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Mayor paints a rosy picture of Ceres’ future years
Delivers 'State of the City' address
Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez 2024 state of city
Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez delivered his "State of the City" address Thursday evening before a crowd of about 100 persons at the Ceres Community Center. He struck a theme of optimism, saying Ceres has a bright future ahead. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez delivered his annual “State of the City” address before a crowd of about 100 persons Thursday evening, highlighting accomplishments of the city and presenting glowing forecasts about Ceres’ immediate future.

The following is a text of the mayor’s speech:

As we come together today, I am filled with gratitude and optimism, reflecting on the journey we’ve embarked upon since I first stood before you as mayor of the City of Ceres. Our story, woven through the rich tapestry of our history from the days of our founder is a testament to our collective strength and unity. 

Throughout the unprecedented challenges, including the global pandemic, we have not only persevered but grown stronger, drawing from the well of resilience that defines the spirit of our community. We have stood united, supporting each other, transforming trials into triumphs, and looking to the future with unwavering hope and determination. 

Today, I invite you to take a moment to look around, to see the faces of our community that embody the remarkable transformation from then to now. This transformation — a profound change in our collective experience since 2020, has not just been about overcoming obstacles but about seizing opportunities for growth, innovation, and unity. 

As we stand on the brink of a new dawn, let us carry the lessons of our past and the strength of our present into the future. Our journey “Beyond the Mountains” has shown us that together, there is no height we cannot reach, no challenge too daunting. The future before us is as bright as the difference between day and night, filled with the promise of what we can achieve together. 

As we move forward, let the spirit of our journey and our path to inspire, stride into 2024 with confidence, embracing the endless possibilities that lie ahead for the City of Ceres. Together, we will continue to make the difference, building a legacy that honors our rich history, celebrates our achievements, and paves the way for a future where every citizen thrives. 

Our journey is a celebration of where we’ve been and where we’re going — a journey of resilience, unity, and boundless potential. Together, we will chart a course for the City of Ceres that is brighter than ever before, ensuring a legacy of prosperity and community for generations to come.

We began the year welcoming newly elected officials Councilmembers Martinez, Vierra and Casey, and appointed new Measure H Committee members along with planning commissioners. We also embarked on the process of updating our council procedures, encountering some resistance, though not from the City Council itself. Acknowledging the necessity of this update due to many gray areas, our city attorney expertly navigated us through the process and the adoption will soon follow. 

It’s crucial to acknowledge the significant changes and additions we’ve made to our ordinances this year, which include the food truck ordinance as to better serves our community’s needs for food options in District 2. The clean and clear ordinances, and infrastructure ordinances in addressing the homeless issues we are facing, among others resources. These changes are pivotal in shaping our community’s landscape overall health and regulatory environment. 

We successfully allocated ARPA funds, directing them towards numerous projects that benefit public safety and reinvest in our community parks, with notable investments like $200,000 for upgrades to Costa Fields. The Ceres Youth Baseball community has recognized the significance of this investment for our families. 

The expansion of the Hometown Heroes Military and Veterans Banner Program is another initiative I’m proud to mention. Thanks to the support of my colleagues and the work of the committee, as my referral came to fruition, and we now see these banners proudly displayed along Hatch Road. 

Maintaining a clean and safe community remains a priority. The dedication of our code enforcement team and their consistent cleaning projects, demonstrates our unwavering commitment to meeting the community’s needs. As I continue to advocate citizens to report using the MyCeres app, our collective efforts underscore our refusal to overlook the needs and well-being of our residents.

Today, I am not just here to speak about successful policies or achievements; I am here to celebrate the core of our city — our leadership team and the dedicated individuals who ensure Ceres not only endures but flourishes. The culture we cultivate within our city’s administration is the foundation upon which we build. This culture, shaped by innovation and integrity is what propels us toward excellence. 

It’s with immense honor that I shine a spotlight on the pillars of our community — the department heads and the remarkable team members whose tireless dedication makes our collective dreams a tangible reality. Each name I mention today is filled with commitment, leadership, and unwavering dedication to the people of Ceres. 

