State of the City Address
CITY OF TURLOCK
STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS
MAYOR GARY SOISETH
Friday, March 22, 2017
I want to thank everyone for being here today, specifically my fellow Councilmembers, Vice Mayor DeHart, Councilwoman Bublak, Councilman Esquer, and Councilman Jacob. Turlock’s Executive Team, led by City Manager Gary Hampton, our Police Chief Nino Amirfar and Fire Chief Bob Talloni. Our City Attorney Phaedra Norton, our police officers, firefighters and engineers, and our employees from our city departments.
I would also like to thank our partners on various projects, specifically the Turlock Irrigation District. They have proven to be true champions of the city, by working with us to obtain 9 billion gallons of water, per year for 50 years, from their river for our city to drink even during their relicensing process; through the Substitute Environmental Document process; and through a historic drought. Thank you for being committed not only to Turlock farmers, but also Turlock residents.
To our partners at the California State University, Stanislaus, I want to say thank you. Thank you for working with us to create one large community that doesn’t keep the campus community separated from the larger Turlock community. Your work with City Hall has been crucial to bridging the town-gown divide, specifically on our revived Fourth of July fireworks program; the annual “Inclusivity Summit” that has a raw dialogue about our diverse population; and the Mayor’s Public Policy Award that has been beneficial to recipients, which has led to innovative solutions to some of Turlock’s most pressing issues. So thank you to your entire team.
And to our partners at the Turlock Unified School District. Thank you for your continued partnership with the School Resource Officer program; our afterschool program; and even the Mayor’s Youth Conference. You also recognize that we serve ONE community, and I appreciate your dedication to that community.
I want to also commend our Police Officer of the Year Nate Urban and our Firefighter of the Year Casey Cockrell. Both of you emulate what it is to be exemplary public safety professionals.
Last year, this Council set an ambitious agenda and we met our objectives.
As I sat down to write today’s speech, I read my address from last year. In it, there were many, many promises made. Some lofty, some that would be characterized as overly ambitious, and some that were seemingly unobtainable.
Now, political leaders make promises all the time. Unfortunately in today’s era, there seems to be a lack of accountability for fulfilling such promises.
So last year, I outlined a detailed course that the City of Turlock would take for the following 365 days to fulfill our Council’s promises. I am proud to say we have met or are achieving the goals that we made. If you will allow me, I will highlight a few promises that were made:
In 2016, I said: “We have a Pavement Condition Index of 64 out of 100, falling three points in just three years, and this number will fall even faster in the future. One of our main arteries, West Main Street, has seen an increased use due to the success of downtown Turlock, but this road’s infrastructure is failing and there are portions of the road with a rating of 14 out of 100.” Well, I am pleased to report that Measure L passed this past November and our City will be receiving over $73 million to put toward rebuilding our roadways. While this new investment was crucial, I want to highlight that Turlock’s leaders and engineers started the conversation with stakeholders that live in the West Main neighborhood far in advance of the passage of the road tax. Because of this pre-planning, we are excited to announce that we will be breaking ground on this highly used corridor no later than August 1, 2017. Making Turlock the first city to start a Measure L project. After this is complete, we will turn our sights on East Avenue, Golden State Boulevard, and Geer Road, which are some of the most used roadways in the worst condition.
Much like our region has finally decided to invest in ourselves, I will also be working with the City Manager in the coming weeks to establish a process for neighborhoods to invest in themselves. So many times, our older neighborhoods struggle to find ways to improve their own roadways. Well, the time has come to help these neighborhoods help themselves by creating “neighborhood assessment districts.” These assessment districts will be very similar to those of newer neighborhoods in Turlock. They will go through the process of voting to directly tax themselves, but will only be successful if neighbors talk to neighbors, and if we allow local control of revenue.
This small step will revolutionize our local roadways and will empower neighborhood communities to directly control the fate of the roads just outside their doorstep.
A second promise from last year’s speech: “Despite conservation, our Turlock groundwater levels continue to drop... we must put to use new water and must invest in alternative sources of water to drink.”
I have stated many times, Turlock has no better friend than Ceres. Mayor Vierra and I stand firmly committed to the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority as we set out to bring about surface water from the Tuolumne River into our cities’ homes, businesses, and industries. In fact, water testing is already underway and we are set to break ground on this historic project no later than May of 2018.
