We asked all eight of the candidates for Modesto’s three City Council districts to share their vision for Modesto in four years and in 40. The answers were not as helpful as we had hoped. And that’s a problem that has hurt Modesto’s City Councils for many years. A lack of planning. A deficit of purpose. A failure of vision.
If past councils had put more effort into planning, the city’s general plan would have been updated at some point in the past 20 years. If our leaders had united behind a single purpose, or even two or three, Modesto might not have the reputation (deserved or not) for being anti-business and burdensome. If previous councils had spent more time trying to envision what we could become rather than worrying over what we weren’t, perhaps we would be closer to being something better.
Instead, we find our city arguing over how to pay for more police officers, provide better code enforcement and make our neighborhoods safer. Modesto’s nearest neighbors either fear or distrust the city, in part sparking a ballot measure that would force the city to grow only in designated areas.
Modesto has problems, but we believe one of the most serious is that it doesn’t know its own strengths or what it wants to be when it grows up.
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It’s time we got busy becoming something better. It’s also time to talk in earnest about what that something is.
Whether we think our modest city should get larger is immaterial; it will. Once a city of dynamic plans and big vision, the population stagnated or declined for five years following the Great Recession. Now Modesto has an estimated 209,000 people; a modest 3 percent rise, but at least it is a positive number.
It is an emphatic imperative that we prepare for the growth that is coming. To do that, we need a vision, a plan. We need to get ready.
The decision before voters is: Who is best suited to help us put forth and implement this plan? Who can best lead the way to a brighter future?
We believe the three best candidates are Mani Grewal, Kristi Ah You and Doug Ridenour. None is without flaws or risks. Each has at least one opponent who is a worthy candidate.
But Modesto needs a combination of ambition, grit, purpose and vision. If we can’t get all in a single candidate, finding at least one in each of the candidates will have to do.
Voters here have the toughest choice. Pat Gillum is a capable, competent and experienced candidate. She brings intelligence, a thoughtful approach and a wealth of experience to the campaign. She can be trusted.
Ah You has some of the same qualities, but a couple of others that we need more. She is clearly ambitious, almost to the point of being aggressive. Such a trait is sometimes off-putting, but sometimes it is utterly necessary. In Ah You’s case, ambition has led her to study hard and campaign even harder. When that approach transfers to the council, it’s hard to imagine Kristi Ah You settling for incomplete answers, half-baked explanations or inadequate options. There will be less “go along to get along” and more get-going. At least that is our hope. If she doesn’t bring that to the council, we will have misjudged her.
The choice is clear. The city needs more people like Mani Grewal. He’s been successful at virtually everything he’s done – farming, property investment, helping his wife build a regional dental practice. But his real skill is in building opportunity.
For cities, opportunity is like oxygen – without it, they die. If Grewal can create the kind of opportunities for the city he has created for his family, he will be an outstanding asset.
Another thing Grewal builds is consensus. As an American-born Sikh, Grewal could have chosen – as many do – to eschew the traditional turban. Instead, he adopted it to honor his culture and moral traditions. But the turban has created misunderstanding among a few, and Grewal has worked hard his entire adult life to clear those misconceptions and craft understanding. It has given him a unique ability to build consensus; we desperately need that on this council.
Doug Ridenour has gotten more likable since he retired from his career as a city cop. Not only does he smile more often, he is developing a social media personality. That doesn’t make him Mark Zuckerberg, but it does mean he’s willing to try new things. That will be utterly critical when it comes to addressing the problems of the past.
Clearly, Ridenour knows the genesis of many of those problems. He saw them as a cop. We believe his views on dealing with the homeless are spot-on. Having been a city employee, he should have a keen understanding of how to communicate with current employees – something lacking in every other council member.
And if he needs advice, it doesn’t hurt that his brother is Jim Ridenour, the mayor who returned stability to the city after the tumultuous Carmen Sabatino years.
We are not blaming the current City Council for any of Modesto’s failures of the past. That’s unfair and not productive; it was a shared responsibility through many councils.
But we are asking for bold new visions, brave determination and smart, strategic thinking. No single candidate will deliver all three. But together, we think they can infuse the council with energy, enthusiasm and direction. That, we hope, will create smart, strategic opportunities. If that happens, our city will have a much better future.