As I call your name, please stand in recognition. Please, as your names echo through this room, remain standing, embodying the strength and unity that defines us. 

• Doug Dunford, City Manager 

• Nubia Goldstein, City Attorney 

• Chris Perry, Police Chief 

• Kevin Wise, Fire Chief 

• Sam Royal, Public Works Director 

• Delilah Vasquez, Human Resources Director 

• Michael Beltran, Engineering Services Director/City Engineer 

• Lea Simvoulakis, Community Development Director 

• Shannon Esenwein, Finance Director 

• Joey Chavez, Recreation Manager 

• Josh Casas, Public Works Superintendent 

• Jon Frederick, Information Technology Manager 

• Julian Aguirre, Economic Development Manager 

• Fallon Martin, City Clerk 

• Sonia Ledezma, Deputy Director of Finance 

Let’s give them a round of applause.

This past year, under the guidance of the Human Resources Director, the HR Department has not only continued its mission of fostering a supportive and dynamic work environment but has also introduced initiatives that have enriched our city’s culture and our employees’ professional lives. 

One of the accomplishments has been the launch of the “Welcome to Ceres” onboarding event. This innovative program ushers in our new hires with open arms, offering them a comprehensive introduction to our city’s operations. More than just an orientation, it’s a celebration of joining a family — complete with tours, training, and the opportunity to forge meaningful connections over lunch, games, and items that carry the proud Ceres logo. 

The HR Department developed the Service Award Program. This thoughtful initiative celebrates significant milestones in our employees’ careers, honoring them with lapel pins, award certificates, and plaques. It’s our way of saying “thank you’” — not just for their service but for their commitment. 

The introduction of our city newsletter has transformed how we share and celebrate our collective achievements. This quarterly publication highlights the successes across departments, spotlights employees who go above and beyond, and shares our collected vision and goals, ensuring every member of our team feels connected and informed. 

Last but certainly not least, the Leadership Development Program stands as a testament to our investment in the future of our city’s leadership. Designed for supervisors, managers, and directors, this program sharpens skills, enhances professional development, and prepares our leaders to navigate the complexities of their roles with confidence and efficacy.

In a year marked by significant transformation and collaborative triumphs, one of our city’s most pivotal moves has been the forging of the partnership under my leadership. The City of Ceres made a fire life safety decision to go into a fire service contract with Modesto (MST), a move that not only reshaped the operational landscape of our fire department but also set a precedent for inter-agency collaboration across the region. 

This historic partnership has been nothing short of a resounding success, paving the way for other agencies to join us in a united front. In October 2023, a Memorandum of Understanding was ratified among the Modesto Fire Department, Turlock Fire Department, Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District, and Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit. This agreement marked the inception of the Central Valley Incident Management Team, a specialized unit designed to manage complex and major incidents ranging from natural disasters to critical emergency situations. Their expertise was crucial during the 2023 flooding, showcasing the immense value of our collaborative efforts. 

Furthermore, our commitment to fire safety and prevention has seen remarkable achievements, particularly through the Fuel Reduction Program at River Bluff Park and across the way at Tuolumne River Regional Park. Since 2020, we’ve witnessed a staggering 67% reduction in vegetation fires, a testament to the efficacy of our proactive measures. This not only enhances the safety of our community but also represents a significant cost-saving, with each man-hour saved equating to approximately $250,000 in response costs. 

The expansion of our divisions, made possible by Measure H funds, has further strengthened our department. The EMS Division now boasts three paramedic captains to oversee 24-hour EMS shifts, improving our advanced life support services and response times. The creation of new positions, such as the hazardous material inspector and public safety business analyst, underscores our dedication to community safety and operational efficiency. 

In 2023, we also celebrated the approval of a new training tower at Station 17. This state-of-the-art facility is not just an investment in our firefighter’s safety and proficiency; it is a cornerstone for future readiness, enabling our heroes to excel in various scenarios, from commercial to multi-residential structures. 

As we reflect on these milestones, let us acknowledge the tireless efforts of our fire department, led by visionary leaders and dedicated firefighters. Their commitment to excellence not only ensures our safety but also elevates the city of Ceres as a beacon of collaboration and innovation in emergency services. 

