Council to hear chamber's vision for prosperity

Business group:Widen 132, alteruse of farmland

kvaline@modbee.comMay 27, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
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— The Modesto City Council is expected to hear tonight from the Chamber of Commerce on its plan to revive the economy, decide whether to tighten a campaign finance ordinance, and meet in closed session regarding the city's purchase of land for a downtown courthouse.

Chamber officials have been working for 18 months on a plan to stop what they see as missed opportunities and bring prosperity to the city.

The plan calls for more shovel-ready land in Modesto to attract business, for upgrading Highway 132 from two to four lanes so it can serve as a major route to the Bay Area, and for voters to pass a countywide sales tax for roads.

Chamber officials say if voters passed a road tax, the county would get $2 from the state and federal governments for every $1 raised by the tax. That money would fund badly needed improvements that would facilitate the movement of goods. Chamber Chief Executive Officer Cecil Russell has said he'd like to see a road tax on the November 2014 ballot.

Chamber officials envision the city setting aside several thousand acres of prime farmland west of Highway 99 for business parks. That's several times more land than the city has set aside.

Shovel-ready land is undeveloped property that has utilities or a financing plan to install utilities and all of its entitlements, which are the government approvals needed to build.

The chamber says because of Modesto's dearth of shovel-ready land, it could not compete for the Blue Diamond almond processing plant that was built recently in Turlock or the Amazon distribution center being built in Patterson.

But the chamber's plan faces potential obstacles. Mayor Garrad Marsh has said he is considering putting a temporary city sales tax on this November's ballot. He has said some chamber members are worried his tax could hurt the road tax's chances of passing. And Stanislaus County voters rejected road taxes in 2006 and 2008, although the 2008 effort came close to passing. Plans have been proposed over the decades to improve Highway 132.

Council members also are expected to consider whether they should tighten the provisions of the so-called tin cup ordinance, which prevents them from voting on matters affecting their major campaign donors.

Modesto resident and blogger Emerson Drake has advocated lowering the threshold that triggers the ordinance from $3,000 in contributions from one donor over 48 months to $1,000 for council members and $2,000 for the mayor.

Drake has said lowering the limits would help take money's influence out of elections and that it takes less money to run for council since the city switched to district elections in 2009. The mayor still is elected citywide.

Council members are expected to meet in closed session regarding the state's plan to build a downtown courthouse in 2018 to replace its 50-year-old, antiquated downtown courthouse.

A state committee announced this month the new courthouse would be built on 2.75 acres bordered by Ninth and 10th streets and G and H streets, near the Gallo Center for the Arts. City officials have said they would buy the properties at the site that the city does not own, relocate the utility lines and sell the site to the state.

City officials have said the project is critical for revitalizing downtown but have not said how much it would cost the city or where the money would come from.

The City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chamber, Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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