Jul 19

Downtown Master Planning is Heating Up!

Posted on July 19, 2019 at 9:14 AM by Thomas Reeves

The Downtown Master Plan is beginning to gain momentum. This past June, the City Council approved hiring an outside consultant Opticos Design for $210,000 to aid in the creation of this plan. Two big projects that are already underway are the building of the new 8-story court house and the expansion of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) rail line to Modesto. ACE is a commuter train connecting the central valley to the Bay Area. Both of these projects – among many other economic prospects – have influenced the creation and push for the Downtown Master Plan to ensure that Modesto is positioned to experience their benefits.  

Along with those two new major developments, the plan will focus on how to improve transportation downtown. The idea to revamp J Street is part of why transportation will be a big focus in this plan. The Opticos team has already begun their research on how to efficiently and effectively improve downtown transportation. The funding for this portion of the plan is coming from Measure L which is the half cent sales tax increase in our area. 

Keep in mind that this plan is in its beginning stages. Right now the focus is on gathering stakeholders and listening to the Modesto community. On July 22 there will be an opportunity for the people of Modesto to come share their ideas and opinions about the downtown area and what is to come of it. The day will start at the McHenry Museum with a walking tour at 9am and then at 6pm there will be a Visioning Workshop.

It is both my and Director of Community & Economic Development Jaylen French’s belief that this plan can become a living document that will evolve and change with the growth and development of Modesto. So come out July 22 to the McHenry Museum and tell us what is important to you about downtown Modesto. 

Jul 15

Progress on Addressing Homelessness

Posted on July 15, 2019 at 8:17 AM 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!
Jul 01

New Fiscal Year, New Opportunity to Address City's Challenges

Posted on July 1, 2019 at 2:12 PM by Thomas Reeves

Today marks the official start of a new fiscal year, and recently the Modesto City Council adopted a stable, balanced budget with the intention of providing for critical infrastructure and services.  The budget was adopted with confidence that our city is making great economic improvements, and with caution due to the fiscal challenges we face this next year and in the years to come.  

Our local economy is improving, and we continue to see an increase in revenue from property, business license and sales taxes, which account for 59.2% of General Fund revenues.  During fiscal year 2018/2019, the city council approved the sale of Cannabis within city limits.  Eight dispensaries were approved to sell cannabis, and the Cannabis Tax will provide the city with a new revenue source in this and future fiscal years.

Our initial projections show significant increases in CalPERS - city employee and retiree retirement program - contributions for this upcoming fiscal year, and the increases will continue in subsequent years.  In short, pension costs, among overall expenditures, continue to outpace the growth in revenue. 

We have a strong team in place that will reimagine the way we provide the same level – or better – of service to our community despite the budget challenges.

A few consistent themes you will notice in the upcoming budget year:
  • Public safety will remain our priority, and that also means addressing the well-being of those experiencing homelessness.
  • We want to be known as an organization focused on the customer experience.
  • We will align resources to be an innovative and solutions-oriented organization.
  • The city is finalizing a refreshed Strategic Plan to guide staff on priorities of the city council.
  • Staff will actively manage vacancies, as they occur, to ensure resources are available to meet future budget challenges.
  • We will work toward an aggressive pro-business approach to expand existing businesses and attract new businesses.  
  • We will invest in collaborative partnerships with other jurisdictions, business community, our neighborhood groups and faith organizations.
  • We will strive for an open transparent government and will make decisions based on data and evidence.
Be on the look out for a new Citizen's Budget Guide, which will be unveiled within the next few weeks.  This guide, the first of its kind for Modesto, will creatively position the city's budget numbers and process in such a way that gives our residents and stakeholders a simple way of understanding where their taxes and fees go.  

I'm excited about this new tool, and I'm excited about what we will - together - accomplish this new year.