State of the City Address
CITY OF TURLOCK
STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS
MAYOR GARY SOISETH
Thursday, July 12, 2018
I want to thank everyone for being here today, specifically my fellow Councilmembers, Vice Mayor Jacob, Councilmembers Dehart and Esquer. Turlock’s entire Executive Team, led by Interim City Manager Bob Talloni, our Police Chief Nino Amirfar, and Acting Fire Chief Gary Carlson. Our City Attorney Jose Sanchez, our police officers, firefighters and engineers, and the many employees that serve in our city departments.
I would also like to thank our partners on various projects; specifically the Turlock Irrigation District, our partners not only in keeping our local agricultural economy alive, but also in providing safe, clean drinking water to the residents of our city.
To 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.
And to our partners at 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 as we address issues of inclusion and diversity in our city.
And finally, I would like to thank our new City Manager for his positive words and his willingness to come to Turlock to lend his vast experience to our community. We look forward to your leadership and your fresh perspective.
One of the most important jobs of any City Hall is to keep residents safe, and a well-managed police force and fire department is key to accomplishing this goal. Over the last three years, Turlock has brought its public safety officers back to their pre-Recession salaries, when they were asked to take 9% pay decreases to keep status quo staffing levels.
With the increased strength of Turlock’s economy, this Council made it a priority to restore departments and make them the most appealing police force and fire department in the Central Valley.
By maintaining and restoring specialized units--the Fire Department’s “squad” unit that’s focused on trench and confined space rescues, heavy extrication, and stabilization, and the police department’s K9 unit and the Community Outreach Response and Engagement team focused on proactive policing, to name a few--not only will Turlock be able to provide enhanced services to our residents, these departments will be able to attract quality applicants.
While we’ve made these vital investments, Turlock needs to do more to attract and retain its police officers, firefighters, and dispatchers.
To stay competitive, this past February, the City Council created its own incentive program, with $11,000 paid to new lateral police officers and dispatchers at the start of a five-year commitment to Turlock, with an additional $5,000 bonus at the beginning of year five. That's a $16,000 investment in each new officer or dispatcher, making this bonus the most competitive in the region. Coupled with over $800,000 invested in increasing police salaries by as much as 10%, adding longevity pay for Turlock’s most seasoned officers to remain in the force, and retaining incentives for professional certifications, Turlock will have the strongest formula to attract and retain the best talent among Turlock’s police force.
The discussion of salary increases has been rocky at times, as expected, but we’ve come to a great conclusion. As the leader of this city, I respect the right of folks to voice their displeasure with the Council or, more specifically, with the Mayor. As the leader of this city, I also ask that we focus on facts, not rumor. Let’s choose to focus on solutions, rather than perceived conflicts. And most importantly, let’s focus on what we can do together for the residents of Turlock, not just what we can do for ourselves.
I believe I speak for my fellow Councilmembers in saying that we never sought public office to create “unsafe” streets or to pay our first responders less-than-respectable wages. We sought these positions to do the exact opposite: we want to create a safe city and we want to provide for our staff as much as we financially can. Crime is down by 5% across the board, thanks to your hard work, and salaries within the department have increased over the last three years by over 10%, totaling nearly a million dollars in investment in the police department alone.
This Council is not asking for credit. We are asking for constructive dialogue moving forward and we are asking that we all come together to lead Turlock toward the common goal of safety and security for all residents.
As with all negotiations, I want any union to see the fullest picture of our financial state of the city. Currently, we have indeed been financially aggressive; by increasing our General Fund Reserves from $6 million when I entered into office in 2014 to a high of $11 million this past year. To put this in perspective, Modesto is a city of over 200,000 people with reserves hovering around $15 million and Ceres is a city of over 40,000 with reserves around $3 million; Turlock, in contrast, has a savings level double that of the other major cities in Stanislaus County.
While we save, we also share the philosophy that we cannot save our money in reserves while watching our departments struggle; instead, we need to strategically and thoughtfully invest in safer equipment, improved vehicles, and higher salaries. Through these retention bonuses and an increased investment in proactive police units, Turlock will be on a path toward meeting a more realistic goal of increasing the number of officers in Turlock to 1.3 for every 1,000 residents.
