During my term on the Modesto City Council, Mayor Carmen Sabatino and the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors were constantly at loggerheads over which level of government should pay for what. Despite their differences, both levels of government did their best to deliver services to constituents.
The present Board of Supervisors applauds itself for having a $250 million budget surplus due to excellent fiscal management. Supervisors are also proud of passing a half-percent road tax, starting the Route 132 expressway project, acquiring motels to house the homeless, and the falling unemployment rate.
While the accomplishments look substantial, a critical evaluation points to underperformance by county government.
The budget surplus
When a community has unmet needs, a budget surplus is nothing to brag about. Given the large number of homeless still on city streets, the untreated mentally ill, and decrepit condition of some county roads, $250 million sitting idle is underperformance. Is the surplus the result of good money management or a windfall as a result of external economic conditions?
The half-percent transportation tax
Is convincing citizens to raise their taxes a positive accomplishment? Roads throughout the county became so decrepit that two thirds of citizens voted themselves a tax increase in desperation.
Today, have you driven Kansas or Woodland avenues west of Modesto? One feels like Luke Skywalker when avoiding bumps and potholes!
Do you have any roads like that in your area? Are you getting your money’s worth from the road tax?
The 132 expressway
Sorry to say, project decisions are incredibly awful and happening with the county’s blessing.
Carpenter Road is the largest arterial on the west side of Modesto. An incomplete interchange is being built. A lack of ramps will prevent adequate access to the expressway. In hindsight, an unwillingness to build a complete interchange brought us the Briggsmore overpass. New traffic chokepoints will be created from the 132 project.
West of the expressway, Route 132 at River and at Hart roads should have interchanges to minimize congestion and reduce accidents. Accidents and congestion occur at signals.
Numerous skid marks on pavement at the signalized intersection of 132 and Dakota highlight safety issues. Signals are ill advised on roadways where traffic moves at high speed.
The 19-mile Route 132 upgrade will be built in four phases over 20 years. During the constant construction activity, daily congestion will be chronic. The total cost will be multiples of a one-phase project. A 200-mile section of I-5 from Los Banos to Grapevine — over 10 times the length of the Route 132 upgrade — was completed in one phase in less time than 132 will take to complete.
Help for the homeless
While appreciated, the effort by the Board of Supervisors to house the homeless could be more effective. Would renting instead of owning motels have been more cost effective and enable greater flexibility?
Are mental health services comparable to what was rendered in the past? How many are homeless? Are numbers dropping?
The falling unemployment rate
How many jobs has county government created in the past 10 years? The national economy accounts for local prosperity, not county government.
An unclaimed accomplishment: Crime
Nobody in local government brags about accomplishments in policing. The rubber donuts on streets throughout the county symbolize driver lawlessness. The common occurrence of burglary and theft is evident as citizens throughout the county share stories of loss and vandalism.
Stanislaus County has a lengthy list of needs. Every election raises questions about which candidates will do better.
If one thinks we are as good as we can be, then we have forgotten when we were better.
Bruce Frohman served on the Modesto City Council from 1999 to 2003.