Together, we stand united, resilient, and ever ready to face the challenges ahead, knowing that through collaboration, dedication, and foresight, we are building a safer, stronger, and more connected community.

Reflecting on the journey we’ve embarked upon together; I stand before you today with a profound sense of pride and optimism. The past year has been one of significant achievement and forward momentum for the Ceres Police Department and our code enforcement team, marking milestones that not only advance our operations but deeply enrich our connections within the community. 

In our continuous quest to enhance public safety and foster a safe, supportive environment, we’ve seen noteworthy advancements. Our recruitment efforts have strengthened the police force, though we’ve faced challenges with dispatcher retention. This balance reminds us of our ongoing commitment to building a resilient and responsive team. 

A key development in our technological arsenal has been the implementation of new access control systems and the strategic placement of License Plate Readers (LPRs) throughout the city. These tools have not only bolstered our ability to deter and solve crimes but have directly led to numerous arrests, showcasing the effectiveness of such innovations. The mobility of LPRs on patrol cars enhances our coverage and response capabilities, a testament to our adaptability and proactive stance. 

Our engagement with the community has never been stronger, with the Ceres Police Department actively participating in cleanup efforts and providing spaces for dialogue and connection. The resource officers’ impactful presence in schools underscores our commitment to safety and education, proving that community engagement and law enforcement go hand-in-hand. 

Training remains a cornerstone of our efforts, with programs ranging from active shooter drills to leadership development. These initiatives ensure that our team is not only prepared for today’s challenges but also for the evolving landscape of public safety. 

CPD’s presence on social media platforms like Instagram has become a vital channel for communication, providing timely information and building a transparent, informative relationship with the public.

Our focus extends beyond immediate law enforcement to encompass the broader wellbeing of our community. The cleanup of illegal encampments, conducted with dignity and respect, in collaboration with the county’s CARES team, address critical social issues, guiding those in need towards appropriate services. Additionally, ongoing work to establish a first ever homeless outreach team in Ceres is monumental.

As we reflect on these achievements, let us also renew our commitment to excellence, safety, and unity. The journey of the Ceres Police Department and code enforcement is one of continual growth and dedication. It is the spirit of collaboration, innovation, and community that propels us forward, ensuring Ceres remains a beacon of safety and community engagement in our county. 

Together, we are not just maintaining public safety; we are enhancing the quality of life for every resident, laying the foundation for a future where everyone in Ceres can thrive. Thank you to the men and women of the Ceres Police Department and to each of you, for your unwavering support and dedication to our collective mission. Let’s continue to bridge gaps, embrace technology, and build a community where safety and compassion walk hand in hand.

In a state where the demand for affordable, accessible housing continues to outpace supply, our efforts in Ceres are more than just development; they are a vital contribution to a pressing statewide challenge. 

This past year, the Community Development Department has been at the forefront of transformative projects that not only enhance our community’s landscape but also responds to the urgent need for housing and services. The completion of Cambridge Estates, a 38-lot residential subdivision, stands as a testament to our commitment to expanding living spaces that cater to families and individuals alike.

Our city has also seen an influx of new businesses, from Tractor Supply to the In-N-Out Burger, Ono Hawaiian BBQ, Popeye’s, Chipotle, Starbucks, Cold Stone Creamery, Sourdough & Co., El Tarasco Snacks and the list goes on, enriching our community not only with services and employment opportunities but also with spaces for connection and enjoyment. These projects, from their initial processing and public hearings to their grand openings – from what I’ve heard from developers – is they have not seen this type of support from other municipalities. This reflects our department’s dedication to fostering a thriving, vibrant community. So I have message to Chick-fil-A, now that over 800k vehicles per month drive down Service and Mitchell roads, according to our data, maybe you’d be willing to invest and open a site in the city of Ceres. For the record, businesses choose to come to the city. We can’t hold up a magic wand but sometimes a letter of support from the mayor does the job. 

The update and revamp to our food truck ordinance was huge accomplishment, allowing a maximum of 20 food trucks in the city of Ceres and with a grub hub application to the Planning Commission that passed 5-0, we will see more food options coming. 

