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Valley leaders meet in Turlock

POSTED December 9, 2011 11:00 p.m.

Turlock’s long been known as the heart of the Central Valley.

On Friday, the city lived up to its billing, hosting a Valley-wide meeting of leaders for a daylong discussion of the most pressing issues facing Valley governments, citizens, and businesses.

The meeting represented the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley’s– a joint effort between state, local, and business leaders from eight Valley counties to promote the economy, environment, and equality – first trip to Stanislaus County since 2009. The Faculty Development Center at Turlock’s eCademy Charter at Crane School played host to the meeting, and did so well according to partnership planners.

“The people in Turlock and Stanislaus County have been extremely helpful,” said Mike Dozier, the partnership’s executive director – and a California State University, Stanislaus graduate, he was quick to note.

According to Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who regularly attends the partnership’s quarterly meetings, the conferences succeed as a place for Valley leaders to exchange ideas. As Valley counties face similar challenges, oftentimes a new problem for one county has long since been solved by another.

“A lot of good information was traded,” Chiesa said. “You have such a diverse group of people here.”

The group also allows Valley communities to collaborate, presenting a unified front in lobbying for Valley interests.

For example, a planned goods movement study would look to voice the important role of the Central Valley in transporting cargo – up and down Highway 99 – to state lawmakers; in the past, laws have been drafted which benefit coastal cities with ports, without considering the impact of trucks carrying those containers through the Valley. Another partnership priority would require High-Speed Rail planners to employ some Valley residents – 3,000 to 5,000 of an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 first phase workers –  to help construct the initial rail line; some past projects, like a Mendota jail, have seen those jobs go to out-of-state or out-of-country workers.

The partnership gives Valley successes a chance to be lauded as well. The Turlock Unified School District spoke on the new Internet-centric eCademy Charter School, representatives from the planned Regional Surface Water Project talked up the effort to treat Tuolumne River water for Turlock, Modesto, Ceres, and Hughson residents, and Turlock Mayor John Lazar discussed the city’s successes in budgeting within its means, planning for growth away from farmland, and enticing Blue Diamond to open a factory in the city’s industrial park.

“I love to brag about Turlock,” Lazar said. “I love this community.”

Other agenda items allowed area leaders a chance to become more familiar with issues dominating the news. An in-depth review of the California High Speed Rail Authority’s revised business plan dug into the nitty-gritty of the $78 to $91 billion plan, which could begin construction in 2012 and offer 220 mile-per-hour, 3 hour train rides from San Francisco to Los Angeles for $81 by 2030.

Most interesting to Chiesa, though, was a review of California Forward, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at improving government performance and accountability. California Forward has drafted an act which would require performance-based budgeting, legislative transparency and oversight, pay-as-you-go budgeting, community-driven problem solving which empowers local governments, and multi-year budgeting.

“We need a change in our governmental structure,” Chiesa said. “It’s not working right now. The public isn’t happy, and the elected officials aren’t happy.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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