2005 State of the City Speech
City of Modesto
Given by Mayor Jim Ridenour
January 10, 2005
Good morning! It is a pleasure to be here with you this morning at Modesto High School to deliver the State of the
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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