2012 State of the City Speech

State of the City 2012 State of the City Speech
City of Modesto
Given by Mayor Garrad Marsh
March 28, 2012

Thank you Andrew for those kind words. And I thank all of you for being here for the Two Thousand and Twelve State of the City Address.

I am honored to be standing here before you as your new Mayor. I take my responsibilities seriously. I have a deeply rooted passion for and commitment to this community. I am thankful for my wife, who helped me get to this point, never wavering, always supporting. I appreciate my fellow Council members being here in support of me as well as our Charter Officers and Department Directors.

Now, let’s get down to the business at hand... the State of the City

I am a fan of Clint Eastwood. You know - the guy that was Mayor of Carmel. And sure, he also is known for making a movie or two. Well I would like to use one of his early movies to frame today’s address - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

We are on, what I believe to be, the tail-end of the most dramatic recession in recent history. Families in our community are struggling to provide and survive, we have numerous businesses and homes that now sit vacant. We are all well aware of the stark reality of the last few years. We’ve felt it at home, we’ve felt it in our businesses, and we’ve felt it at City Hall as well. It has been a bad time for many, an ugly period for some.

Is there any good here? Are you ready for a glimmer of hope? I am. During this mid-year budget review, our revenue projections increased by over a million dollars, largely due to increases in sales and property taxes. Things are looking better, and while we are not out of the woods just yet, we are beginning to see an upward trend.

Looking at our budget, we are not good, and; we are not bad. But we definitely are not ugly. Thankfully, we are not Stockton. I must give credit where credit is due – without Jim Ridenour’s tireless leadership with regard to the budget Modesto would be in a far worse place financially. Let's give Jim a hand. Thank you Jim. Jim and the Council as a whole made the difficult, but necessary, decisions to keep us sound.

Last July’s early projections had us facing a $12 million shortfall for this coming fiscal year. We are now looking at about half that amount. It's still going to be tough, especially since we are currently operating on a "bare bones" budget.

For the last three years our employee groups have stepped up to help us with the budget. We are going to ask for their help again this year to make concessions in their existing contracts.

Over the last year, major steps have been taken on employee benefits and pensions. We have made strides on pension calculation formulas, retirement age, sick pay, and participation in pension funding. We have more to do, - - - we will do more.

Directly related to the City’s drastic budget reductions in recent years, our public safety forces have been greatly diminished. The Police Department reached its peak in staffing in 2007 and since that time, 93 positions, or 23% of the department’s workforce has since been eliminated. We need more police. We need more officers on the street, enforcing and deterring criminal activity, fighting gangs, protecting our community. We need to feel safe. This is a quality of life issue.

Modesto currently has one and one tenth police officers per 1,000 residents. In 2003, a Citizen's Committee adopted a desired staffing ratio of almost 2 officers per 1,000. Our staffing today is like we are playing the football game with only 7 players on the field. Even a team of All-Stars cannot win that game.

We are currently in the process of recruiting six new officers. But we need 100 more police and community service aides. While I have some ideas, they may not be the optimum solution. Therefore, I will be calling upon you - our community leaders and citizens to help me find a way to bring our city to the level of public safety we all desire.

While our statistics show that major crime has actually decreased, that statistic is misleading. The reduction was due to using our limited resources to focus on major crimes. What are described as minor crimes have paid the penalty. Lack of police officers reverberates throughout our community. Look around, park vandalism, copper wire theft, and graffiti. Has anyone seen any tagging and graffiti? You bet you have. To continue my football team analogy, when your team is this short of players you can cover the pass, but not the run.

Two years ago, budget cuts eliminated a program called Beat Health. This program put pressure on landlords and homeowners who had drug problems associated with their properties. Plus, we cut half of our staff of community service officers. This year, we eliminated all our graffiti crews and significantly reduced the Neighborhood Preservation Unit.

The result, obviously - unfortunately, can be seen, and it is bad. Graffiti is rampant. Graffiti is not just a property crime; it is a crime against our standard of living, our quality of life. Therefore, we recently reinstated a full-time graffiti abatement crew.

One full-time officer has been dedicated to graffiti enforcement. The result? 188 investigations have been conducted, 14 search warrants have been served, 21 arrests have been made, 35 criminal taggers have been identified while 4 businesses have been cited for selling spray paint to minors. Amazing accomplishments, but it only puts a dent in the graffiti epidemic. Just think what we could do with even more officers, not just for graffiti, but also for auto theft, drug enforcement and gang suppression.

Last year, I went to Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen and Senator Anthony Cannella with a bill for a funding mechanism which, I hope, cities can use for clean energy projects. With their sponsorship, the bill is working its way through the legislature.

