Recently elected Mayor Garrad Marsh laid out his vision for Modesto in his first State of the City speech Wednesday before a leading business group.
The longtime advocate for smart growth and farmland preservation discussed his ideas for continuing to develop downtown Modesto and made it clear he's serious about exploring the annexation of Salida, with a possible vote coming as early as 2013.
He called the unincorporated town, northwest of Modesto, a prime location for large-scale business parks. The mayor also noted that planned upgrades for the Kiernan and Pelandale avenue interchanges will improve transportation access to that area.
Marsh also has asked city staff to plot a 100-acre regional sports complex near Salida in Modesto's general plan. The site would be next to Gregori High School.
"We need to explore the annexation of Salida," he said. "The Salida Plan area holds the best long-term potential for quality job-producing business and industries."
The mayor laid out his plans before a luncheon of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, a group naturally curious about his views on economic development.
The speech at Modesto Centre Plaza reprised his vision for developing the city's core as a place for people to work, play and spend their dollars at stores and restaurants. Marsh hopes to see a major mixed-used project break ground in the next four years.
To improve transportation options, planning is under way for a commuter rail station near the Ninth Street transit center, he said. The station for commuter trains linking Modesto to the Bay Area could serve as a high-speed rail stop if the system is built in California.
The city has a state grant to pay for the planning process, but other funding would be needed to build the downtown station.
"This is a vision that needs to begin now," Marsh said. "Change is slow in this economy, which is almost at a standstill, but we must start."
It was ambitious talk for a city that has gone through a dramatic recession. Although things are looking better, Marsh said, City Hall has more hard decisions to make in the coming year.
Tough choices await
A general fund shortfall of about $6 million again will require the city to seek concessions from employees. It could force hard decisions about Modesto Centre Plaza, which is on pace to operate $700,000 in the red this year, he said.
"This must change, and we are looking at many options (for Centre Plaza), from shuttering, to renting, to reorganizing, to contracting," he said.
Marsh noted that the second-phase expansion of the water treatment plant, a joint project of the city and the Modesto Irrigation District, is two years beyond the scheduled completion date. He vowed to pursue legal action against contractors, engineers and construction managers who are responsible for construction flaws.
On a more positive note, he said, Modesto residents can look forward to improvements such as Mary Grogan Community Park, the 42-acre facility to include seven soccer fields next to Enochs High School. Scheduled for construction starting in May, plans call for operating and maintaining the park through a partnership with the Modesto Youth Soccer Association.
This spring, he added, work is slated to begin on the Archway Commons affordable housing project, with 76 apartments at Carver Road and Ninth Street.
Marsh said the city needs to boast of its accomplishments more often. For example, since assigning an officer to graffiti enforcement, police have put a dent in the problem by serving 14 search warrants, identifying 35 taggers, making 21 arrests and citing four businesses for spray-paint sales to minors.
He wants to bring together groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Improvement District and Commonwealth Modesto to work on marketing the city. He urged the city to take pride in hometown heroes such as filmmaker George Lucas, actor Jeremy Renner, retail pioneer Royal Robbins and educator Chris Peterson, who was chosen as California's High School Teacher of the Year.
Modesto leaders going back to Mayor Dick Lang in the 1990s have talked about annexing Salida. But it appears the idea could be gaining traction.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow said discussions about Salida were held with Modesto officials last year and then put on hold until after the recent city election. He said he hopes to discuss the proposal at town hall meetings in Salida in the coming months.
"Ultimately it is Salida's decision," said Withrow, whose district includes the community of 14,000 residents. "I think it has a lot of potential if we can provide more services to Salida by annexing to Modesto. The ultimate goal is to get more jobs out there, so there is less commuting to the Bay Area."
Marsh noted that Salida residents receive water from the city, and the Modesto Regional Fire Authority merged with the Salida Fire Protection District last year. Given the budget cuts to the county Sheriff's Department, he added, Modesto should be able to offer better police protection to the community.
Marsh has said he won't support the Salida annexation without guarantees that Modesto residents don't have to subsidize the service costs. County officials say that tax revenue taken in from Salida falls short of service costs by $3 million to $4 million a year.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.
In his first major speech as mayor of Modesto, Garrad Marsh borrowed from the movie title "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" to evaluate the state of the city.
Soon-to-be-built projects such as Mary Grogan Park, Archway Commons affordable housing and the Carpenter Road bridge retrofit
Hometown heroes George Lucas, Jeremy Renner, Royal Robbins, Robert Ulrich and high school teacher of the year Chris Peterson
Public safety cuts, rampant graffiti, reductions to parks and recreation staff
Modesto Centre Plaza will lose $700,000 this year.
Expansion of the water treatment plant is two years behind schedule and "a mess." Residents and businesses will have to help rescue the project.
His goals: Encourage mixed-use development downtown; start exploring Salida annexation; develop a regional sports complex; support agriculture