Why continue down this road of building a water treatment facility, especially after we have had a record-breaking winter? Well, our wells continue to be threatened by arsenic and nitrates, and the cost to maintain our $100 million well system is not cheap. While some minor fixes can cost $100,000 per well, some costs well over $1 million to treat. We cannot afford to remain on groundwater alone, which is why this project must move forward.
With all new projects there is a cost. I assure you, we are driving down the costs of the plant’s construction as much as possible, however, water rates will go up. What we need to keep in mind is that water rates, regardless of this project, will have to increase to maintain our status quo level of service, but we are doing everything in our power to make sure that you will never have to turn on the faucet without water, or that we will never have to turn away a new industry because we don’t have the water resources to handle them.
While I hate to deliver the news of potential rate increases for any service, I don’t believe in kicking the can down the road, and I also don’t believe in sugar coating an inevitable reality.
This is an investment in our water portfolio, and there is no better investment to make. We will have this conversation in the summer, but once we have passed these rate increases, Ceres and Turlock will be on a fast track to securing our drinking water for decades to come.
While we are on the topic of using and reusing water, I am proud to say that the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project, which takes our waste water out of the San Joaquin River and puts it to beneficial use on our west side and Turlock farms, is well on its way to a reality. If all goes to plan, construction on the Turlock pipeline will begin early next year and will be sending water to the Delta Mendota Canal by the spring of 2019. This pipeline fulfills a long-term desire for the Cities of Modesto, Ceres, and Turlock to remove our wastewater from the river. I am proud that this Council remained committed to the project.
Turlock is a city that is well on its way to becoming one of the most progressive cities in the Valley when it comes to our use of water. From using surface water instead of groundwater, which allows our aquifers to recharge, to putting our wastewater to beneficial use, literally every drop of water in Turlock is used and reused and reused. And that’s just a statement regarding the water that we actually use.
Our city has done a great job of conserving and lessening our dependence on our diminishing water resources. Many folks want to stop this conservation now that our winters are wet again, but let me stress that we cannot be distracted by one season of rain and forget about the four seasons of dry winters that preceded it.
Turlock is a city that has always prided itself with good planning and solid forethought and this is how we will continue to treat our most crucial of resources, water.
The third promise that was made that impacts our fire department stated: “Since the recession, engines and equipment remain at an insufficient funding level, despite a 10% increase in call volume from last year. Specifically, we have had chronic issues with the reliability of Engine 32 and will be faced with the decision to replace it or continue on a path of status quo. Many proposals will be looked at, from the inclusion of an Operations Chief position, to replacing problematic Engine 32.”
As many of you know, this Council takes public safety seriously and we wasted no time making the decision to provide our fire department with the tools and resources, both big and small, that they would need to be the best department in the Central Valley. I am proud to say we honored our word. We brought back the much-needed position of Operations Chief. We replaced Engine 32 with a state-of-the art engine that is parked outside, an engine that was for-all-intents-and-purposes a “lemon” commercial vehicle. While we obtained a small reimbursement from the manufacturer for the return of this engine, I was amazed that there are no “commercial vehicle lemon” laws that protect cities like Turlock when they purchase this equipment. So, I am ready to fight! I will be personally working with Congressman Denham’s office to create legislation that allows municipalities like Turlock to pursue these manufacturers for the full cost of commercial vehicle replacement. If Turlock never receives an additional dime, it is my goal to never have a city endure the struggle and cost that we did with Engine 32.
In addition, we also replaced equipment, from nozzles, to the reconstruction of the drill grounds, to the inclusion of the vital contained breathing apparatus equipment for EVERY firefighter. We are now installing our long overdue exhaust removal equipment in all four of our firehouses. It still puzzles me as to why this took so long, but I am glad that this Council realized the health and safety concern and expedited the purchase and installation of the units.
Do we still have work ahead of ourselves for our fire department? The answer is yes. But I am proud to say that this Council doesn’t shy away from challenges. The biggest challenge, that continues, is how to staff the ladder truck. It is no easy task, but I am thoroughly convinced that we will find a solution that works, a solution that involves offsets to the budget that will allow for full cost recovery without tapping the General Fund, and a solution that will leave the residents of Turlock with a ladder truck that serves their needs. There are many ways we can get to a staffed level, but I am going to ask for an open mind from the rank-and-file members of the department, and I am going to ask for some creativity on the part of City management.
We have an obligation to our community to find funds, by either cutting expenditures or increasing revenue, and I am convinced we can do this within the next six months.
