2008 State of the City Speech

State of the City 2008 State of the City Speech
City of Modesto
Given by Mayor Jim Ridenour
February 11, 2008

Mayor Jim Ridenour

Keeping our Fiscal House in Order

Good morning and welcome once again to the beautiful State Theatre in Modesto. I appreciate the opportunity to again present the State of the City address here, and I would like to thank Chair Kirstie Boyette and the State Theatre Board of Directors for opening up their facility in the interest of civic involvement.

This is the first year of my second and final term as Mayor of Modesto and, quite frankly, the beginning of the end of my service as an elected official. I am honored to have run unopposed in the last election, and I am humbled by the support and generosity of the citizens of Modesto in allowing me to continue to serve. I do not aspire to hold higher public office, but I do intend to fulfill the promises I made in asking for your support of my continued service.

I also want to thank my wife Renee, without whom I would not have the strength to do what I do. She and my family sacrifice much in order for me to hold elected office and I appreciate their love and support.

In many ways, the City of Modesto is like a household. You want to live in a good neighborhood, you want reliable transportation, and you want a good quality of life and a good education for your children and grandchildren.

Many of my priorities are the same. Safe and attractive neighborhoods. Adequate roads and public transportation. Providing after school programs for children and doing our part to improve a better quality of living in Modesto. Many of the issues I touch on today hit these priorities.

We have a city budget; you have a family budget. We want to protect citizens and their property; you want to protect your family and your property. We want our utilities to function well and uninterrupted; you want things to work well in your home and uninterrupted. If we properly manage our finances we can provide adequate services and improve the quality of life for citizens. In your household, after you pay the bills you evaluate what things you can do with your money to better protect your investment and improve the quality of your family life.

So…enough on the theme, lets talk about how to keep Modesto’s fiscal house in order, the reasons why I think we are a great city and how, if we work together, we can weather the economic challenges and emerge an even better community.

First, let’s discuss some of the 2007 accomplishments.

We’ve completed the most comprehensive Charter Review in the history of the City of Modesto. George Petrulakis, Chair of the Charter Committee and his team of volunteer citizens conducted extensive public outreach to find out what the community believes is important about how their local government is run. After many hours of work and public testimony, the charter amendments were placed into a ballot measure and placed before voters. I am pleased that these accountability measures were overwhelmingly approved by voters. The new charter sets the tone for fiscal responsibility and government accountability and we intend to implement this mandate from voters as soon as possible. Our very first action will be to hire a new City Auditor.

With our municipal utilities, sewer and water, we confronted difficult decisions and took the steps necessary to insure reliable and safe drinking water. We also invested in creating additional capacity for sewage treatment as well as a cleaner method of disposing of sewage waste water. For both sewer and water, many of the improvements were necessary to respond to new environmental and health regulations. As far as capacity improvements, these are necessary to sustain economic development in the City of Modesto. Without the necessary capacity, we don’t have the ability to create new jobs or provide adequate housing for the growth projections we see. We can either plan for the growth that is certain to come, or contend with it after the fact. In the past, there has not been adequate planning for our future in Modesto and what we’ve done has been necessary to both catch-up and get ahead.

Our police department is seeking re-accreditation by CALEA, the Committee on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies. This process assures that the policies and procedures used by the Modesto Police Department conform to the acceptable standards for law enforcement. It also verifies that training and continuous quality improvement activities are documented by our police department. I am pleased to announce that after a thorough evaluation, the CALEA Assessment Team unanimously recommends re-accreditation for our Police Department.

We continue to utilize technology to enhance public safety services. Here, we have installed and are testing a new state of the art public safety dispatch computer system. This system will process calls for service more quickly and link dispatch information to fire and police department record systems. Additionally we have added new mobile computer terminals in police and fire vehicles to interact with dispatch computers and records systems. New digital video technology will provide virtual eyes over our downtown area, serving as a force multiplier for our police officers.

Interest in new commercial development continues to grow in virtually all areas of the City. Vintage Faire Mall has commenced construction of a 60,000 square foot mall expansion that will be completed this fall. The really exciting part of this new lifestyle center is the addition of shops and restaurants that are new to Modesto. Planned mixed use developments in downtown will add a live-work and shop component that adds a whole new dimension to our City. Meanwhile, years of residential growth in the north and east areas of our city has gotten the attention of prominent national shopping center developers. We hope to soon announce the plans for a significant regional commercial development in northeast Modesto that will meet the shopping needs of our current and future residents.

We continue to receive funding and make progress on the Virginia Corridor. Once complete, this pedestrian and bicycle pathway will provide connectivity between 22 neighborhoods, 6 schools and 5 churches. We are currently designing the pedestrian bridge over Briggsmore and expect construction to begin late this year.