The animal services division within the police department is one of the most effective--yet understaffed--divisions within City Hall. Through a series of workshops to update our “Policy Goals and Implementation Plan” with the new City Manager, we will create a roadmap for animal services to acquire the needed kennel attendants and staff members, while also addressing this division's need for improved facilities, either through a renovation of the current facility or repurposing an additional site to better serve Turlock's two- and four-legged residents!
Turlock’s fire department is one of the best equipped in the area, not only in equipment but in talent.
We’ve overhauled the Fire Department’s training grounds, leading to a grant from Modesto Junior College of over $12,000; we’ve equipped each of Turlock’s firefighters with your own Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) unit; we’ve guaranteed our firefighters’ fundamental needs are met, whether that’s a new chainsaw or a few new engines; and we’ve made sure you have the manpower needed to remain a strong firefighting unit, with six additional firefighters graduating from the academy tomorrow and a seventh soon to follow.
With the knowledge of the health risks that Turlock’s firefighters take each day, this Council stopped talking and took action to make sure we allocated resources for the much-needed exhaust removal units in each firehouse, lowering the exposure of carcinogens that will lead to health issues later on in life.
While the equipment and vehicles required to make the department strong are costly, we know the investment is worth making, including the investments we made in the much-needed staffing of the ladder truck that sits behind me. While I am proud of all that we have accomplished, I readily admit where we’ve fallen short: staffing the ladder truck is a costly endeavor that has proven to be very difficult.
However, as we continue to navigate this investment, I am confident that we are working toward keeping residents safe as Turlock develops higher residential and industrial buildings and I am confident that it will keep Turlock’s best firefighters within the department by providing them the opportunity to be specialized in a field that they might not have access to in another city.
The staffing of the ladder truck is my highest priority to finally solve, either through increased revenue from border development, reserves, or other increased revenue options. All options need to be on the table and I will work diligently with the new City Manager, Fire Chief, and each and every firefighter that wants to see this policy issue solved.
Just as we are committed to doing with our police department, though, Turlock needs to make sure it’s investing in fire department personnel by keeping salaries competitive with surrounding departments. This discussion will take place in the coming year and it will be conducted with openness and trust.
Overall, much has been achieved within both the Police and Fire Departments in the last few years, but much more is needed to be accomplished in the next few. By keeping alive the tradition of a line-by-line analysis of the budget while also opening direct lines of communication among all public safety officials with the Council, Turlock will find the needed resources to make these goals a reality and continue to be one of the safest cities in the Valley.
In addition to investing in new officers and dispatchers, Turlock needs to build up the police force by establishing new units, such as a Neighborhood Resource Officer unit for the downtown businesses and parks to work with the city’s transient and homeless populations.
I agree with residents and business-owners alike that there is more that needs to be done. This is not purely a law enforcement issue to be solved by our police officers. We need to rethink our parks, a few ordinances, and our partnership with service providers. The Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, WeCare, and others service organizations are offering some of the most professional, compassionate, and efficient services in the region for those struggling with homelessness, addiction, or financial hardship.
It's my view that the city can play a renewed role in supplementing this assistance and more effectively helping the least, the lost, and the lonely, but also making sure our public spaces remain open and safe for all residents and visitors to enjoy. This is why I will be calling an emergency meeting on Thursday evening, July 19 at 6 pm in Central Park to immediately and aggressively address the issues surrounding homelessness and illegal behavior in our public spaces.
It is my hope that the concerned citizens many of us have spoken with in recent months will join us on the 19th as we discuss a set of solutions that will not only address the needs of our homeless population, but also the needs of our residents and businesses.
To start, we need to make sure private property is no longer stored in the public right of way and should establish alternatives for our homeless to securely store their belongings throughout the day. I have already had preliminary discussions with Turlock Scavenger and they will be donating bins, providing a location for our visitors to store their belongings in a dignified manner throughout the day and increasing the health and safety of our public spaces. This is another example of how the City and other organizations can come together to solve some of our most pressing issues.
Those that do not utilize these bins will no longer have the option of moving their belongings from park to park once they are cited. Instead, I am proposing the enactment of an ordinance that will limit the time an individual has to comply with the removal of their property from public spaces from 7 days to 24 hours. If, within that 24 hour period, their property is not removed from city limits or bins are not used, removal of this property will occur. This is a concept tried in other jurisdictions like Humboldt and it’s a concept that would work very well here in Turlock to clean up our parks.
