Mayor Gary Soiseth called Turlock the “gold standard of Central Valley towns” in his fourth State of the City address on Thursday that highlighted the city’s accomplishments with road and water projects while calling for new initiatives to address homelessness.
The Mayor’s address came four days before a planned groundbreaking ceremony for the City’s first improvement project using Measure L funds (countywide road tax), something that Soiseth and the City Council advocated for in the 2016 election.
“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 25 years — Turlock is finally on the road to improving our road infrastructure,” said Soiseth.
The Mayor touted the Council’s decision to seek state and federal funding sources for transportation projects instead of using General Fund dollars.
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.Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth
“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,” Soiseth said.
The Mayor, talking about one of his favorite subjects — water — said that Turlock “is well on its way to becoming one of the most progressive cities in the Valley when it comes to its use of 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.”
He also talked about Turlock’s role in the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority. For the past 30 years, the City has been working on securing an alternate source of water — treated surface water from the Tuolumne River. Recently, the Cities of Turlock and Ceres, and in partnership with the Turlock Irrigation District, have started the process of building a plant to deliver treated Tuolumne River water to homes by 2022.
“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… 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,” he said.
The Mayor talked about recent strides towards improving public safety in the City of Turlock and the challenges ahead in attracting, retaining and funding its police officers, firefighters and dispatchers, which led into an announcement of a number of new ideas in addressing homelessness in Turlock.
“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,” said Soiseth.
The Mayor proposed adding two positions within Neighborhood Services that would not only assist with graffiti and weed abatement but would also enforce rules in parks and other 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,” Soiseth said.
The storing of private property in donated bins and a new partnership with the Turlock Gospel Mission to reach out to homeless individuals and help them reunite with their family members who may be in other communities were other ways Soiseth proposed addressing a number of issues that have arisen with the transient population in town.
“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,” said Soiseth.
The Mayor announced that there will be special City Council meeting to talk about homelessness on July 19 in Central Park.
Despite the City’s challenges, Soiseth ended his speech by telling attendees that they should tell anyone who asks that 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.”