Looking to the future, we are excited about the prospects of projects like Woodspring Suites Hotel and Dhillon Villas, which promise to bring new energy and opportunities to our city. The Copper Trails proposal, envisioning a vast expanse of residential and commercial development, represents a bold step toward meeting our community’s growth and housing needs. 

As we navigate the challenges and opportunities of developing in one of the nation’s most dynamic states, we must remember the importance of creating spaces that serve not just our current residents but also future generations. California’s housing crisis, particularly impacting young people seeking their foothold in the world, requires innovative solutions and a deep commitment to development that is sustainable, affordable, and forward-thinking.

In Ceres, we are poised to be part of the solution, contributing to a future where everyone, regardless of age or income, has access to a place they can call home. Our accomplishments in community development are milestones on this journey, reflecting our dedication to building not just structures, but a community that stands as a beacon of hope, opportunity, and resilience in the face of California’s housing challenges.

City engineers play a crucial role in urban development, crafting and managing the construction of roads, bridges, and other key infrastructure while adhering to financial and environmental guidelines. They ensure the smooth execution of these projects, covering essential services like streets, sidewalks, sewage systems, water supply, and more. The Engineering Services Department offers a broad range of services in civil, mechanical, and environmental engineering, focusing on planning, designing, and overseeing the construction of public infrastructure such as parks, streets, water systems, and traffic safety measures. Through strategic planning, unwavering dedication, and a commitment to excellence, our team has spearheaded pivotal projects that not only improve our city’s landscape but also ensure the well-being and prosperity of our community. 

Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) 

This past year, our city has seen the successful completion of several critical infrastructure projects, emblematic of our commitment to sustainable development and community welfare. 

•  Morrow Village Phase 2 Project: A shining example of how federal funding, specifically the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), can be leveraged to enhance public infrastructure. We’ve installed ADA compliant pedestrian walkways along Rose Ave., ensuring accessibility and safety for all residents. 

Transforming Our Parks and Public Spaces 

• Smyrna and Ochoa Parks: Our ongoing projects are reimagining these spaces to create safer, more accessible, and community-focused environments. These enhancements promise to foster greater community engagement and enjoyment. 

In conclusion, the accomplishments of the Engineering Department are a clear reflection and our collective resolve to build a better future for Ceres. As we look ahead, let’s carry forward this momentum, continuing to innovate, develop, and enhance our city with the same determination and commitment that have brought us this far.

I want to highlight the strides made by our Public Works Department, showcasing their dedication to improving our city’s livability and infrastructure. 

Parks Division

Following the challenges of last year’s storms, we’ve successfully reopened River Bluff Regional Park Lower Terrace, and through the ARPA funded grid pruning program, West Coast Arborist has meticulously trimmed 1,385 trees, ensuring our city’s greenery is well-maintained and ready for any weather conditions. 

The Water Division celebrates the completion of the River Bluff Water Reservoir, a three million gallon tank that is now operational, marking a milestone in our water infrastructure. The Stanislaus Regional Water Authority (SRWA) water treatment plant, finalized in fall 2023, promises to supply about five million gallons of surface water daily, enhancing our water quality and reliability. In terms of water production and safety, our city wells have produced over two billion gallons of groundwater, with the SRWA treatment plant set to contribute an additional 125 million gallons of surface water. Our diligent testing and responsive service are the standards of our commitment to water quality and public health. 

The Wastewater Division has successfully completed a comprehensive pavement rehab project at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, laying down 412,000 square feet of slurry, signifying our commitment to maintaining essential services. 

Looking ahead, the Storm water Master Plan is on the horizon for council approval this spring, promising to address and manage our city’s storm water challenges, effectively. 

Streets Division has impressively managed 327 service requests and kept our city clean with over 21,277 miles covered by street sweepers. 

Facilities and Fleet Divisions have been equally industrious, addressing thousands of service requests and ensuring our city’s assets and vehicles are well-maintained and operational. 

These accomplishments reflect our Public Works Department’s unwavering commitment to enhancing Ceres’ infrastructure and quality of life.