While this proposal may seem harsh, we need to make sure we are ensuring that our public spaces can be used for all residents and we must start taking a hardline approach with those that refuse services in our shelter and instead choose to use our parks as their own personal dumping ground.
We also need to provide the option to re-unite those that are homeless with families in their own hometown. I am a firm believer that we have an obligation to take care of our own residents that are having issues with homelessness, substance abuse, or financial hardship; however, Turlock will not be known as a place that ignores the rule of law and we will not take on the burden of those that come to Turlock seeking handouts.
Through an expansion in scope of the current contract with the Turlock Gospel Mission, I am proposing we work hard to identify the locations of our visitors, make contact with their loved ones in their own hometown, and provide bus tickets or transportation to reconnect them with their families and loved ones.
In a renewed effort, we will also be increasing our enforcement of animal licenses and bicycle licenses, first through educational outreach and then with enforcement. With the resources collected, we will use these dollars to offset the cost of enforcement.
While we can increase the number of ordinances, we must also look at the current physical environment that leads to loitering in our park areas. Through the authority of the Director of Parks and Public Facilities, I propose we limit hours of those parks in the downtown core that do not have play equipment for our young people, specifically Denair, Central, and Broadway Parks. I also propose we increase the safety of certain problematic parks by adding new LED lighting that deters crime at night, allowing the enforcement of park hours to be easier and more efficient.
I don’t want to continue to burden our police officers with the requirements of enforcement, but would rather encourage us to seek options of a multi-pronged solution involving other city departments. To minimize the impact on our police officers to enforce these regulations, I’m proposing the addition of two positions within Neighborhood Services that would not only assist with graffiti and weed abatement, but would also enforce rules in our parks, on our sidewalks, and in our public spaces. Over the next 90 days, our current municipal codes that outlaw certain activities like drinking alcohol in our parks, allowing dogs off their leash, storing private property in the public right of way, using shopping carts for transport of personal property, and any form of aggressive panhandling will all be strictly enforced under the legal authority granted to the Director of Parks, Recreation, and Facilities and also the Fire Marshal.
And finally, Turlock will join forces with the other “Highway 99 Mayors” of Modesto and Ceres to officially request the authority to address encampments along our highway and railroads. This “no man’s land” of enforcement allows individuals to camp along our highways and railroads while entering into our cities to participate in illegal activity. This pattern needs to stop, not only to decrease the illegal activity occurring in our city during the day, but to also protect those that camp in these illegal areas from speeding cars and trains.
On July 19, we will discuss these measures and hopefully adopt them. To initially fund these proposals, I suggest we use Transient Occupancy Tax revenue generated from visitors staying in our Turlock hotels. For the past four years, we have been setting aside over $100,000 annually to replace lighting infrastructure at Pedretti Park that encourages visitors to come to tournaments and, then, spend money in our city; this set-aside ended July 1 and I propose we continue to allocate at least this amount for the next four years to combat illegal behavior that drives away visitors, decreases park safety for our residents, and diminishes our revenue potential for small businesses.
I am thankful for the service providers, concerned community members, and City staff that have been and will continue to meet and tackle pressing issues surrounding homelessness longterm, but the time to act is now—we cannot keep seeking perfect solutions at the expense of good ones; we need to adopt this set of pilot initiatives, measure the success, make changes, and continue to move forward as a city.
I join my fellow residents in a sentiment of compassion for the least, the lost, and the lonely. If you are a Turlock resident and you are down on your luck, we will take care of you. But if you are coming here from out of town or from neighboring cities to participate in illegal behavior, we will not tolerate it. Period.
For decades, Turlock’s roads have been neglected and left to fail. When I entered office in 2014, Turlock had a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 64 out of 100, falling three points in just three years. For example, one of Turlock’s main arteries—West Main Street—has seen increased use by motorists traveling through downtown Turlock. While we celebrate downtown Turlock’s success, we also must address the fact that this road’s infrastructure is failing with portions of the road receiving a PCI rating of just 14 out of 100.
