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City, county representatives return from capitol lobbying trip

POSTED March 6, 2010 12:06 a.m.
Emissaries from Turlock and Stanislaus County traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to lobby for funding for five local projects.
City Manager Roy Wasden, Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher, Turlock Police Chief Gary Hampton, and Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva were part of an envoy that spent three days meeting with lawmakers and governmental departments in the nation’s capitol to ensure that the power brokers were aware of the region’s wants and needs.
While visits were made to departments ranging from Homeland Security — to discuss possible grants for firefighters — to the Department of Housing and Urban Development — to discuss low and moderate income housing — the heart of last week’s trip was to argue for funding five critical area projects.
For Wasden, who has traveled to Washington, D.C. eight times on the annual county lobbying trip, having a focused mission on a trip to the capitol is key.
“It’s clear that there are so many demands in front of the folks back there,” Wasden said. “… So it’s important for your project to be distinguishable from all the others out there.”
The county lobbying group focused on distinct, unique projects crucial to the region.
Turlock could see the most benefit from a proposed wastewater recycling project, which would pipe the cities of Turlock and Modesto’s treated wastewater to the water-starved farmers of Westside’s Del Puerto Irrigation District. Turlock would both earn a nominal fee for selling the water to needy farmers and help the city avoid increasingly stringent regulations for discharging treated wastewater into rivers — a strategy the City of Turlock currently employs.
Despite the project’s nascent state, without even feasibility studies completed, the project has already garnered the approval of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who is hard at work securing funding to move forward.
“There was a lot of excitement about this project,” Wasden said, “tremendous support.”
Support also appeared to materialize — for the first time — behind a long-desired Orestimba Creek project to prevent dangerous flooding in the Newman area. A public safety communications project, which would link Turlock to the countywide public safety system, also seemed to gain some traction, Wasden said.
The lobbying group also argued for funding to construct a county Family Justice Center in Modesto — a so-called one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence or rape, including legal, counseling, and police services — and the continued development of the Tuolumne Regional Park in Ceres and Modesto, likely to provide recreation opportunities to Turlockers.
Another pet project for Turlock — seeing a Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services grant modified to allow rehiring existing officers —  was not formally on the lobbying agenda but could mean $500,000 per year for three years and the prevention of one layoff. The response to the grant modification was, “very promising,” Wasden said, but the DoJ awaits a legal opinion before taking action.
Fortunately, as a result of the trip Wasden and other county officials now have built contacts with Washington lawmakers. With the personal connections established, local officials now know who to call, who might lend an ear to a story of true need.
“It’s about the relationships,” Wasden said.
Wasden said lawmakers appreciated hearing just what is happening here in Turlock, eliminating the east coast/west coast disconnect that’s neigh inevitable given the distance and time zones.
In past years, Wasden said the lobbying has generated a good return on investment. Stanislaus County projects have garnered as much as $1 million a year in regular appropriations since lobbying began, not counting the fast-moving stimulus funds which city and county officials struggle to stay on top of.
But given the capitol’s sometimes glacial pace, county representatives will likely be hard at work planning for next year’s trip — narrowing a list of needy projects down to just a handful of priorities — long before the City learns just what impact this year’s lobbying may have.
“It’s a wait and see,” Wasden said. “It might be four or five months before we know what the trip yielded.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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