I will return to them by asking for a bill next year to increase penalties for criminal taggers. Under my proposal, when caught and prosecuted, criminal taggers would lose their license for one year – a real consequence that will make teenagers, who are the greatest offenders, think twice before engaging in such destructive activities. While we are making strides in these and many other areas, we cannot enforce our way out of all the issues that face Modesto. We need you, our residents, to be our eyes and ears. We have dozens of community volunteers willing to help. But we need more; we need diligence, eyes, reporters, workers. Modesto needs all its citizens to step up in this time of attack on our quality of life.

Now, let’s talk about some GOOD things that happened this year...the Mayor’s Top 50 Teens, a recognition of youth overcoming obstacles yet maintaining academic excellence, was initiated. I will be enthusiastically continuing this program.

A housing project began with the recent demolition of the 96 year old water tower at 17th and G Streets. This is the first step in the development of a 48-unit affordable senior apartment complex.

Next month will see the start of a seismic retrofit of the Carpenter Road bridge over the Tuolumne. This is a $10 million dollar project financed by state and federal funds.

And FINALLY, a long-awaited affordable housing project is ready to start! Archway Commons will break ground in less than a month, on April 20th. Located at the corner of Carver and 9th Street, 76 units of affordable housing are expected to be completed next May. This affordable housing is one of the last projects to benefit from the now defunct Redevelopment Agency (RDA). Speaking of the loss of RDA, Modesto will weather this without significant difficulty. While we will lose the ability to improve our city through this mechanism, we are in a good position financially for its dissolution.

Another good thing on the horizon: how many of you drive around Modesto on any given weekend and see soccer game after soccer game at our local parks and schools? Well, soon you will see even more! The Mary E. Grogan Community Park is coming to fruition and will boast seven soccer fields!

Construction on this 42-acre Community Park adjacent to Enochs High School is expected to begin in May of this year. This project is moving forward as a result of a partnership with Modesto Youth Soccer Association. MYSA will assist with maintenance and operation costs plus recruiting of regional and state tournaments. Three fields of synthetic turf should open in late fall and four natural turf fields are set for late next summer.

Now I have a couple of UGLY items on my list.

Modesto and MID’s Second Phase of Surface Water Treatment is over two years behind schedule and it is a mess. I tell you now that the businesses and citizens of Modesto are going to have to help us rescue this project. I don't know what shape or form that may take. We are working well with MID to find solutions we can all live with. And we will work diligently to pursue legal action against the contractors, engineers and construction managers of the project to eventually make our ratepayers whole.

A second problem is this facility, Modesto’s Centre Plaza as it loses $700,000 this year. This must change and we are looking at many options, from shuttering, to renting, to reorganizing, to contracting. Nothing is off the table except continuing as it is.

Those are some of the highlights and lowlights of the past. I feel that one of my jobs is to set a vision, a plan, for moving our city forward and into the future. Almost all of the upcoming topics are grounded in economic development. Whether it's how we look at ourselves or market our city: how we grow or improve education, or protect ag, they all interdependent and fit under the economic vitality umbrella.

Too often, when we look at ourselves, our city, we focus on the past, and its ugly side. It is time to stop that and emphasize the good. If we don't define ourselves, others will define us in their terms or on their lists.

So in that vein, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce a Modesto High history teacher: Chris Peterson. Chris was just chosen as California High School Teacher of the Year from 300,000 state teachers. Thank you Chris. I would like to quote the Bee. They said, "In his award acceptance speech earlier in Sacramento, Peterson's words were prophetic." Chris had said, "There is always something in the media about one teacher who made horrible decisions, while there are very few stories about the thousands of teachers doing remarkable work under extraordinary circumstances." Chris is a quiet superstar. When the words Teacher and Modesto are put together, this is who should come to mind.

We need to be proud of our Hometown Heroes. People like George Lucas or Jeremy Renner - Royal Robbins or Robert Ulrich to name a few. We need to focus on the positives in our community like Gallo, the biggest wine firm in the world or 511 Tactical. And from now on, when someone mentions the name Peterson, say yes! Chris Peterson. He's a great teacher and he's from Modesto.

And talking about community, I would like to recognize someone who Loves Modesto. One month from today, on April 28th, thousands of people from our community will gather for Love Modesto and I would like to recognize Jeff Pishney who is with Big Valley Grace Community Church. Jeff started the Love Modesto movement three years ago. And it is spreading with over 25 communities pitching in this year. This is Good. Jeff is an All- Star and the essence of what makes this a great community. Thank you Jeff.

I have hopes and plans to follow this theme of getting the citizens of Modesto, and our Country, to recognize how wonderful this city is. Yes, we have problems, so do all the other communities of the world. But we must focus on our good.