For years, city leaders focused on repairing potholes and seeking grants when available, but a majority of this Council had a different vision for Turlock’s road network: in addition to repairing potholes—which, by the way, our crews have fixed over 1,916 potholes this past year alone!--the city and county needed to rethink the entire road network by accelerating these planned repairs. By passing Stanislaus County’s Measure L--a half cent sales tax that passed overwhelmingly in 2016 and will bring over $73 million into the Turlock community to rebuild the local roadways over twenty-five years—Turlock is finally on the road to improving our road infrastructure.
The strategy for Turlock is to tackle the most used roads in the worst condition first, starting with West Main Avenue on July 16, then turning toward other roadways like East Avenue, Golden State Boulevard, and Geer Road. Through Gas Tax Funds, we will be also improving neighborhood roads, starting with Wayside, Hedstrom, and over thirty neighborhood roads that were recently approved at our City Council meeting.
This is just the start, however. Instead of using our General Fund dollars, this Council has aggressively pursued state and federal grant funding and low interest loans to repair other sections of Turlock’s roadways. By seeking state and federal grant funding and low interest loans, we are saving our General Fund dollars to be invested elsewhere: in our police and fire departments, in addressing homelessness, and much more. The funding we have already secured has allowed for large projects like the complete overhaul of Monte Vista Avenue stretching from Geer Road to the city limit just past Berkeley Avenue that is currently underway, to smaller projects like a slurry seal in the neighborhood of Summerfaire Park.
One of the largest projects will be the overhaul of the Fulkerth Road Interchange on Highway 99, a more than $12 million investment that will allow us to reach our full economic potential in the Turlock Regional Industrial Park. With hard work from this Council, from Supervisor Chiesa, and from StanCOG and Turlock staff, we will be leveraging over $6 million to cover the cost of the project through Gas Tax Funds, making Turlock the only city in the county to receive this funding stream.
But we cannot stop here: we need to identify additional funding streams for the rehabilitation of our other interchanges, to include Taylor Road and Lander Avenue by capturing more "border development" sales taxes and making sure existing gas tax funds are used for their intended purpose: roadway repair.
When it comes to roads, it’s not just about a smooth ride, but about a safe one. And it’s not just about improving roadways for motorists, but also for bicyclists and pedestrians.
I know that Councilmember DeHart has made it his personal mission to curb pedestrian vs. vehicle incidents, and this Council stands behind him. We’ve made it a priority to invest in unsafe traffic intersections, from the Fulkerth Road and Golden State intersection that was completed last fall to the intersection of Olive Avenue and Wayside Drive that will start later this year, these intersections have proven deadly for motorists and pedestrians alike. Turlock must continue to make investments in reconfiguring these crossroads to provide a safe and efficient access point for all users.
And finally, we’ve taken large steps in mass transit, reconfiguring Turlock’s bus routes to increase ridership of seniors, the handicapped, fairgoers, and also Stanislaus State students. With this reconfiguration, over 2,000 students rode the transit buses in the first six month period of the new routes, ridership has increased to a high of 29%, and we topped over 14,000 riders per month in May, a goal that had not been reached since 2007.
Similarly, Turlock will be cutting the ribbon of the Roger K. Fall transit center that will better serve those taking the bus and, eventually, also those interested in rail transit. Thanks to hard work and the bold decisions of Senator Anthony Cannella, we’ll be bringing the the Altamont Corridor Express train to the Central Valley and, with it, a Turlock platform stop that will complement the other mass transit options at the centrally located transit center.
Overall, transportation in Turlock is becoming more safe, more efficient, and more accessible for residents by simply investing in Turlock's systems rather than neglecting them. Capital projects take time, but this Council is dedicated to not kicking the can down the road on major investments in our roadways. While construction means there will be a temporary inconvenience, the lasting positive impacts to Turlock will be felt for generations to come.
Shifting to a topic I never speak on: water.
Conversations between the City of Turlock and the Turlock Irrigation District about the concept of using raw water from the Tuolumne River for drinking water in Turlock first began in 1984. Now, over three decades later, we’ve been able to move those conversations forward, obtaining a raw water agreement with TID that put the cities of Ceres and Turlock—and hopefully the surrounding communities of Hughson, Denair, Keyes, and Hilmar—on a path toward reliable drinking water.
