Kevin Valine

Modesto’s city flag was hiding in plain sight

The city flag of Modesto, left, hangs in the council chambers in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.
The city flag of Modesto, left, hangs in the council chambers in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.

In this week’s column, we will revisit the flap over the city flag, preview a proposal to help low-income residents pay their water bills and look at a new survey on the best California cities to raise a family. Spoiler alert: Modesto was ranked 183 out of 240 cities.

I recently wrote about how Modesto was considering launching a design contest for the city’s first official flag. Community and Economic Development Director Cindy Birdsill – who has been with the city for about a year – wrote in a city report that while Modesto had held a design contest many years ago and the council picked a winner, the council never officially adopted the flag.

That story prompted about a dozen responses from readers who said the city had a flag. Julian Lopez Jr. also weighed in. He is the retired city employee who won the 1988 design contest and said his flag flew for years outside Modesto’s old City Hall at 10th and H streets. But he has said the flag was not flown when Modesto moved into Tenth Street Place – the city-county administration center – in 1999. Other former city employees and officials also recounted how the flag had been used as part of official city business.

Then at last week’s City Council meeting, I had a jolt of recognition when I looked at the council dais during a break and saw something behind the dais along the wall. It was Lopez’s flag. It was not easy to tell because it drooped from its pole, but upon closer inspection there was no doubt. A check of Modesto Bee archives shows Lopez’s flag in several photographs of council meetings over the years.

So whether Lopez’s flag is “official” or “unofficial,” it continues to represent the city.

The council was expected to consider the new design contest last week, but the item was not on the meeting agenda. The council now is expected to consider approving the contest in December or January, according to city spokeswoman Amy Vickery. Lopez has said he might enter if the city holds another contest.

“I might just for the fun, to see if I could win it again,” he said last month.

In August, when the council approved steep water rate increases, it also asked for a discount program to help low-income residents with their water bills. Utilities Director Larry Parlin said he expects the program will go to the council for approval at its Oct. 25 meeting.

In brief, Parlin said the city could set aside $1 million from the fees customers pay to turn on or off water service and similar fees to fund the program. He said $1 million annually could help about 8,300 low-income customers with a $10-a-month reduction to their water bills.

Parlin said the discount is only for low-income residents who are water customers and receive a monthly utilities bill from the city. So residents who live in apartments and whose rent checks include their water use would not be eligible. I’ll write more about the discount program before it goes to the council and as more details become available.

Under the increases approved by the council, the monthly water bill for the typical Modesto single-family home will rise from $41.77 to as much as $73.81 over five years. The rate increases took effect Sept. 1. Other water customers – including apartments, businesses and industry – also will see steep increases.

But the council will revisit the rate increases annually and could approve annual increases that are lower than what they authorized last month, depending on how much rain and snow falls over a particular winter and other factors.

The personal finance website WalletHub just released its list of the best places to raise a family among 240 California cities. The study looked at a complex array of factors, including the cost of living; crime rate; number of parks and other attractions; number of pediatricians per capita; air quality; quality of schools; divorce rate; and unemployment and poverty rates.

The top 10 cities were dominated by communities in the Bay Area and the Sacramento region, including Palo Alto, Pleasanton, Dublin, Folsom and Roseville.

Modesto was ranked 183. Compared with other San Joaquin Valley cities, that is better than Stockton (No. 217), Fresno (No. 219) and Merced (No. 199), but not as good as Turlock (No. 97), Ceres (No. 150) and Bakersfield (No. 106).

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316