In a fourth promise from last year, I stated: “We have a renewed dedication to making our police force proactive against crime, not simply reactive.” I’m proud to say that, with the installation of Police Chief Amirfar, we are barreling toward this goal.
We have spent the last two years testing different types of engagement, which includes the increased enforcement and prosecution of municipal code violations in our public parks and streets, which led to a very successful diversion program that 1) assisted those individuals with the resources to decrease their vagrancy and 2) kept our city parks and streets cleaner and safer.
This coming year, we hope to take our dedication to “community policing” to the next level. We will be employing a strategy that allows our officers to better use their time in specific neighborhoods. Chief Amirfar has set this example, by meeting with neighbors before crimes have occurred. These meetings don’t take place at his desk, but this face-to-face engagement takes place in living rooms, on front lawns, and in city parks.
The Council has equipped the department with the tools necessary to be proactive, from the Community Outreach Response and Engagement team, to acquiring predictive analysis software, to hiring a crime analyst. We now need to fully implement this community policing strategy, where we proactively engage and work with the very neighborhoods that our police officers keep safe.
I have stated it before, and I will say it again. I am very proud of our police and fire departments. These men and women suit up every single day to protect our community. I have watched as they show compassion to a young wife suffering from an abusive marriage, or hopped onto a skateboard to better connect with our young people, or raced into a burning church to save a cross, or have brought humor to an elderly resident that needs a lift assist. Our men and women in uniform are the best of the best, they fight hard every day to make sure we are safe, and we acknowledge their dedication and commitment to our community.
One small way to honor their sacrifice is going to be with the designation of the Canal Drive portion of the Joe Gallison Pathway as a place to reflect on the sacrifices of our police and fire forces. Here, we will have two lines in the middle of the walkway: one blue line, representing the courage of our police officers; the second line will be red, representing the fearlessness of our firefighters. These two lines will be reminders for those in our community that have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and they will be lines that represent the current sacrifices our police officers and firefighters make as they stand guard over Turlock each and every day.
And finally, last year I made a solid promise regarding our finances, where I stated: “For the first time, we have been able to pay off millions of dollars of toxic debt, use these savings to replenish the reserve, and invest in neglected services. Our General Fund reserves will only increase with the replenishment of funds from the savings we have accrued due to our aggressive investing.” I am proud that this strategy of aggressively paying down debt and investing in our departments is paying off.
Some detractors stated we were raiding the reserves and we shouldn’t spend the money to pay down debt from this account. I have said it once and I will say it again: “being financially prudent does not mean we store our money under our mattress in a tin can; instead, it means you properly leverage your finances to make sure you rid yourself of unfunded liabilities and suffocating debt.”
Today, the record shows this to be the right answer: our budgets have ended in or near balanced status and despite the aggressive investments into capital replacement and new positions within our departments we are maintaining our 7% restricted reserve and our hard reserve of $6.5 million, but we have also steadily added the savings from paying down toxic debt.
I agree with folks that we must always hope for the best, but plan for the worst, which leaves many people wanting to have as large a reserve as possible.
I agree, but we also need to focus on today’s needs of our departments and the needs of our community, which is why this Council will come to the negotiating table with openness, transparency, and complete honesty as to what our funding levels are and what we can afford.
Let us never forget that our departments selflessly took a pay decrease across the board to help the city weather the recession of 2007. We owe it to these departments to restore them.
A recent salary survey gives us an idea of what this looks like. However, I want everyone to keep in mind that this is one of many resources we will use when looking at compensation within our departments.
As I mentioned before, any and all discussions with labor groups will be founded on the fundamental and crucial principle of trust. With this Council and City Manager Hampton in the lead, you can count on this principle to be carried out throughout negotiations.
When looking at other economic factors, Turlock’s unemployment rate continues to fall, from 10% last year, to roughly 7.3% today. Now, this is still too high, but often we need to compare other jurisdictions around us to gain perspective. Modesto is at 11.9% and Stanislaus County is at 11.3%. This rate has fallen due to many factors, but mostly due to the addition of base sector employers like Blue Diamond Growers, Hilmar Cheese, and US Cold Storage.
Now, we will see new and expanding companies within Turlock, from Superstore Industries which will add 60 new jobs, to Valley Milk which will add 60 new jobs as well. These industries don’t just select Turlock out of chance, they choose Turlock because we have set the conditions for growth by making the right infrastructure investments in our community.
