"Water Wealth Contentment Health."
When Modesto adopted those four words as its motto in the early 1900s and fastened them to the arch that for so many decades has welcomed visitors to the community, they represented the hopes and dreams -- and promise -- of a bright future.
Today, a century later, they represent critical issues facing a valley suffering not only from the current recession but from decades of chronically high unemployment, dismally low education levels and ever-increasing poverty.
I got to thinking about the arch -- and our challenges in each of those four areas -- the other night at a dinner at the Great Valley Center, the Modesto-based organization dedicated to improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of California's Central Valley.
I'd been invited to join about about two dozen people representing diverse backgrounds -- ranging from agriculture to health care, finance to education, development to energy, public service to the news media -- for an update on the center's work, and to discuss key issues facing the valley.
As David Hosley, the center's president, reminded us, regardless of the difficulties we're experiencing today, the future is going to happen -- and we best be ready.
As one of the participants would note, we tend to make plans and decisions based on short-term needs and goals, all too often ignoring more critical long-term considerations.
To that end, Hosley asked each of us: What is the one issue we must address in the next 10 years?
The delightful dinner, comprised entirely of items grown in our valley, gave us time to ponder the question. Later, as we went around the room, our answers were as varied as our backgrounds:
Fixing the state's fiscal mess, aligning and prioritizing revenues and spending; ensuring adequate water for farms and cities; improving education and skill levels; developing the work force; creating an environment that will keep businesses here and attract new ones; improving transportation, including mass transit.
And, there was more:
Preserving prime farmland by encouraging urbanization rather than sprawling suburbanization; improving air quality and other areas of the environment; bettering our health by considering it in everything we do as individuals, businesses and government; creating energy sources that are efficient, economical and green; and achieving greater cooperation among cities and counties up and down the valley.
I was one of several who listed education as the critical issue -- from increasing the graduation rate to addressing illiteracy to improving vocational training to creating a college-going culture.
As I reflected on the evening's discussion later, several things struck me:
The issues facing our communities and our valley are wide-ranging.
The issues, in one way or another, are interrelated.
There are no simple solutions. They will take time, effort, commitment, and, in some cases, courage.
The solutions need to be valley-wide. Not community- or county-wide, but envisioned and implemented cooperatively by all the cities and counties of the 400-mile-long Central Valley.
The stakes are high, enormously high.
If we do it right, some day those four words -- "Water Wealth Contentment Health" -- could represent the reality of a vibrant, healthy, prosperous valley.
If we fail, however, they'll represent a laundry list of broken dreams, unattained goals and unclaimed promises.
What do you think? If you had to narrow it down to a single thing, what is the most important issue to be addressed over the next 10 years?
Vasché, The Bee's editor and senior vice president, can be reached at email@example.com or at 578-2356.