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2005 State of the City Speech

State of the City 2005 State of the City Speech
City of Modesto
Given by Mayor Jim Ridenour
January 10, 2005

Mayor Jim Ridenour

Good morning! It is a pleasure to be here with you this morning at Modesto High School to deliver the State of the City address.

Before I begin, I would like to introduce fellow Council Members who have joined us here this morning:

I would also like for all of the city staff and department heads, who have joined us today to please stand. Please join me in thanking them for the hard work they do on behalf of the citizens and the City of Modesto. Thank you all very much.

There is a very special person here today who is my closest advisor and best friend. I wish to thank my wife, Renee, for allowing me to serve as Mayor, and sticking by me through thick and thin.

It is no accident that I am again delivering my State of the City Address at a Modesto high school. Being here represents my strong belief that the future of Modesto will be the result of what we invest into our youth. I believe that we must provide ample opportunities for our youngest citizens, with the hope that they will grow and prosper in our city and go on to become our future generation of leaders.

To the students: Thank you for being here, you are the future of Modesto. To the faculty and administration: Thank you one and all for what you do to educate the youth of Modesto. You are truly helping shape our future leaders.

I entered elected office with no previous government experience. Some may think that is a good attribute, and some may think it is not. Nevertheless, not ever having held public office, I have proceeded to function in office as I functioned in business; that is, I view decisions based upon defining the need, quantifying the cost, and weighing the cost versus the benefit to those who will be affected or use the service or product. It means - I ask a lot of questions, request back up to the information that is provided to me, and go a little deeper into issues than what may be customary in government.

Approximately 13 months ago, I issued a request to the management staff to provide me and the City Council with an appraisal of the most pressing issues confronting the City of Modesto. The purpose of receiving the information was to get a firm understanding of what challenges the city is facing, and to prioritize those challenges and begin working on solutions.

What I learned from the staff report and through other sources was, in a word, shocking! Our water, sewer and storm drain systems were all in deep financial trouble and in woeful condition. It is apparent that there has not been enough focus on maintaining our public utilities and planning for future maintenance and upgrades.

This failure to address, in a timely fashion, critical infrastructure needs caused the City Council to undertake a more comprehensive review of city provided utilities and we have elevated public works projects into a much higher staff priority.

As has been in the news over the better part of a year, we identified the water delivery system in Modesto as the most pressing issue. A series of contaminated wells, crumbling pipes, antiquated storage tanks and the need to increase water treatment capability all coincided to create a near water emergency. While the matter should have been dealt with sooner, it simply did not happen. But our interest as a Council has been to fix the problem, and not to focus upon the blame game so often the preoccupation of elected officials and the media.

We determined the water rates have not been regularly updated, and undertook an intensive study to determine the proper rates to adequately finance the day-to-day operations of the water system and the needed improvements.

After a number of public hearings and meetings, we placed the issue to the property owners and complied with the necessary elements of the law to move ahead with the increases. The process has not been without controversy, but in the end, the rate changes will insure that we can continue to supply good quality water to all of our customers, even without one more house being built, these increases are necessary to take care of existing problems.

Within the next several months, we will conduct a hearing to set the connection fees, and I can assure you, that all aspects of new growth will pay what it costs to connect to the water system. The connection fees will also cover the cost of the new users’ share of the treatment plant upgrade.

In the coming months, we will also examine the costs for sewer and storm drains, and review the developer fees to make sure all aspects of growth cover the cost of their direct impact on our public works and other city services. I have concerns about placing additional measures before the voters to approve sewer extensions without enacting these changes and insuring that the growth related needs are fully funded by new growth and making sure we have a clear path to fixing our broken systems.

We have been busy this year, making changes and introducing new features, to assist our citizens and local businesses to conduct business with the City of Modesto. We are also strengthening our relationships and improving communications with the County of Stanislaus and the other cities in the county. Please indulge me while I go through the list of our achievements in various areas, because I think it is important to demonstrate our commitment to open government, improving access to local government, and working as a partner with our regional neighbors.

