Opinion Columns & Blogs

SLY: The more Modesto's issues change, the more they stay the same

It’s easy and it’s tempting to think that we’re living in a unique era, that there’s never been a time quite like this. It’s also a bit arrogant, but that’s a subject for another day. For now, consider this:

If you listen to candidates — for all sorts of levels of office — you’ll hear them talking about our troubles here in the valley. The dire need for more and better jobs. Problems with crime, gangs and auto thefts. And the claim that government hasn’t spent money wisely because the decision makers are, to put it bluntly, crooked or stupid.

We’re going to hear all this and more as we head into the Nov. 8 election for Modesto mayor and city council. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to go back and review the top issues in Modesto elections over the past two decades. I scanned news stories about candidate forums and campaign positions and found that these issues were getting the most attention:

1989 — Traffic, growth, crime, financial accountability, sales tax to pay for transportation projects.

1991 — Growth, traffic, crimes and drugs, water and air pollution and jobs. The need to relax development fees in order to promote jobs and build a stronger local economy. Police and fire reductions? — unacceptable.

1993 — Insufficient jobs in the city; crime; budget cuts.

1995 — Downtown redevelopment; jobs; adequate support for public safety.

1997 — Growth, downtown redevelopment, construction of houses in Village I and the need for more jobs. Measure M, requiring advisory vote on sewer extensions.

1999 — A $20,000 consultant contract on community image, other city spending, golf, Modesto Tallow plant odors, methamphetamine, managing growth. (With four people running for mayor that year and 13 for three council seats, lots of issues emerged.)

2001 — Growth/sprawl, water fluoridation, term limits for council members, conflict within the council, appreciating public safety (in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

2003 — Restoring civility and order to the council, affordable housing in Village I, growth/sprawl, the influence of developers in campaigns.

2005 — Growth, growth paying its own way, development fees, influence of developers, crime/public safety.

2007 — Electing council members by district, prospect of city budget cuts, county sales tax increase for roads, gangs, downtown night clubs.

2009 (the first election by districts) — The value of neighborhood associations, neglect of certain neighborhoods, crime/public safety.

For 2011, we already know that jobs will again be a priority topic, along with the trio of advisory measures on pensions, which council member and mayoral candidate Brad Hawn persuaded a majority of his council colleagues to put on the ballot. And instead of the influence of developers, I’m sure we’ll hear more about the influence of employee unions.

My little trek through The Bee’s archives made me realize that maybe this isn’t the most important moment in the community’s history. And the problems definitely aren’t unique; many of the ones we’re facing today have been with us for a long time.

In scanning The Bee archives, I ran across a 1999 article suggesting that the era of Internet campaigning had arrived. In retrospect, that was a gross overstatement. I’m not quite sure it’s even here in 2011.

At the recent candidate workshop co-sponsored by The Bee, there were decidedly different perspectives on whether and how to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

One perspective is to stay away from it, especially with the risk that you’ll end up “friends” with someone on Facebook whose views are, well, embarrassing or worse.

Another is that it’s as close to free advertising as you can get and a great way to communicate with volunteers. Get on Facebook, become a tweeter.

And still one more: Odd-year elections like this generally draw few voters, and the people who do vote in these elections tend to be senior citizens, many of whom aren’t on social media. This perspective suggests candidates need to buy comfortable shoes and start walking and knocking.

Modesto mayoral hopeful Bill Zoslocki is in both worlds. His lawn signs bear the “Like” icon that is so familiar to Facebook users and so foreign to the others.

Four of the Stanislaus County supervisors have endorsed Hawn for mayor. Supervisor Dick Monteith, whose district includes much of the city, initially said he was going to stay out of it, but has decided to endorse Zoslocki. Will this sway the outcome? I have no idea; I just found it interesting.

Sly is editor of the Opinions pages. Contact her at jsly@modbee.com or (209) 578-2317.