clear from the public that transportation in and through the downtown area should be improved.  The plan addresses a range of challenges associated with improving conditions for non-motorized travel, while still providing vehicle circulation within and through the downtown area.

The DMP proposes priority networks for various streets based on travel mode type.  That is, certain streets are designated as pedestrian, bicycle, or vehicle priority facilities.  This designation guides the improvements to be constructed along any given street segment, including enhanced sidewalks, bicycle lanes, landscaping and amenities, on-street parking and others.

With the adoption of this plan comes a renewed passion for a vibrant, attractive, livable, and welcoming downtown.  We believe new residential development opportunities will prompt the critical mass of downtown residents that will be needed to create a “24-hour” city center.  The transportation system concepts – particularly those related to walking and biking – will also be important in creating a modern urban environment that supports the City’s long-term economic development goals.

As you review the plan, keep in mind that land use and site development concepts shown in the DMP are intended to reflect ideas and inspiration for future improvements to downtown.  Individual projects will still be subject to a formal design process that considers applicable opportunities and constraints.  Nothing in the DMP is intended to be a burden on existing businesses; rather, the concepts are meant to reflect possibilities and provide inspiration for developing an enhanced downtown environment and experience.

We believe this plan provides a vision that will catch on like wildfire, and that downtown partners will welcome the changes in favor of a new and exciting downtown.

Jul 28

Adopting a Budget for the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year

Posted on July 28, 2020 at 2:38 PM by Thomas Reeves

Each year at about this time, your City leadership team works hard to craft a citywide budget that reflects an optimism that our employees will have the resources required to provide essential services, and also a bit of realism that balancing revenues and expenses has become harder and harder.  This year is certainly no exception given how much our world has changed in 2020.

In the midst of a global pandemic that has hit our local economy hard, the team has worked together to prepare a conservative budget in the midst of uncertainty.  Never before have we embarked on a new fiscal year with so much uncertainty about the health of our economy and the tax revenue to support the services we provide to the community.  The pandemic has triggered several potential new funding sources from the State and Federal Government for this coming year, but the amount, timing, and sustainability of such is unknown.  We remain hopeful that additional funds will be allocated, but there is no guarantee.

We cannot continue with “Business as usual” with our historical allocation of resources given the current stream of tax revenues.  Although our full-time employee count has remained steady at around 1,225 for the past five years, our employee-related expenses has grown considerably.  Quite simply, this City’s expenses have outpaced its revenues, and we need to make considerable progress in creating a more sustainable budget for the future.   

In pursuit of this goal, every department and labor group has been requested to make concessions, and there will be impacts to public safety and quality of life services, including our recreation program, streets program, and parks maintenance.  Our employees will be asked to make changes to the way in which they provide essential services to our constituents, and they will be asked to help redefine our operations according to the most pressing priorities.  Make no mistake, our residents, businesses, and visitors may notice a reduction in the services we’re able to offer, though I’m confident our resilient City will adapt, innovate, and even excel in the extraordinary times in which we find ourselves.

We’ve also been forced to make difficult reductions in our current and planned staffing levels. Unfortunately, our current workforce will be reduced by several filled positions, and those individuals have been informed of these decisions.  Additionally, 73 currently vacant positions have been eliminated and will not be filled.  We worked closely with our labor partners in identifying concessions – including furloughs – to mitigate additional position reductions. I sincerely appreciate the willingness of most of our labor partners who came to the table for those discussions, and the understanding members showed in doing what is best for the organization.
The process of delivering these actions has been gut-wrenching.  I fully recognize these actions directly affect lives and workloads, and I am calling on our entire team to move forward with sensitivity and support of one another.  Even as we work within our new financial restraints, I am committed to supporting our employees with as much of the resources as we have available to their work and development.  

One thing is clear: we will not be the same City at the end of the year as when we started, though I believe we’ll be a better City than ever before.  However, we will weather this storm if we work together and remain customer-focused, innovative, and accountable to our community.

Jul 28

Progress on Addressing Homelessness

Posted on July 28, 2020 at 2:38 PM by Thomas Reeves


Homelessness is unique to every city that we visit or live in and is something that cannot be solved overnight or with a simple fix.  Here in the city of Modesto there are an estimated 1,400 homeless people. There could be several reasons that one could become homeless but some of the more prevalent reasons are because of: mental health issues, loss of employment/income, drug use/addiction, criminal behavior/history, unemployed due to inability or unwillingness to work, or choice of life.

Some of these can be worked through quickly; others can take a long time. So, our vision for the homeless population has been to reduce the negative impact of vagrancy behavior by collaborating with Stanislaus county to get our homeless the help they need through services, shelter and housing.  

We’ve made progress in this regard, and the most visible project has been the creation of the Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter (MOES), located underneath the Ninth Street Bridge. MOES is our city’s initiative to follow the Ninth Circuit ruling that it is unconstitutional to ban homeless people from sleeping on the streets. It is home to an upwards of 400 people, and these tenants have access to service providers every day to help them with making appointments, career placements, finding permanent housing and more. By having these services at MOES, there have been several people who have transitioned out of MOES and are beginning to rebuild their lives.

Modesto also has initiated the Downtown Streets Team, an organization that hires homeless (or at-risk of becoming homeless) people to be a team member that works on beautification projects in the city. Then, the team members receive a non-cash stipend to cover their basic needs and help them to transition to employment and find a home. 

The next exciting step in the overall program to address homelessness is the expansion of our Salvation Army Shelter on Ninth Street! Together with the county, we are putting in an access center, 182 more beds and a full kitchen. The access center will be home to onsite service providers and this means that there will be new job opportunities on the market for our community to take advantage of. Come this fall we will be offering this new shelter to the homeless community, and returning the MOES space back to the Tuolumne River Trust. 

Modesto is a community that loves to help, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. When it comes to our homeless, I know they are in good hands. Our service providers are ready and on-site to get them the tools they need, and the community is ready to give donations to shelters. 

And what is powerful is that our homeless are taking advantage of the help, and many are taking the initiative to begin to transform their lives.

Learn more about how you can help!