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Mayor: Ceres is moving forward
• Gives 'State of the City' Address
Mayor Vierra.jpg
Chris Vierra, mayor of Ceres, delivered an overdue State of the City address last week but few members of the public turned out for it. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra highlighted progress made by the city on numerous fronts during his “State of the City” Address delivered Tuesday evening, April 2.

A small crowd – mostly of city staff – turned out for the event, which Vierra mentioned at the outset. Earlier he expressed disappointment for the lack of numbers, wondering if a daytime address would have resulted in greater attendance.

Here is the text of his speech:

“Ceres is a special place! As I look around the room I see a number of individuals who take great pride in making our city (and neighborhoods) the best they can be. Perhaps I am biased, but I believe when you look at the history of Ceres you will see that we have always taken a leadership role in Stanislaus County. Whether it be former elected officials who went on to do great things like Clare Berryhill, former California Secretary of Agriculture, or the embracing of controversial things such as the development of a Super Walmart or introduction of Cannabis related activities like the manufacturing of Jaydon’s Juice, Ceres has always been at the forefront and it has served us well!

“Our first job as local government is to provide our citizens with the essential services that our community counts on every day. I am pleased to say that we are doing quite well in that area. Ceres’ fire and police operations continue to have excellent service records, as do our public works, engineering, and recreation departments. We continually rank among the top of communities similar to ours for efficiency and wisely spending of taxpayer dollars.

“Before I touch on our future, I would like to take a few minutes to reflect on what we’ve accomplished these past couple of years.

“The Engineering Department aggressively pursued federal and state funding to complete the last phase of the Mitchell Road overlay project. This project, which covered from SR99 to the Mitchell Road Bridge, incorporated a newer technology of “rubberized asphalt.” This technology utilized rubber from old recycled car tires as a component in the new asphalt. This new asphalt is environmentally friendly, long lasting, and results in quieter road noise.

“Completion of multiple phases of the city’s bike path also occurred. In cooperation with Turlock Irrigation District (TID) we were able to construct new bike and pedestrian paths that now extends north and south along the TID - Mitchell Road canal from Hatch Road to Service Road.

“We have continued to work particularly hard to make our streets better and safer for our citizens: This past year our departments replaced 115 traffic signs and repaired 155 street lights. We processed over 2,000 customer service requests and improved sidewalk safety in hundreds of locations. We have heard loud and clear that Ceres residents want safe streets for our children, and we continued with our efforts to make this happen. Recently the city was successful in securing grants to complete the construction of multiple ‘Safe Routes to School’ projects.

“In 2018, the city delivered two extensive pavement preservation projects funded exclusively with voter approved Measure L funding and we currently we have over 20 more projects that are in various stages of design and/or construction, all of which are leveraging Measure L funds with state and federal dollars. The passage of Measure L was critically important for our region and we are now starting to see the benefits of that action.

“Water is a key issue these days and I am proud to say the city of Ceres is taking a lead role in our efforts to conserve this valuable resource. A safe, reliable, and efficient water system is absolutely critical. The city has continued to significantly invest in water infrastructure.

“Over the past three years we have invested over $4 million in water infrastructure focused on improving operations and water conservation. These improvements include water quality treatment improvements, well maintenance and replacement of pipelines and related infrastructure.

“These efforts are paying significant dividends as the city’s total water use is down nearly 46 percent from the peak water use in 2007.

“We continue to work toward the development of a new surface water treatment plant and I will touch on that in more detail shortly.

“Over the past two years, we have continued to improve the functionality and efficiency of our wastewater facilities by replacing pumps and improving overall treatment capacity. Over $3 million has been invested in new sanitary sewer infrastructure which includes the relining of nearly 2,000 feet of aging sewer pipe. By relining the pipelines we were able to minimize disruption to our residents, save on costly replacement, increase the service life of the pipes, while lowering overall maintenance costs.

“I am proud to report that our Public Safety Departments are once again doing a great job at making our community safer and more secure.

“In 2018 our firefighters responded to over 6,100 calls for service, of which approximately 3,800 were EMS/rescue calls and it is estimated that our firefighting efforts saved some $16 million in property losses alone.

“We also initiated the start of the replacement of our aging fire truck fleet with the ordering of: Four new fire engines and a new chassis for our existing grass rig. We also invested in new portable and mobile radios as well as replacement of the vehicle extrication equipment.

“When it comes to police, in 2018, our dispatchers received over 108,000 calls for service for our police officers to respond to. That equates to approximately 293 calls per day.

“Our officers continue to be innovative and search for new and creative ways to keep our community safe. The council recently adopted the use of drones on special occasions to aid in the apprehension of criminals and enhance officer safety.

“We are also making city government more efficient through better Information Technology. This past year, the city’s antiquated phone system was replaced with a modern voice over IP system.

“We also replaced the city’s website with an updated platform to allow for better citizen access to information. In addition, we continue to invest in technology and look for ways to improve operational efficiencies.

“After a two-and-a-half year long process that included significant public input, I am proud to say that the city has an updated 2035 General Plan. At the cost of nearly $1 million and countless man hours, the preparation of this document was a monumental undertaking. Now we have an up-to-date document that sets forth the blueprint for the future growth of our fine city. A companion effort to the General Plan is an update to the Ceres Municipal Code, which has already begun and is expected to be completed later this year. I wanted to take time to recognize Tom Westbrook, Toby Wells and all the staff and consultants that worked on the preparation of such an important document. There is a reason these are only done once every 25 to 30 years!

