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55 citizens give input on Ceres ideal future
Two-year process kicks off with ideas
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Tom Westbrook, the citys Community Development Director, welcomes the audience to the general plan update process as consultant Sophie Martin of Dyett & Bhatia listens. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Ceres should retain its small town agricultural feeling decades into the future. That idea rated high among the approximately 70 people who attended the first community workshop on the Ceres General Plan Update.

At the Thursday evening brainstorming the group came up with a wish list for Ceres as it grows. It included more shopping - especially for clothing - more upscale restaurants, less traffic on Hatch and Mitchell roads, a vibrant downtown and less gangs and drugs.

The input will be drafted into a new General Plan, a process that will take two years with the San Francisco firm of Dyett & Bhatia. Additional workshops will be held and a community survey will be sent to all Ceres households in the next month.

Sophie Martin of Dyett & Bhatia said she was excited to see so many people in attendance, saying "it's not very often that we have such a great turnout at a very first workshop."

She explained the function of a general plan, which "can be thought of as a constitution for growth and development in a city over time." Martin said a General Plan expresses "the community's vision for how it wants to grow and what it wants to be over time." The General Plan also looks at not just the city limits but the area immediately surrounding it. But she also noted that it "doesn't mean that the city is necessarily going to grow that big during that time."

The group also came up with a list of negatives which they want to see Ceres tackle as the city adopts a blueprint for growth through 2035. They included the lack of dinner houses, too many fast-food restaurants, excessive truck and school-related traffic, a downtown that doesn't offer much in the way of shopping and blighted residential properties and trash.

Most of the 55 citizens who showed up were armed with their own vision of Ceres. Martin instructed the group for its first exercise to imagine that a magazine reporter is doing a story on Ceres in 2035 and asked about the headline and focus on the story.

Renee Ledbetter, president of the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, said she wants Ceres to get an Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train station if it comes to Stanislaus County and wants Ceres to be a "destination location."

Some expressed a desire for the county to develop a Faith Home Road corridor to remove traffic congestion on truck-heavy Mitchell Road.

Lisa Mantarro Moore spoke for her table and said Ceres should have its "own identity" and not be just that city sandwiched as between Modesto and Turlock. Her group said Ceres should better utilize its visibility with Highway 99 traffic, never forget its agricultural roots, and make Ceres a place where people decide to live "not because you have to but because you want to live here." Moore expressed the desire for enough goods and services offered in Ceres "so they don't have to leave our community."

Alison Kelly spoke for her table and the desire for a mixed-use zoning practice and a "more vibrant downtown." Ceres also needs more professional jobs and could develop green energy jobs in keeping with Ceres' agricultural fabric.

Other ideas included a safer community, more recreational opportunities for families, easier access to healthy living and eating, and more civic engagement.

Gary del Nero, a member of the Ceres Planning Commission, said he wanted to see a movie theater in Ceres. He was part of Shane Parson's group that wants to see Fourth Street - where he owned Embroidery Plus - be renamed Main Street. They also want to see downtown Ceres opening up its second brewery by 2035 - even though there are presently none. A high-speed rail stop in Ceres was also tossed out for talk. The imaginary future magazine story of 2035 also hails Ceres as ridding itself of gangs and drug dealers.

Visions at Leonard Shepherd's table included booming agriculture, Ceres having the most vehicle charging stations per capita, strong community service clubs, the fastest growing city in the Valley with country feeling, best schools and low crime.

Another group came up with directing growth to the poorer soils and away from the soils that produce the best crops. Ceres needs to come up with its own cultural identity, much in the way that Modesto is known for its Graffiti Night events. Unique downtown shops were another dream.

The second exercise asked participants to list the things that Ceres has going for it and things that add challenge to Ceres. Soccer fields, good schools and community events like Smoke on the River, Christmas Tree Lane and Concerts in the Park were mentioned as plusses.

Collectively the audience lists challenges as being: heavy truck traffic on the major corridors, local roads clogged with traffic before and after school, a lack of medical and professional office complexes, a lack of jobs and large employers, the blighted condition of older homes, a lack of move-up housing, litter, panhandling, a high stray cat and dog population, few dinner and/or steak restaurants, a lack of a year-round farmer's market, incessant sound of sirens, voter apathy, a lack of clothing stores, limited public transit, and a downtown that needs to offer more, cars parked on front yards.

The group also wanted to see Ceres work on better river access and linking sections of the city via bike and pedestrian trails. At least one individual said Ceres is developing a bike/walking trail that goes nowhere.
More information about the General Plan update is available online at