This investment in Turlock’s water sources comes at a time when there are stressors on the city’s current groundwater supply: from a growing population to new regulations from the State of California to stressors from dry winters. We’ve been forced to take wells offline due to contaminants like arsenic and nitrates and we’ve also seen that quantity is diminishing.
Two realities are very clear: Turlock cannot continue down a road of groundwater reliance nor conserve its way out of a drought. Despite conservation, Turlock’s groundwater levels continue to drop. To put this in perspective: before the drought, the sub-basin dropped 20 feet over 20 years. In the last four years alone, the sub-basin dropped another 20 feet. Currently, Turlock has 6 out of 24 wells that are inoperable due to spiked contaminant levels. The city has no choice but to invest in alternative sources of water to drink and, as a Council, we need to remain committed to bringing water from the Tuolumne River into Turlock’s homes, businesses, and industries. When we break ground on this project in August 2018, we will be on target to deliver water to homes and businesses by 2022.
Our efforts to leverage water resources in the Central Valley don’t stop with drinking water. By next year, Turlock will no longer be discharging any treated wastewater into the San Joaquin River; instead, Turlock will be using this treated water to irrigate neighboring farms on the westside of the Valley, supply water to neighboring TID farmers, and provide landscape water to our famed Pedretti Sports Complex along with many parks and medians throughout the city.
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 its use of water, and we cannot afford to turn back. 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.
In addition to transforming the water that Turlock actually uses, the city has done a great job of conserving and lessening our dependence on our diminishing water resources. While some winters have seen rain, Turlock cannot be distracted by a season of rain and forget about the many seasons of dry winters that continue to be the norm. Turlock is a city that has always prided itself with good planning and solid foresight; this is how Turlock will continue to treat our most crucial of resources: water.
While I agree that it’s important to improve Turlock’s roadways and find reliable sources of drinking water, Turlock must also invest in the creation of a cohesive, unified community. Turlock is very diverse, with houses of worship representing almost every religion, with Assyrian, Mexican, and Portuguese dance halls, and with residents that can trace their heritage back over 100 years living side-by-side with immigrants and refugees that have moved to Turlock just six months ago.
On this last point: I’m often asked about my stance regarding refugees moving into Turlock. These men, women, and children are fleeing some of the worst parts of the world, with war raging, economies devastated, and real persecution threatening their very lives. I spent almost four years of my life working in one of these locations—Afghanistan—and I saw some of the worst of humanity.
My faith was a main driver in signing up for the mission in Afghanistan to serve strangers in a country halfway across the globe, and it has also been a main driver in working to make Turlock a more welcoming, inclusive community. By conversing with and loving members of all different communities, cultures, and faiths, my own faith is not threatened, but strengthened.
We need to love one another in our own city. Even if we have few similarities and we have few threads of commonality, Turlock is united in purpose as we strive to create a place that represents all that is great in America. From flying 1,000 new American flags that represent Turlock’s deep patriotism, to honoring the sacrifices of Turlock’s active duty military personnel and fearless veterans, to encouraging Turlock’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders, the city has made great strides in celebrating its diversity and its heritage.
NEW CHAPTER FOR TURLOCK
So today, July 12, 2018, Turlock is entering into a new chapter. A chapter of progress, stability, and growth. We are financially prudent so that we can invest in our departments when needed. We will not ask taxpayers for their hard-earned dollars without wisely investing in services that will benefit them today.
Turlock is the gold standard of Central Valley towns. While we are never complacent with the status quo, we will continue to fight to be known for our strong infrastructure and cohesive community: a place to raise generations of great citizens.
So when people ask you what the state of the city is, reply confidently with this: the state of our city is strong! Turlock is strong because of the collective actions of such a great employee force, the unsung heroes that make sure our parks are mowed, the staff in City Hall who treat everybody who walks through the front doors with respect, the lifeguards that keep our young people safe during swim lessons, and so many others. Each of these employees--each one of you--serve as an ambassador for our city, interacting daily with residents and visitors alike. Thank you!
It’s been an honor to be your mayor for the last three years and 213 days. I don’t know if I only have 152 days left….or if I have 4 years and 152 days left…but I do know one thing: this Council and I do not plan on taking our foot off the gas any time soon and we will continue to work hard for you day-in and day-out, making Turlock the strongest, safest, and most sustainable city in the entire Central Valley.
Have a great morning and thank you!