The airport neighborhood should eventually join the city of Modesto. Many steps will be needed to make that happen. One of them should be taken tonight, when the City Council decides whether to put on the November ballot a measure about eventually extending sewer service to the 460-plus residential parcels in that area.
The council should put this on the ballot, and in the fall, voters should approve this advisory measure. This sewer extension does not involve growth per se. It's a matter of getting the homes off old septic systems, which are prone to failure, and bringing the streets and other facilities up to city standards.
The big stumbling block to bringing the airport neighborhood into the city isn't political but fiscal and the millions of dollars it will take to install sewer mains, a pumping station and other infrastructure. There's no definitive timeline when the money might be available, but the advisory vote is a bureaucratic hurdle that could help the city and county show their good intentions and therefore qualify for more state and federal dollars to help cover the cost.
In 2011, the county secured money from the State Water Resources Control Board to complete the planning and design engineering for the sewer infrastructure.
That's just one of several positive signs for the neighborhood, which is also troubled by high crime rates. Some others:
The dedication late last month of the Airport Community Center, a former boarded-up duplex turned into a meeting place for residents. The $500,000 project was a joint effort of the city, the Modesto City Schools and Tuolumne River Trust.
State grant funding for an urban greening master plan for the airport neighborhood.
An increasing number of residents who are advocating for and volunteering in their neighborhood.
The city and county propose to share the cost of putting the airport neighborhood sewer measure on the Nov. 5 ballot. The two agencies are still talking about an advisory measure that would cover all of the 24 county pockets in or adjoining the city. That could be prepared for the 2015 ballot.
The airport neighborhood is one of several that were populated initially by Dust Bowl refugees and others seeking cheap housing. Today, the narrow streets, the lack of curbs and sidewalks and the septic systems add up to a major public health concern. Slowly but surely these neighborhoods must be improved. Putting this advisory measure on the ballot is just a necessary step.
The Modesto council meets at 5:30 p.m. today in the basement of Tenth Street Place.