Other new retail businesses are also coming into the fold. This coming year, we will see the final phase of Monte Vista Crossings-South completed, while Hobby Lobby and the 52,000 square foot Ten Pin Fun Center, the bowling alley that we’ve all waited anxiously to return to Turlock, will occupy space just north near Lowe’s. Overall, Turlock’s Monte Vista Crossings has over 1 million square feet of retail space with 99% of it occupied.
Finally, the 600-room, four story Vista student housing complex across the street from Stanislaus State will be opened this fall of 2017. This complex achieves two main goals of this Council: to encourage “up-not-out” growth, and to assist the campus as it evolves into a more residential university. I’m very proud of the Council’s support for this progressive housing structure.
When I stop to think about our Council’s priorities, I am proud that we have focused on improving our roads, finding new sources of water, replenishing our reserves, and providing for those that protect us. We do all of this, though, for the people of our community.
One such man, a retired Marine named Loren Vincent, met with me early into the first year of my term. Mr. Vincent is a man of deep pride for this nation, and when he met with me, he described an event where his flag had been torn down and burned off a pole in his front yard. The flag pole represented the sacrifices of three Turlock families: the eagle on top of the pole represents Loren’s brother-in-law, who was in the Navy in World War II; the US Marine Corps flag that flew under the American flag represents Loren; and on the back of the flag pole it was inscribed ‘Dad 313965’ which represents Mr. Vincent’s father’s serial number from World War II.
After telling me of this story, he asked me: “Why doesn’t everyone in Turlock have a flag outside their home or business? Why doesn’t everyone in Turlock have a flag standing proudly on display
to honor the sacrifices of our veterans?”
As I was thinking on how I could help Mr. Vincent, I knew I couldn’t make it law for every household and business to fly our American flag. But what I can do is ask the Council to adopt a resolution that encourages and challenges our residents to increase the number of flags flown by 1,000, beginning with the city setting the example.
We will continue our tradition of flying the American flag up and down Main Street between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In addition, we will now establish other “flag corridors,” which will include the Joe Gallison Walkway along Canal Drive and along our highly traveled Countryside Drive.
We will have city staff ready and able to assist with “hard to replace” flags on poles throughout the community, starting with the Stanislaus County Library, the Post Office, and Berkeley Avenue Baptist who all need our boom trucks to replace these flags.
We will be waiving the current $5 fee to purchase the American flag patch for City uniforms, and instead will provide these patches free to any city employee that wants to show their patriotism.
We have identified a local downtown business owner, Lori Smith of Main Street Antiques, who will work to motivate downtown businesses to fly our American flag outside their front doors.
We will work with our local businesses to put flag displays front-and-center to encourage the purchase of a flag, and, for those that cannot afford an American flag, City Hall will be accepting donations and distributing flags to fly.
To start this initiative and pay for flag poles, brackets, and flags themselves, I will ask the Council to allocate $5,000 for this 1,000 flag initiative. Our Facilities Department will lead the effort and I have nothing but faith in them to execute the initiative flawlessly.
On the heels of this 1,000 flag initiative, we will also be paying special tribute to our currently serving men and women in uniform that call Turlock their home. We owe it to our local citizens that have answered the call to serve in the military. It is not enough to recognize them after they have discharged, but instead we need to acknowledge and encourage them while they are in the service.
Beginning this summer, Countryside Drive will become a thoroughfare dedicated to our active military personnel. Along this drive will be banners that showcase the names, faces, and branches of over 60 currently enlisted military personnel of Turlock.
I am personally proud of their commitment to our country, so I want our city to be equally as proud and to show its pride through this symbolic gesture.
These two initiatives shed light on our city’s American pride and the pride we have for those serving in our military, and these initiatives are the second layer to the initiative we launched last year, the Million Acts of Kindness challenge.
Less than one year old, the Million Acts of Kindness campaign has seen bullfighters take on bulls to raise money for a young cancer-fighter; we have seen high school students from Turlock Christian raise funds through a BBQ in the days after Deputy Sheriff Wallace’s senseless killing; and we have seen Walnut Elementary classrooms focus on what it means to be kinder in their school.
Staff will continue to work with our afterschool programs to further the campaign for a kinder city, but will also be tracking these acts of kindness through a kindness tracker that will be placed on our Parks and Recreation Website, which will feed into the nationwide effort to reach 100 billion acts of kindness with multiple cities taking part in the effort.