I am working on an idea to start a "think tank" that would bring together the groups whose business is marketing Modesto - the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Improvement District, the City itself, the Alliance, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Commonwealth Group, and the Modesto Bee. We can be so much more effective with a focused theme to improve our image. Delivering the same message - coming from different directions.

I truly believe that everyone who comes here finds Modesto to be better than they expected. . . . . Modesto is Beyond Expectation. Tell that story.

Now for one of my passions: growing Modesto up, not out – ensuring growth is concentrated in compact urban centers like Downtown. Why downtown? Many studies have shown that a vibrant city center attracts new employers, increases sustainability, deters sprawl, and serves as a point of pride for the entire community. Who wouldn’t want that for Modesto?

Specifically, I want to focus our efforts on redeveloping the core area of 6th, 7th, and 8th Streets bounded by the freeway and the railroad tracks. In order for this area to be enticing to potential developers, we need to make infill and redeveloping downtown financially feasible.

Currently there are impact fees in this core area to help build new roads – are we going to create new roads downtown? No. So why penalize developers who want to build up, not out? We need to give greater weight to efficient mixed-use development.

We also need to bring quality market-rate housing to Downtown. Downtown Modesto already offers many amenities; however, there something is missing – and it is housing. Imagine a downtown where our emerging retail district along J Street and 10th Street has been enhanced, maybe even extending to the Tuolumne River Regional Park. Add in a sports or activity-based venue or two south of the downtown core; add market-rate housing throughout Downtown. Suddenly we have a very vibrant urban city center – a place where people live, work, dine, shop and enjoy what has become the cultural hub of the Central Valley – with entertainment, commerce, and art all in one convenient, safe location. A place for all of Modesto to enjoy.

This is a vision that needs to begin now. Change is slow, in this economy almost at a standstill, but we must start.

To bring people who want to live downtown, we need to bring in a greater variety of transportation options. While the State’s High Speed Rail project will likely be derailed – we are moving forward with planning a Downtown station thanks to a Caltrans Community-Based Transportation Planning Grant. The proposed Modesto station would be located near the current transportation depot on 9th Street. Plans and studies will determine the optimum site and footprint of the facility; but a station housing the ACE Train, with High Speed a possible future add-on, will certainly act as stimulants for denser development and strengthen downtown as the main hub of the region.

Looking beyond downtown, I also feel we need to explore the annexation of Salida. Did you hear what I just said?! Doesn’t that fly in the face of my building up, not out stance? Not really. The County has already given a development agreement to the Salida Plan and it is only an illusion that this land will remain ag.

The Salida Plan area holds the best long-term potential for quality job producing business and industries – key components for building a diverse economic base which provides certain assurances that we will not be the epicenter of such a drastic recession again. Salida is a great location for large scale business industrial parks, and the transportation access will be greatly enhanced with the proposed Kiernan and Pelandale interchange improvements.

As part of our General Plan update discussion, I asked staff to include a 100 plus acre regional sports complex adjacent to Gregori High School. I think the merging of Salida into our City is a "win-win" for both Salida and Modesto, plus a "win" for our County.

Another topic that has a fundamental effect on our economy is our education. The literacy and educational levels in our region are not good enough. Many would argue, and rightly so, that the quality of education can make or break a community. Modesto has the opportunity to build a firm foundation by partnering with schools and school boards to put a strong emphasis on educating our children. While the City and schools have different responsibilities, we face common issues; so it only makes sense that we should come together to problem solve.

Long-term, I want to foster a community based tutoring and mentoring program. In this program, churches, organizations, and senior centers would adopt specific schools to help kids who are behind grade-level in reading.

I cannot even believe there would be any question on Measure T's passage to continue funding our libraries. Today’s economy requires a literate workforce and we must vote for our libraries this June.

Finally, I would like to pay homage to our economic engine - to Agricultural. We must ensure the vitality of our farmers and this region's agricultural heritage. The only substantial source of outside dollars entering our local economy is from agriculture. We must find ways to reduce regulation, mitigate growth, and set limits on urbanization to keep this vital asset thriving.

While I have other plans and initiatives, as I have taken up my allotted time, I will stop. I will be available for questions now, or during my quarterly town-hall meetings. My first of which is scheduled for May 5th from 1 to 3 at the King Kennedy Center.

All told, Modesto’s future is bright. We have many things to be thankful for: our strong sense of community, our diverse arts, our central location, and our agricultural heritage. We also have issues that can be addressed to create an even better Modesto. I believe continual improvement is something all of us should strive for.

Yes. The good! The bad! The ugly!

So, Modesto must focus on our good as we work to fix the bad and move past the ugly. Things will not change quickly, but I am in this for the long haul and I ask you to join me. Join me in move beyond the UGLY parts of our past. Join me in improving and fixing the BAD. And join me in making Modesto the very, very GOOD all of us deserve.

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