Vito Chiesa has an artist's vision and an historian's heart.
He laid out his vision in the State of the County speech he gave Tuesday morning as chairman of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. Chiesa wants county and regional leaders to link arms with government agencies to confront the region's most vexing problems unemployment, gangs and educational underachievement.
Chiesa's speech was eloquent and compelling and he even invoked the inspiring family story of Alrodo Chiesa his immigrant father as an example of someone who had nearly nothing but who created a "masterpiece" of success on "the tapestry of opportunity" that our region represents.
In recounting his father's struggles, Vito Chiesa fought back a tear, saying "I love the example my father set for me." As he finished, Vito bent to kiss Alrodo's cheek.
Unlike most "state of the county" addresses, Chiesa ranged beyond the walls of county government in detailing our challenges. Instead of dealing with public works, he focused on the public goods of better education, safer streets and more opportunity.
"That tapestry of opportunity still exists today," he told those in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place.
As he laid out his plan, Chiesa recognized several in the audience he hopes will partner with others to help remedy those problems banker Jeff Burda, educators Tom Changnon, Joe Sheley and Jeff Michael and pastor Jeff Pishney.
Chiesa tackled jobs first. He pointed to the county's 35,000 jobless adults. He noted that we'll need another 26,000 jobs by 2035 just to meet the demands of growth. Those 61,000 jobs are "nowhere in sight," he said. "For a community that struggles with poverty, this is sobering."
He also spoke about education, health care and public safety. But when it came time to provide solutions, he went back to jobs. Road construction jobs in particular. He noted a backlog of $14.5 million in county road projects each year meaning an accumulation of $138 million by 2020.
The state, Chiesa pointed out, insists that counties contribute to projects that benefit them. To raise that money, "self-help" counties including San Joaquin and all the Bay Area counties charge additional sales tax dedicated to funding road projects.
Chiesa wants Stanislaus to help itself by passing a sales tax increase.
Chiesa has a lot of good ideas, and he's been floating this one at least since December but never so forcefully. Chiesa clearly has drawn inspiration from previous generations and he believes better roads and bridges will provide a quicker path for the next generation to reach "a more brilliant future."