We have “caught up” with park development and maintenance. Freedom Park in Village One was dedicated last year and the newest Village One Park, Sanders Park, will open within weeks. Both of these parks were paid for through development fees and tax revenue from homes in Village One. We have also refurbished Cesar Chavez, Marshall and Graceada parks.

Our successful Weed and Seed project is a collaborative program designed to revitalize struggling neighborhoods. In addition to the City and County, the collaboration includes planning officials, real estate and development interests, health care providers and workforce training professionals. Our Weed and Seed program in West Modesto continues to flourish and will be complemented by the new Neighborhood Center at Marshall Park, infusing a greater public safety presence and programs and services for residents. There is also an addition of meeting and recreation facilities. These vital facilities provide the neighborhood with facilities they can claim ownership of and all of this helps to elevate the quality of life in the community. The bricks and mortar are supplemented by jobs training, elimination of blight, new opportunities for small business and revitalization of private properties.

We have completed the renovation of the King Kennedy Memorial Center. We have also entered into a management agreement with the West Modesto King Kennedy Collaborative for the daily operations of the center. This move will have multiple benefits including expanding activities of interest to the community and allowing the City to use savings to fund programs at Maddux Youth Center and Neighborhood Center at Marshall Park.

We’ve attracted Stage 3 of the World Class Amgen Tour of California to Modesto. I am pleased to announce that the sponsorship for this event is 100 percent fulfilled; we have received generous donations of $65,000 in cash and $150,000 in in-kind contributions. Millions of television viewers from around the world will see Modesto in a very positive light. As with the renovation of this beautiful theatre, the construction of the Virginia Corridor, and many other community programs and events and a program I’ll mention in a moment, I continue to be overwhelmed by how generous the community of Modesto is.

Finally, I am pleased to announce generous contributions from AT&T and Dell Computers to fund after school programs and activities. As you may know, this is an important program to me. It is estimated 1000 children per day are involved in after school activities. These activities provide a safe haven for kids, improve their social interactions and promote academic achievement. I am confident that the continuation of these programs will promote better civic involvement when the children involved become adults and I am positive that the values and educational benefits of these programs keep kids out of trouble and keep them on the right path to be successful throughout their lives.

Now, let’s spend some time on the challenges we face as a municipal corporation. In keeping our fiscal house in order, the simple fact is we cannot spend more than we have. As your elected representatives, we are reluctant to use our “savings” to pay for ongoing services. We believe we should maintain modest savings for unforeseen issues and local emergencies. Because of the market correction in housing, the implications of not having any savings are easy to see.

Our area has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. The direct and indirect impacts of the housing slowdown have hit many local businesses and service providers, resulting in less governmental revenue. Our charge in this economic environment is clear: maintain public safety services, vital public works and utility services, flood control, mandated city services and public transportation. These are the priorities and in my view, everything else we do or provide in the way of services is up for discussion. When I became Mayor, we started reviewing many city-provided services to see if they were best provided by the private or public sector. I intend to continue that effort—where the City can provide the best service at a reasonable cost, we will continue to do so. Where the City cannot, we need to be prepared to contract those services to ensure the best value for our community.

And, while we are still talking about the budget, my pledge, which I am sure is shared by my colleagues on the council, is to present a budget that reflects the financial position of the city as it is today. Frankly, we cannot be all things to all people. We must fund the priorities and for the rest, the budget pie can only be divided so many ways. In a way, I think this is a good time for all of us to reflect about what level of services we want, and what level of services we are willing to pay for. So please, if you have concerns about the budget, get involved in public meetings and make sure your voice is heard.

On growth, many of you know a majority of the council has not supported completing an urban growth review until long term infrastructure planning and financing were addressed. Now that we’ve completed water and sewer master plans and have financing in place, what remains is completion of the storm drain master plan and financing. It is time to address planning for future growth. Here we plan to undertake a review of the General Plan, the growth constitution of our city. Not reviewed since 1995, the plan needs to be refined. In the General Plan, it is our intention to align the city’s strategic plan and community values in producing the blueprint for future growth. We’ll follow the lead of the charter review committee to be sure the process is inclusive and that there is ample opportunity for public input and comment. This comprehensive plan will chart the course of our future and we want to take care to get it right.