An overall act of kindness that I see every day is the love and acceptance of our newest residents: refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and from other war-torn parts of this world.
I’ve been on elementary school campuses and I’ve seen firsthand the integration and inclusion of Turlock’s refugees into the social fabric of the schools. It is inspiring. Even if many of these people don’t share our religion, culture, or language, I have seen our Turlock community, specifically our religious community, step-up and help these men, women, and children as they try to rid themselves of the memory of war and persecution, and try to accept their new reality here in Turlock.
Some of the best citizens of Turlock are immigrants and refugees, as we have seen specifically with the great and rich Assyrian culture. I am so proud that this tradition of acceptance and cohesion lives-on. To show my own support, I will be working with the International Rescue Committee to host the very first “Refugee Civics Day” at City Hall on April 8. Here, these new residents will be introduced to the democratic system of Turlock’s City Hall. They will meet government leaders, specifically the Chiefs of Police and Fire, and they will learn what their rights are for however long they live here in Turlock. They will know that their city embraces them and stands behind them as they become productive members of our society.
Turlock is no ordinary city. We might be fiscally conservative, but we understand the need to invest in our infrastructure, in our departments, and in our future. We have a rich history steeped in Swedish, Portuguese, Mexican, and Assyrian cultures, yet we are open and accepting of all that want to call Turlock home. Because of this unique identity and because of our progressive approach to planning, we have become the leader in not only Stanislaus County, but the larger Valley around us.
In closing, my first two years as mayor have gone by quickly. I couldn’t have accomplished anything at City Hall if it weren’t for a supportive staff and an even more supportive Council.
Our recreation department is award-winning and works with our most valuable Turlock asset, young people.
Our facilities, utilities, and maintenance teams have kept our parks, buildings, and streets looking great despite the many seasons of stress, from relentless drought to overwhelming storms.
Our fleet maintenance teams are indispensable and, while they are in the background, they literally keep the wheels of the city turning.
Our water quality control team never gets the credit they are due. They are on the front line of safety and regulatory requirements each day, making sure our systems are running properly and that our water is safe to drink.
Our animal control officers are doing more with less and they are relentless in their pursuit of getting as many animals adopted as possible.
Our planning department has done an excellent job carrying out the direction of the Planning Commission and Council.
Our dispatchers continue to impress me with their speed and professionalism.
Our building and engineering departments continue to challenge themselves to best their own records in getting permits out the door.
Our IT department is second-to-none and they work to make sure our systems are up and running.
Our administrative services, human resources and the finance teams are all working around the clock to make sure the city is staffed with the best and brightest.
And of course our police and fire departments continue to make us all proud with their dedication to keeping us safe.
I don’t get the honor to work with all of you personally, but there are a few people that keep the Office of the Mayor and Council running.
Jennifer Land, I couldn’t be more proud of you as Clerk. The effort you have placed in the Kindness initiative means a ton to me. To the “new Kelly”, you might’ve just joined our ranks, but you have already proven yourself to be indispensable.
City Attorney Norton, and especially Lorraine, you both go above and beyond a typical City Attorney’s office, and to, Phaedra, I thank you for stepping into the interim City Manager role recently when needed.
Art and Maggie, I am proud to now call the two of you not only my colleagues, but my friends. You are a welcome sight to see every day I walk in the office.
Key to the Office of the Mayor is Stacey Tonarelli. You have been an invaluable, irreplaceable asset to me as I try to fulfill my vision for a great city. While your title should be Vice Mayor, which is already taken, I can’t say enough great things about how well you serve this office and the City of Turlock. Thank you.
Finally, City Manager Hampton. Thank you for rising to the challenge of taking on Turlock and, in just one short year, you got us where we needed to be. Your integrity, your dedication, and your leadership of this organization is unparalleled by any before you. I appreciate your candor, your honesty, and your wisdom. The City of Turlock is a better place with you in this post. Thank you.
As you can see, this Council has made many promises, but we have also kept them.
Turlock is a city that will never be satisfied with where we have been; instead, we will always be looking for areas of improvement. Our priorities for 2017 are simple:
CONTINUE to invest in OUR INFRASTRUCTURE that leads to reliable drinking water and stable roads.
CONTINUE to invest in OUR COMMUNITIES through stronger public safety and public works projects.
CONTINUE to invest in OUR YOUTH, the exact residents that we are investing for.
Please join this vision for 2017. It will be a great year as Turlock continues its tradition of leadership in the Central Valley.