Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth used his annual State of the City address on Wednesday to look back on the promises he made in 2016 — regarding roadways, water resources and public safety, among others—while also announcing new initiatives for neighborhood assessment districts, establishing American flag corridors around Turlock and a military personnel tribute.
Infrastructure improvement has long been a priority for Mayor Soiseth. He was a vocal advocate for Measure L, the countywide half cent sales tax for transportation funding that the voters passed in November 2016.
“…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 Aug. 1, 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,” said Soiseth.
The Mayor announced he would continue working towards securing funding for road repair and maintenance throughout Turlock by creating neighborhood assessment districts.
“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,” said Soiseth.
Since the 1990s, all new subdivisions and commercial enterprises in Turlock have had to pay assessment fees, which in part, are used to fund regular preventive street maintenance. By law these funds have to be spent within the assessment district and cannot be used in other neighborhoods.
The creation of assessment districts to help fund road repairs for older Turlock neighborhoods has been discussed during public meetings over the last five years. It remains to be seen if Turlockers will support adding a local road tax so soon after passage of the countywide transportation tax.
"City Hall has kicked around the idea of allowing established neighborhoods to improve their own streets for far too long,” said Soiseth in an interview following the State of the City address. “With the passage of Measure L and our Council's emphasis on fixing our current roads, I think it's the perfect time to create a process for neighborhoods to invest in themselves by voting for direct street improvements.
"While not all neighborhoods will choose this option, I want City Hall to empower those neighborhoods that do,” Soiseth continued. “This is about government getting out of the way of residents that want to fix their own streets."
The Mayor also emphasized the historic steps taken by the City in 2016 to help secure reliable sources of drinking water, while preparing Turlock residents for upcoming water rate increases to pay for the improvements.
The City has been working on reducing its dependence on groundwater through its partnership with the City of Ceres in the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority. The project, nearly 30 years in the making, will divert surface water from the Tuolumne River for domestic use, reducing dependence on groundwater basins.
In July 2016, the SRWA accepted a water sales agreement with the Turlock Irrigation District to transfer surface water from the Tuolumne River. In turn, the cities will provide “offset water” to TID during dry or “less than normal” years. The offset water, which would be composed of a blend of recycled and non-drinkable well water, will serve to balance the reduced river water available to irrigators as a result of the transfer.
The Mayor announced on Wednesday that water testing is already underway and the SRWA is set to break ground on the project no later than May 2018.
A new source of drinking water also needs a means to fund it.
“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,” said Soiseth.
“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.”
The Mayor also talked about promises made to the City’s fire and police departments regarding equipment and staffing needs.
He talked about the City bringing back the Operations Chief position for the fire department, acquiring new equipment like breathing apparatus and the replacement of Engine 32 — a vehicle the Mayor labeled a “lemon.”
“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,” said Soiseth.
The Mayor talked about the City’s dedication to community policing and the efforts new Chief Nino Amirfar has made to engage businesses and the community.
The Mayor acknowledged that there are still unmet needs in the City’s public safety, namely in staffing. He talked about working together with the City’s public safety managers, as well as the union members, to find solutions to funding these needs.
“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,” said Soiseth.
In an effort to publicly show the city’s support for its fire and police personnel, the Mayor announced there would soon be new additions to the Canal Drive portion of the Joe Gallison Pathway.
Two lines will be painted 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,” said Soiseth.
The Mayor also announced two other initiatives that aim to showcase Turlock’s patriotism and the sacrifices being made by the city’s U.S. military service members.
Soiseth said the City will establish flag corridors, which will include the Joe Gallison Walkway along Canal Drive and along Countryside Drive, along with supporting the tradition of flying flags on Main Street. He also said City crews will now assist local businesses and organizations with hard to replace flags on poles throughout the community, starting with the Stanislaus County Library, the U.S. Post Office and Berkeley Avenue Baptist church, who all need the boom trucks to replace these flags.
The Mayor said his goal is to have 1,000 flags flying in Turlock in the next year. To start this flag initiative, Soiseth said he will be asking the City Council to allocate $5,000 for this project.
Turlock will also be honoring its active military personnel this summer with banners along Countryside Drive that showcase the names, faces and branches of over 60 currently enlisted military personnel.
“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,” said Soiseth.
The Mayor acknowledged not only the sacrifices of the city’s public safety and military personnel during his speech, but also touted Turlock’s economic growth, the members of the community who took part in the Million Acts of Kindness campaign and the community’s embracing of immigrants and refugees.
“Some of the best citizens of Turlock are immigrants and refugees, as we have seen specifically with the great and rich Assyrian culture,” said Soiseth. “I am so proud that this tradition of acceptance and cohesion lives-on.”
The Mayor said that he will be working with the International Rescue Committee to host the very first Refugee Civics Day at City Hall on April 8.
“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,” said Soiseth.