Challenge, change and opportunity – that guiding perspective on city leadership is critical to maintaining a positive approach while tackling challenges and creating the agility to embrace change.
The challenges and opportunities in Modesto are complex. We are continuously assessing our priorities to stay on target, engaging, partnering with neighborhoods and strategically improving performance using data.
Our No. 1 challenge is safer neighborhoods. Modesto’s crime rates, economic struggles, homelessness and vagrancy are issues with no simple answers.
Since the recession that began in 2008, Modesto has cut 25 percent of its police officers, making crime prevention difficult at best. We rank among California’s top five cities for violent crime and property crime. Many local parks and neighborhoods have become places where vagrancy has created an unfriendly environment. Our Homeless Task Force is working in partnership with multiple agencies to identify and implement solutions.
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We are also looking at a holistic approach in dealing with the core causes of this issue. Through the countywide Focus on Prevention effort, we are working to create safer neighborhoods for residents citywide.
We are a city of great neighbors, with collaborative spirit and a leadership team that is passionate about building a healthy economy and greater quality of life and safer neighborhoods. We want effective and transparent government, a vibrant infrastructure and sustainable environment. These fundamental pillars of our strategic plan guide us toward a stronger future and more effective city government.
Modesto residents responded to a community survey in 2013 and identified safer neighborhoods as their most pressing concern.
Since then, we have worked diligently to achieve this goal. In June, the City Council approved the Safer Neighborhoods Initiative.
However, the city does not have the funds to implement the plan. Modesto receives less sales tax revenue than most cities in our region. When you spend $13 at a store, you pay a dollar in sales tax. Of that dollar, only 10 cents stays in Modesto.
Voters will soon decide on Measure G, a half-percent general sales tax, which the City Council has resolved to use to fund the Safer Neighborhoods Initiative. If Measure G passes, an oversight board will guide spending. Local citizens will have a voice in how revenue will be invested in our community.
As a seasoned city manager, I have had the opportunity to lead teams that have met many challenges. In Modesto, we face a severe and growing crime problem with a talented police force that is understaffed and will remain that way within our current revenue structure. A safe city is our primary concern. To achieve this, we’ve established these goals:
1 – Reduction in crime to the state’s per-capita average (54 percent reduction in violent crime and a 44 percent reduction in property crime).
2 – Fifty percent reduction in public nuisance complaints in neighborhoods and parks.
3 – Thirty percent increase in the number of neighborhood groups and more community involvement (working to build neighborhoods, engaging community resources and aligning active groups to work together).
4 – Decrease in response time for Priority 1 service calls (crimes in progress and violent crimes) from eight minutes to under five minutes from the time of call to officer arrival.
5 – Increase in youth mentoring, leadership development and gang prevention programming.
6 – Reduction in traffic collisions including fatal and DUI accidents by 25 percent, making our streets safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
This is our city – a city facing challenge, change and opportunity. Success is attainable only through collaboration. By effectively engaging our entire community, we will achieve a better quality of life. Great cities are built on a foundation of safe neighborhoods. Creating safer neighborhoods will pave the way for economic growth and better position Modesto to meet the challenges ahead.
Jim Holgersson is the city manager of Modesto. Send responses to this op-ed to firstname.lastname@example.org.