I would like to highlight some of the initiatives we have taken to make government more user friendly to the citizens of Modesto:

  • For the first time ever, we posted our annual city budget on the website. This eliminates the need of interested citizens from having to travel to 10th Street Place to review the budget. I don’t claim that the document is an easy read, and if any of you have suggestions about how to make a budget fun to read let me know because I have not yet cracked that code.
  • We created a web based action center on the City of Modesto website. Through this, citizens and business owners can conduct routine inquiries and open up dialogue with city staff through the web based application. I know it is used and that it works, because I have personally been involved in solving problems through this tool.
  • We also created an electronic suggestion box application. Through the web, citizens can post suggestions to the City of Modesto. You have my guarantee that the information will be reviewed, and where appropriate, acted upon. Please give it a try, this is another way that people can become active in their government - and we have worked hard to make it as convenient as possible.
  • Finally for the website, we have posted the applications to citizens’ advisory committees on our website. By doing so, we have eliminated the need for interested citizens to travel to city hall to obtain and complete applications.

There were a number of exciting accomplishments and programs introduced in 2004, and I would like to share some of the achievements with you today:

  • The Kaiser Hospital and medical campus received full approval to commence construction. By this time next year, medical offices and an outpatient surgery center will be open. This will be followed in 2007 with the opening of a new Kaiser Hospital. This will provide jobs, increase the availability of medical care in our community and open an emergency room in the north area of Modesto.
  • A group of citizen volunteers, headed by Mike Zagaris, has established an Arts in Public Places Task Force and is going about the business of placing art in various locations throughout the city to increase the appreciation of art and provide additional cultural diversity in Modesto. The first fruit of their efforts will be a handsome bust of “Cesar Chavez” which will be installed in Cesar Chavez Park in a few months.
  • The Gallo Performing Arts Center is under construction and expected to open in late 2006. We will all enjoy a world-class performing arts center in downtown Modesto. Not only will the various performances at the center contribute to our culture, provide enjoyment of music and the theater, but an entire new opportunity for educating and entertaining our youth will be available through the center.
  • As you know, it is my passion that our kids have safe and enjoyable after school programs, and I intend to continue to work very hard in this area to secure funding for programs. With this in mind, I created the Mayor’s Committee on Youth Services and with the help of Judith Monast and Judy Fisher, we have brought together leaders from education, the faith based community and other community groups to work together in identifying opportunities to capture community donations for after school programs. We are excited, that we will soon begin to make strides to finance additional programs.
  • Through the hard work of the schools, our Parks and Neighborhoods Department and numerous community leaders and volunteers, we have enhanced after school activities through instituting additional programs and reviving others.
  • It would be easy to only look at the some negative aspects in our area, such as Modesto Metropolitan area being the number one in auto thefts per capita. That is a problem that we are jointly and aggressively working with law enforcement throughout this County and with the help from our citizens we will change that!
  • Chief Wasden and his department have recently completed a three-year extensive accreditation process where our police department will be voluntarily evaluated with national law enforcement standards. What does this mean? Accreditation means that our law enforcement agency is committed to providing the utmost in professional excellence and quality of service.
  • Fire Chief Miguel and his department received it 10-year review from the Insurance Services Office. This organization assesses the capability of the fire departments across the nation, and classifies them for the insurance industry. Our fire department currently holds ISO’s second highest rating, and anxiously awaits the results of the new rating striving to be recognized as a class one fire department.
  • In cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, a group of local community
    leaders conducted a review of opportunities to develop additional business parks
    in Modesto. The goal of the business parks is to create economic opportunity
    here in Modesto. We will take the work of this group and put it to use in
    attracting new business to Modesto.

We cannot do everything ourselves in the City of Modesto. We share a building with the County of Stanislaus, and we have regional partners in the various cities throughout the County and even outside our local area.

Please let me take a moment to walk you through how we have strengthened our cooperation and have worked collectively to achieve consensus on important issues:

  • I now meet regularly with the other mayors from throughout the county. We share information and work together to resolve regional issues such as transportation and law enforcement. The collective wisdom of this group is powerful, and a welcome tool for me in helping to solve problems in Modesto
  • Through cooperation with the County of Stanislaus and all of the cities in the county we agreed to make changes in leadership at StanCOG, our regional transportation agency. If we are to begin to tackle regional transportation problems and reduce traffic congestion, we will need strong transportation planning and project management skills at StanCOG. New leadership will soon be in place, and we are ready to begin prioritizing projects and identifying funding sources to commence improvements.
  • As a region, we have identified state and federal funding for planning for the widening of Highway 219, also known, as Kiernan Road. This is a start in providing for an east west expressway for Stanislaus County.
  • Last year, a group of local leaders and elected officials traveled to Washington, D.C. to convince our congressional representatives to return some of our tax dollars to Modesto for transportation and public safety projects. While we did not get all that we asked for, we received millions in transportation improvement funding and a commitment for millions more for public safety. I was proud to be a member of the team, and we will return again this year for another round of “convincing.” I wish to thank Congressman Radanovich and Congressman Cardoza for their recognition of our needs and for their legislative work to bring the transportation grants to our area.
  • The City of Modesto and Stanislaus County now has a team in place who regularly meet and discuss solutions to challenges. Because so much of what we do overlaps and can be complementary, we have strengthened the lines of communication and are working cooperatively on issues such as the regional emergency dispatch center, public works projects, planning and development and economic development.

Some of the new initiatives we will pursue this year include:

  • Applying for Modesto to receive the designation as an “All America City.” This designation is earned by cities that can demonstrate strong public spirit; strong community involvement; public/private partnerships, and the creation of opportunities and quality of life amenities. I think we have the right stuff, and look forward to receiving this designation.
  • We will continue to pursue economic development opportunities. Our Community and Economic Development staff have built a world class website for catching the interest of businesses who may want to locate to Modesto. Once we know of interest, our staff will do whatever they can to assist prospective businesses in making their decision. We also will continue to work closely with the Alliance and the County of Stanislaus to create an environment friendly to business and do what we can to create jobs and opportunities locally.
  • As I mentioned earlier, I will continue to work on behalf of the city to have our taxpayer dollars returned to us locally through grants, and by convincing state and federal legislators to sponsor legislation that provides funding for local transportation, flood control and other municipal or public safety projects.
  • Soon, community leaders will initiate dialogue on the establishment of a half cent sales tax for transportation. As your mayor, I do not take such a recommendation lightly. I think we all know there is a need, and we want to be convinced that every other source of revenue has been explored before asking the citizens to spend more.
  • As has been suggested by the editorial pages of the Bee, I agree that it is time to review our city charter and receive input from citizens and community leaders. I will request that the City Attorney apprise the Council of the process of Charter review and revision and I will call upon community organizations and leaders to participate in this process.

In closing, I thank you for your participation today and for your patience as I have completed my first year in office as your Mayor. We will continue to work to solve the infrastructure and traffic issues in Modesto. We made significant progress with the water system update and the retooling of StanCOG, as well as achieving millions in federal funding for roadway improvements.

Our cultural amenities continue to improve, and we all await the opening of the Gallo Performing Arts Center. We have an art gallery at 10th Street Place and look forward to seeing more art in public places. The addition of these amenities also provides entertainment and educational opportunities for the young and aspiring artists of our city.

Our youth are our most important asset and I will work diligently to insure we have an environment that is safe, promotes youth activities and provides ample cultural and educational opportunities.

We will continue to pursue economic development opportunities so that those who live in our community have every opportunity to work in our community. We will repair aging infrastructure and improve transportation to attract quality businesses. It won’t happen quickly – and much time has been wasted preparing to do this, but we will keep at it and update you along the way.

This is a great community and I am excited about our future. When I talked about becoming an All American City, I really meant it. An All American City such as this last year taking first place for National Night Out throughout the Country, reducing gang activity and crimes, cleaning up our City, and increasing citizen involvement in our local government, adding three parks, and this was our first year for our youth “First Tee” program, and it was a great success! I could not be prouder!

We have now closed the final chapter on the Peterson case. It is a sad chapter in the history of Modesto. Our police department and District Attorney’s Office did an outstanding job of criminal investigation and prosecution. Now as a community, I hope we can begin the healing process. We should never forget Laci and Conner. We honor them, their family and all victims of violent crimes in 2004.

Finally, I will continue to work for a Modesto that is prosperous, enjoys a great quality of life, and does everything humanly possible to make our kids successful. We didn’t move mountains in 2004, but we sure changed the landscape. With your continued support and encouragement, we can do great things for Modesto. Work with me and the City Council, challenge us to do our best, contribute and volunteer where you are able, but let’s make progress, and let’s make progress together. This is our community - let’s leave it better than we found it.

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

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