“As we are all aware, sales and property taxes are the major funding sources for our city’s basic services and Economic Development has always been a priority for the city council. These past few years we have placed focus on business retention and attraction and our dividends are starting to pay off. As you look around our city you will see new eating establishments, retail business and the expansion of industrial manufacturing facilities.

“As you can see, we have accomplished a significant amount these past couple of years but there is much more on the horizon and now I would like to take a few minutes to touch on a few of the important things we are working on:

“First, and probably what I consider the most significant project I will have helped deliver in my 17 years of public service is the development of a Surface Water (SRWA) treatment plant. However, before I get into some of the details I wanted to take a moment and describe our water system and how a surface water plant would work.

To date we have been successful in securing over $30 million in grant money and continue to seek additional funding sources and grants to lower the cost of the project. The design-build contract for the project will be awarded this year with the construction starting in early 2020 and operation beginning in 2022.

“Recently building permits were issued for development of the Mitchell Ranch Project located at the intersection of Service and Mitchell roads. Although we don’t have any firm timelines for when construction will start, we are excited for the construction of this project and the many jobs and shopping opportunities it will bring to our city.

“With the advancement of the Mitchell Ranch project, we continue to work on the infrastructure around the project and the future Interchange Project at Service Road. This progressive, state of the art design, will provide congestion relief and improve regional mobility to and from State Route 99.

“The project recently completed the environmental process and is now moving into the final design stages as we actively seek federal and state funds to complete the construction of the project we expect to start in 2022. Although not tied together, the development of the interchange and surrounding properties will open up tremendous new retail shopping and dining growth for our city.

“To date we have invested over $3 million of Redevelopment Agency bond proceeds in the renovation of our downtown. This has led to over $1 million of private investment being poured in properties downtown. Moving forward we will continue to aggressively pursue new business opportunities and support the property owners and business in the downtown to continue to grow their businesses. To that end, I am pleased to inform you that another transformation to the downtown area is just around the corner with the development of the ACE train platform.

“To enhance commuter and intercity rail service and to promote greater transit connectivity between the San Joaquin Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) Train is expanding into Stanislaus County. The end of the first phase of the project expansion will be in downtown Ceres. The expanded ACE service to Ceres will provide critical rail connection to the bay area as well as Sacramento. Having a station in our downtown will be a tremendous economic opportunity. The project is expected to be opportunity by 2023, potentially much sooner. Plans are underway to provide lighting and security improvements in the area for the ACE station area this summer.

“When the voters passed Proposition 64 legalizing the use of cannabis, the city quickly found itself at the forefront of this controversial subject. As many of you may be aware, the City Council took action to allow Kase Manufacturing to begin the manufacturing of CBD oil for use in Jaydon’s Juice.

“Currently the City has three cannabis related development agreements in place which are generating significant revenues for the city. (At nearly $2 million in General Fund monies) the city has been able to retain and hire an estimated 15 ‘critical’ public safety positions that otherwise would not be available if we had not entered into these agreements. Many communities are now very envious of Ceres as everyone is starting to realize, cannabis is here to stay. In summary, moving forward we will continue: 

• To ensure that we make capital investments in the right infrastructure to support economic development, we will continue advancing the new state-of-the-art Mitchell Interchange, a major capital project which will help create a new commercial center for our city, maximize the business potential of the Mitchell Road Corridor, advance our plans to develop west of Highway 99 and help us create a distinctive and positive identity.

• To capitalize on the proximity of Highway 99 to continue the development our downtown area. Downtown Ceres is blessed with easy access off of Highway 99 and with the coming of the ACE train shortly many citizens will be able to board an ACE train in downtown Ceres and take it all the way to the San Jose Airport. I believe there are tremendous new business opportunities in our downtown area.

• Lastly, we need to continue addressing blight and crime and create the right image for our community. Through the revenues we are realizing from the permitted cannabis activities, we are taking steps to improve and enhance the appearance of our city. We will continue raising development standards for the city that reflect our positives and the city we would like to become while implementing traffic enforcement measures that discourage criminal activity.

“Related to these priorities, I want to continue to focus our attention on water security and conservation. A secure, dependable supply of safe drinking water is vital to having a livable community. We must stay committed to water conservation and finding a reliable water source for the benefit of future generations of Ceres residents. Securing this water supply is a critical responsibility of this City Council, and we are working to advance that cause.

“Looking out into the distance, things are starting to clear up and it appears the seeds of positive economic grown appear to be taking root. We are seeing construction projects coming back to life. Sales tax revenues have been increasing and the housing market appears to have stabilized and is growing.

“Ceres, through leadership, common sense, and care, has managed its resources wisely and has served its citizens. I, our council, and all of our city teams are not only committed to protecting the way of life we have now, but to making the sound decisions and investments needed to improve our quality of life and to achieve financial security in the future. Ceres is different. I like to imagine a Ceres that continues to have its neighborly hometown feel while becoming more beautiful, more vibrant – more prosperous – and the type of place people move to in order to have a great quality of life. I thank all of the people who work on behalf of our community who share that vision and invite all of you to imagine it with me. I look forward to all of us working together to maintain the foundations we’ve laid and upon them, build the progress of this special city.”