Turning our attention to the Information Technology (IT) Division, their achievements and forward-looking projects have been instrumental in modernizing our city’s infrastructure, enhancing efficiency, and generating significant savings. 

Achievements in 2023/24: 

• Engineering Workstation Upgrade: IT successfully upgraded the Engineering Division’s capabilities with six new heavy-duty workstations equipped with 30” monitors, boosting productivity and performance. 

• Police Department Presentation Systems: Two state-of-the-art, 70” touchscreen presentation systems with pens, mounted on rolling stands, were installed, enhancing interactive training and presentations. 

• Cell phone carrier switch: By transitioning to T-Mobile, IT has achieved annual savings of over $30,000. Additionally, this switch has enabled the distribution of 31 free iPads, 4 hotspots, 36 mobile devices, and 91 phones, furthering our technological capabilities. 

• Uninterruptible Power Supply: The installation of an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system, complete with monitoring to alert both IT and Building Maintenance of any issues, marks a significant improvement in our disaster preparedness and operational continuity. 

These initiatives underscore our IT Department’s commitment to leveraging technology to enhance city operations, improve services for our citizens, and ensure robust, cost-effective communication networks. Their efforts are a testament to our city’s dedication to innovation and efficiency, setting a strong foundation for future advancements.

As all of you are aware, the Finance Department is responsible for the financial management of the city, budget, purchasing, accounting, revenue collection and utility billing. This year the Finance Department went through significant changes. We hired a new Finance Director and Deputy Finance Director as well as a Utility Billing Supervisor. 

Looking back at 2023-24 fiscal year, the Finance Department has transitioned to a new software in Tyler that has made a lot of the processes much easier and user friendly. This will eventually translate to a better customer experience for our citizens. We are also looking at the introduction of kiosks in our lobby to help expedite payments and any customer congestion. 

They are currently looking at all the various grants and funding for the city and preparing our 2024-25 budget. The new team has been doing a great job in finding the funding sources necessary to move Ceres forward.

As the chair of the Stanislaus Council of Governments, I work closely with our local, state, and federal partners to bring our transportation projects to life. This past year, we received over $5 million in Active Transportation Funding from the state to build important safety improvements for communities across the city, including those on Central, Hackett, Roeding, Moffett, and Whitmore. These projects will give peace of mind to bicyclists and pedestrians. From Measure L, we were able to complete work on Morgan Road to make it safer for our children. Looking to the future, we aim to expand these projects to key corridors and more neighborhoods across the city, building a safe network for everyone to get to schools, parks, and shopping centers. Projects like these in Ceres and throughout Stanislaus County are building a safe future for our communities.

Through diverse and innovative programing and unique partnership, the Ceres Recreation Division plays an important role in creating a healthy community. By providing safe and secure spaces to learn, play, create & imagine, we are continuously striving to meet the needs of our community and enhance the quality of life in Ceres. 

The heart of Ceres Recreation revolves around the community and this very place hosts a variety of weddings, quinces and events such as “Bridging the Gap” to name a few. Recreation programs are thriving. The Ceres Recreation staff understands how vital recreation is to the community and has continued to work tirelessly year-round to expand, improve, and grow these programs. Throughout the year, council and staff were honored to take part in several traditional successful events. These included senior program, Hometown Heroes Military Banner Program, Concerts in the Park, Trunk or Treat, Christmas Festival and Parade and Easter Eggstravaganza. These events cumulatively brought in 80 plus vendors and 15,000 plus attendees. Lately, the Community Center has been the place to be. The Recreation Division has been extremely busy due to an increase in demand for rental spaces, classes, and other programs.

What truly captivates the heart of our city, with its population nearing 50,000, is not merely its size or the numbers; it’s the essence of a close-knit community amidst our growth. It could be the spirited rivalry of the Crosstown Showdown, where Ceres High and Central Valley High come together in a friendly, but fierce, football game, uniting the city and the Ceres Unified School District in a grand parade through downtown. Or perhaps it’s the electrifying atmosphere of packed stadiums on Friday night lights, where the whole community gathers, united under the glow of camaraderie and local pride, even attracting the Stanislaus Sheriff Department’s helicopter to fly over in support. 

