Editorials

Our View: Stanislaus County needs to continue backing up words with action

Audience members listen as the Stanislaus County board of supervisors chairman Terry Withrow gives the State of the County address on Tuesday morning March 5, 2019 in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place in downtown Modesto, Calif.
Audience members listen as the Stanislaus County board of supervisors chairman Terry Withrow gives the State of the County address on Tuesday morning March 5, 2019 in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place in downtown Modesto, Calif. jlee@modbee.com

Terry Withrow used variations of the word “partnership” 14 times in Tuesday’s State of the County speech. The words “relationships” and “collaboration” came up an additional 14 times combined, and he threw in “cooperation” and “coordination” four more times each.

We might conclude that getting along with other agencies is important to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, and to Withrow, its chairman this year.

We also might yawn. Because we’ve been hearing the same thing, year after year, regardless of who wields the leader’s gavel.

“Partnerships are the future of government,” said the late Nick Blom, who said that as board chairman back in 1998, for just one example. For another, way back in 1992 then-chairwoman Pat Paul gushed about “cooperation, communication and partnerships between the county, cities and the public.”

So yeah, playing nice is a good idea. So are truth, freedom, the American Way and all the other clichés that get trotted out every time we hear electeds address their people.

Withrow went a bit further this time, philosophizing that such partnerships pave the road toward improvement.

“Change,” he said Tuesday, “comes at the speed of trust,” repeating himself to make sure it sunk in. Then he added, “Building relationships is how trust is established.”

Cities haven’t always trusted the county, or vice versa. Why should we think it’s different this time?

“We’re absolutely going in the right direction, and it’s more than just lip service,” Modesto Councilman Bill Zoslocki said after the speech, on his way to visit the homeless camp under Modesto’s Ninth Street Bridge. It’s an example, he said, of the city and county coming together to provide a temporary shelter solution to one of the trickiest problems facing communities all over the Golden State and beyond.

The city and county also joined forces setting up the Downtown Streets Team, a garbage clean-up effort putting some homeless to work. And only last week, city and county leaders agreed to establish a 180-bed nonprofit-run shelter near downtown Modesto.

“It’s not insignificant,” Zoslocki said, although much remains to be done.

Indeed.

We need to see not just triage housing, but lots more transitional housing and affordable housing reflecting real steps toward solving the homeless crisis, at least locally.

We need to see more collaboration among not just the county and its nine cities, but water districts, if there is hope of blocking the infamous state water grab, a real threat to the area’s economic prosperity.

And all must join to produce groundwater plans that will not only satisfy state water officials, but help protect that critical resource. It’s a strong point for us since the city joined with the Modesto Irrigation District 25 years ago to provide treated river water, easing demand on our aquifer and allowing it to rebound nicely.

Turlock’s troubled aquifer must heal as well, and that city is working with Ceres and the Turlock Irrigation District on a plan to build a similar treatment plant that would turn Tuolumne River water into tap water. That would relieve pressure on wells in Turlock and Ceres, as well as the nearby towns of Keyes and Denair as well as unincorporated areas of Ceres and south Modesto — all responsibilities of the county.

The county might consider putting its money where its mouth is and help build that water plant.

Withrow mentioned some improvements we’ve been looking forward to: body cams for deputy sheriffs, new libraries in Turlock and Empire, and road construction on the Highway 132 bypass of downtown Modesto expected to start in 2019, and on the North County Corridor in 2023. Always the optimist, he took no swipes this time at state government, an easy target in years past for county leaders who for many years have all been politically conservative, while state leaders lean to the left.

Maybe not bashing the state is the best that can be expected from local leaders who want to be known for their cooperation.

We like getting along, and seeing strides made by the county, by most appearances a well-run outfit.

We just need to see more of it.

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Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.

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