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Mayor lobbies legislators for Turlock projects
Lazar travels to Washington seeking funding, support
John Lazar
Turlock Mayor John Lazar - photo by Photo Contributed

On Friday, Turlock Mayor John Lazar got up close and personal with a Portuguese Water Dog by the name of Bo.

That’s Bo Obama, aka the “First Dog.”

“Once you’re in the White House they let you roam around like it’s your home,” Lazar said.

The White House visit came as part of Lazar’s trip to Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week. Approximately 200 mayors were invited to the White House for a continental breakfast meet and greet with President Barack Obama.

As Lazar was walking around the White House, Bo walked up to Lazar in search of some attention. Lazar obliged, in between meeting the President and watching him board a helicopter as he flew off to another important meeting.

The trip to D.C. – Lazar’s fifth in as many years – wasn’t about the fun and games of petting the presidential puppy, though. Lazar spent all day, two days, on Capitol Hill lobbying for projects important to Turlock.

On Wednesday, Lazar was accompanied by Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour and Modesto Councilman Brad Hawn on a whirlwind tour through legislators’ offices. The group met with Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA20), Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA18), Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA19) and the staff director for the House Committee of Natural Resources personally, and met with the staff of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA11), Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA10) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA7).

“It was a busy day for me,” Lazar said.

The day of meetings was spent lobbying for the proposed North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project, a plan to pipe treated wastewater from the cities of Turlock and Modesto to the water-starved farmers of the westside’s Del Puerto Irrigation District.

The estimated $180 million project would potentially include federal funding for the City of Turlock’s planned $27 million Harding Drain Bypass pipeline, which has long been seen as a necessary improvement to the city’s wastewater treatment system. The pipeline would discharge treated wastewater directly into the San Joaquin River.

Turlock would also earn a nominal fee for selling water – as much as 13 million gallons per day from Turlock alone – to needy farmers who are more than willing to pay.

“It’s a really good project, and all the representatives and even the members of Congress we talked about it with were very excited about it,” Lazar said. “This could be the pilot for other communities.”

While Hawn and Ridenour had previously lobbied for the project, this was Lazar’s first time joining them. The effort was a success, with Feinstein’s office agreeing to introduce a bill to appropriate federal funds for the project, while Costa and Cardoza will head matters in the House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, Lazar was back on Capitol Hill, lobbying Boxer, Feinstein, Cardoza and Denham specifically for Turlock projects.

Chief on Lazar’s list of priorities was the city’s planned Public Safety Facility, which could stall out without an infusion of cash due to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to shutter redevelopment agencies statewide. The PSF is to be funded with approximately $14 million in funds from a new Turlock RDA bond, currently in jeopardy.

Just days after Lazar’s visit, Cardoza’s office has already located a grant which might help with a portion of the PSF funding, while Denham’s office continues to work on the issue. It’s breakthroughs like these that make the trip to Washington, D.C. worthwhile, Lazar said.

“I think it’s important for our community to be invested in lobbying members of Congress and legislators on city-specific issues,” Lazar said. “If you’re not at the table personally, you’re not going to get your share of funds.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.