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Council votes to break ties with Tuolumne River Regional Park JPA
• City owes $233,820 to park authority
9-2-99 cleanup of ago
Since June 2014, Operation 9-2-99 has cleaned the north and south banks of the Tuolumne River from Beard Brook Park to Dryden Golf Course. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The Ceres City Council last week voted to leave the Tuolumne River Regional Park (TRRP) Joint Powers Authority (JPA), citing frustrations over what members perceive as no benefits for Ceres.

The May 28 vote came as a surprise to Brandy Meyer, a Ceres’ citizen representative to the committee, who said she wasn’t told the council was considering the drastic move.

“I’m disappointed,” Meyer said Tuesday. “I’ve put many years of my life into this committee.”

Ceres has been part of the TRRP JPA with the city of Modesto and Stanislaus County for decades to oversee the 500-acre park which stretches along the river from Mitchell Road to past Carpenter Road in fragments.

Ceres’ relationship with the JPA has been tenuous over the years. In 2011 the council considered pulling out but remained in the JPA. At the time the city of Ceres was paying about $25,930 towards the park’s maintenance based on a 1996 formula. But in 2017 the city of Ceres ended its financial contribution despite its contractual obligations, citing budget shortfalls.

City Attorney Nubia Goldstein said “there is a little bit of a deficit in terms of how much is owed,” adding Ceres owes over $200,000. One option to paying off the debt would be working on a property swap.

Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez, who serves as Ceres’ representative to the TRRP JPA with Councilman Daniel Martinez, feels it is time for Ceres to withdraw and “reinvest” into the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.

“I just don’t see any benefit from this project in particular,” said Mayor Lopez. “I understand that we have to look at the agreement but I also don’t feel we need to pay $200,000 to the city of Modesto and I’m not too sure how I feel about this property swap either.”

Councilman James Casey said he agreed with the mayor that Ceres isn’t getting much but said the city can’t renege on the debt it owes to TRRP.

“If we owe them $233,820 we have an obligation to pay that if we get out of it (JPA),” said Casey. “I’m sorry but that’s the way I was brought up. It’s okay wanting to get out but you don’t get out without paying what you owe.”

Mayor Lopez replied to Casey, commenting: “I feel there’s an opportunity to give you some documentation that shows that we have not benefitted nothing at all so all of the projects have been on the Modesto side (of the river). Not one project on the city of Ceres side, so why should we pay them $200,000 if they have not been working with us in conjunction of trying to benefit our side as well.”

Meyer, who represents Ceres on the TRRP committee as a citizen representative along with Ashlie Hargett, faults Ceres city leadership for failing to be more involved as it could be with TRRP planning.

The council voted 3-1 to leave the JPA with Casey voting no and Martinez absent. Lopez, Vice Mayor Bret Silveira and Councilwoman Rosalinda Vierra voted to cut ties.

Meyer argued in 2023 that Ceres has receives benefits, such as the 9-2-99 cleanup efforts on the Ceres side. She also noted that the TRRP encompasses Mancini Memorial Park at 1204 River Road, which is outside of Ceres city limits but close enough for Ceres residents to walk to. She also has advocated for the inclusion of the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park into TRRP jurisdiction to “enhance more opportunities to get more state grants” while still retaining city ownership.

Because Ceres cut its share of funding the TRRP, Meyer was temporarily stripped of her voting privileges and stated that while the action was hurtful she still attended. Those voting rights were restored by Nathan Houx, the city of Modesto’s Parks Planning and Development manager and the JPA administrator.

Meyer had appealed to the council in 2021 and 2023 to restore its financial contributions to the JPA.

In 2021 then Councilwoman Linda Ryno said that while she appreciated Meyer’s “real heart” for the TRRP, noted that the prior council decided to forego shelling out the $17,000 per year not just because of financial reasons. She said the city leaders didn’t feel they were getting much for the investment, and that the Ceres side of the river hadn’t been included in the cleanups.

In years past, Houx told the council that the goal of TRRP is to build the park into a destination facility that can generate revenue and tourism while providing recreational activities.