Congratulations are in order for Central Valley High School for clinching the trophy this year and bringing it home to a celebratory City Council meeting, where athletic achievements are duly recognized. This deep connection within our community resonates with me personally. Serving the public, I find particular joy in the moments spent with students during career day, witnessing firsthand the curiosity and potential of our future leaders. 

Our city’s traditions continue to thrive and evolve, from Concerts in the Park to the Ceres Street Faire, and not forgetting the vibrant Cinco de Mayo parade, where I had the honor of serving as the grand marshal. These events are a testament to our love for Ceres and our commitment to investing in our citizens. 

New events like the Hot Air Balloon Festival have painted our early morning skies with vibrant hues, captivating all who witnessed it. The Kabaddi Cup 2023, to mention another, was not just a hit it was a revelation of the diverse interests and the cultural tapestry that enrich our community. These moments and events encapsulate what makes our city uniquely fascinating—a blend of small-town charm with the vibrancy of a growing population, stitched together by the strong, enduring bonds of community and tradition. Let’s continue to cherish and nurture this spirit, as we move forward, investing in and loving Ceres.

Mayors Continued Top Priorities for 2024

The following are a list of my priorities: 


• Roads and thermal active roads, construction of new bridges and freeway retaining walls 

• Sidewalks for underserved communities in our county pockets so we can absorb them into our city and improving existing pathways 

• Clean and affordable water 

• Wastewater treatment plant 

• Rebuild City Hall 

Public Safety and Crime 

• Supporting Police and Fire 

• Equipment and technology 

• Fire life safety 

• Continued public services and engagement 

• Continued community events 

Technologies and Services 

• Online access and information improvements 

• Improvement of our City-wide apps and update 

• Communication improvements and investment 

• Customer service advancements 

• IT department upgrades 

• City-wide data network 

• Cyber security 

• LPR expansion 

• Real crime center 

Building and Planning 

• Supporting businesses in an effort to streamline current projects 

• Supporting future projects for the city of ceres 

Business and Economic Development 

• Supporting our local business and funding programs such as the RAD program and Transit Occupancy Tax 

• Continue efforts with Opportunity Stanislaus in scouting for companies to come to Ceres 

• Increase revenue by holding workshops 

• Continue our partnership with Capital Advocacy Partners for their lobbying and grant writing expertise • Establish a fee structure that generates and expands revenue for the city while supporting the growth of the cannabis industry.

Creating Jobs for the Future

• Working with large and small companies to bring more jobs to Ceres 

Housing Developments 

• Supporting the ever-changing growth and future housing development so we can meet our requirements, all while providing a great place to live. 

As we draw to a close with our time together this evening, it’s essential to look forward, to the horizon of possibilities and progress that awaits our city. Amidst our reflections and celebrations, we must also embrace the exciting developments on the horizon. The ACE train’s anticipated arrival in Ceres promises to usher in a new era of connectivity and convenience for our residents, opening doors to broader economic opportunities and enhancing our daily lives.

Moreover, the continued growth in housing and economic development is a testament to our city’s resilience and dynamism. These advancements not only enrich our community but also reaffirm our commitment to ensuring a prosperous future for every citizen.

At the heart of all our endeavors remains a steadfast dedication to the safety and well-being of our community. My resolve to support our law enforcement agencies is unwavering, for they are the guardians who ensure our city remains a safe haven for all. It’s a partnership built on trust, respect, and a shared vision of peace and security. 

As we anticipate the chapters yet to be written in our city’s story, I am reminded of the strength and spirit that define us. It’s a spirit fueled by unity, ambition, and a deep-seated love for our home. It is with great anticipation and pride that I announce a special recognition — a tribute to an individual or entity that embodies the heart and soul of Ceres. This year, I will have the honor of presenting a “Key to the City” proclamation. Who will it be? Stay tuned, for this accolade will celebrate the remarkable contributions that continue to shape our beloved city. 

Together, we stand on the cusp of a future bright with potential. Let us move forward with hope, courage, and an unwavering commitment to each other and to the city we call home. Thank you, everyone, for your continuous support, engagement and love for Ceres. Here’s to another year of growth, unity, and shared successes.