Part of our discussion on growth has to be focused upon the need for better capacity of our roads and maintenance of existing streets and roads. Earlier I mentioned that as a community we have to decide what level of services we want, and what level we are willing to fund. Transportation infrastructure is an area where we clearly will not see improvements unless we decide to help ourselves. Some have criticized the idea that we need to raise taxes to do this and as a fiscal conservative, I understand that concern. But I also have personally had to face the reality that if folks don’t help themselves, there isn’t anyone who is going to descend upon us with magical powers to fix all the roads. As it is, we have to go begging to the state and federal governments, both of which bribe us with our own tax dollars.

It simply comes down to this: Safer roads with more capacity will reduce accidents and injuries. Better road capacity eliminates time delays that cost people and business money spent traveling instead of being productive. People commuting to jobs outside of the county because we don’t have the jobs here are robbed of time with their loved ones and too tired to participate in civic activities. Our economic future will not improve unless we improve our roads so that we can attract better paying jobs to the region.

I’ve already told you I do not aspire to hold higher office, so I am going to continue on my soapbox while I have a captive audience. We have a responsibility to improve upon the way we have managed infrastructure and planned for growth. You can choose to ignore it; but the bottom line is people continue to get married and have children and yes, we continue to receive new residents to our community from other parts of California and beyond.

We need to think differently and move away from the practice of each community in the county going it alone in regards to planning and economic development. It isn’t working. We need to change our thinking and our planning to embrace more regional concepts.

TRANSPORTATION

I’ve already made the argument in favor of a transportation measure. But beyond that, there has to be a change in how local government approaches funding for infrastructure. We need to foster better cooperation on inter-city roads and regional transportation projects. It is a given, that each of our cities and the county have road needs specific to their entity. Is there no way we could align our interests and combine projects, project financing and share resources and technology with each other? The answer is, “yes”. There is a way, if we have the resolve to do so. We have a regional transportation agency, and they do a good job; but the time has come to take transportation planning to the next level. We’ve got to stop the petty bickering and embrace developing better cooperation and planning for regional transportation. We need to execute by working together and actually delivering projects and demonstrate the capability of local government to adapt and deliver for the citizens, many of whom are rightfully disillusioned by the lack of responsiveness we telegraph.

WATER

Samuel Clemens is quoted as saying “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” This is another area where we need sound regional planning and mutual cooperation to insure there is a continued source of water to serve the needs of Modesto and the larger region. A regional water treatment facility could serve more than one city and we have the opportunity to create synergy by combining resources and financing in a more comprehensive approach to long term water delivery. We also need to put pressure on state and federal agencies and elected officials to develop storage facilities to capture water until we need it instead of sending the resource out into the ocean where it becomes useless for consumption.

REGIONAL PLANNING

Why did they do that? That’s one question I get over and over. Why did they put all those people out in Village One without adequate roads in and out? Because the land there was not conducive to agricultural uses and the thought at the time was that it would keep growth off of the best soils. So, one goal was fulfilled at the expense of impacting existing roads.

Why did one city build a regional shopping center where a plan existed for an expressway without multiple access points? Because, and maybe rightly so, that city needed to enhance their sales tax base and that goal overrode the need to embrace regional transportation planning.

Why do some cities have their own public safety dispatch center and others and the county combine to form yet another? Because each city makes its own determination of how services are provided, but with better regional planning we could perhaps combine resources and technology to save the taxpayers money and invest the savings into better services on the street. Those are the easy answers.

The tough issue and the tough answers revolve around familiar topics. Regional water treatment facilities. Regional waste water treatment facilities. Eliminating redundant buildings, parks and infrastructure, sharing assets, and using the savings to invest in roads and public safety.

We’ve been told repeatedly in Washington DC and in Sacramento that grants and funding are getting harder to come by. We are admonished to submit regional projects to advantage the greatest amount of people with the limited funding we can leverage. Yet, while we have made progress it is not nearly enough.

Now, there you have it; I’m off of my soapbox.

Let me close on a positive note. While we may face tough economic and infrastructure challenges ahead, I believe that if we embrace the notion to think and act differently about how to best solve problems, we can forge solutions that may not have been considered in the past. It sounds very simplistic, but this type of thinking has eluded policy makers for far too long.

Modesto continues to evolve as a regional medical hub, a city rich in cultural amenities and graced with generous citizens who give until it hurts when community needs are apparent. We are blessed with performing arts venues, and a downtown commerce district that serves business during the day and provides an entertainment spot after hours. We care about our kids and we show it through innovative programs, through after school activities and we are a community rich in parks.

As a community we have embraced district elections, which will change how we go about governance of our city. Our new charter promotes better accountability and more involvement on elected policy makers in budget and finance issues. We shouldn’t look upon the changes as negative and we need not be rooted in the past. We are a city heading in the right direction and I am proud to be a small part of that evolution.

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

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