The tipoff that the Modesto Bee was going to oppose Measure X came when the Bee suddenly decided to cover the Ridenour administration. Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour’s term ended in 2012. He enjoyed eight years in office that were remarkably free from scrutiny.
It was only at the tail-end of his tenure that Ridenour’s administration received any criticism, and that involved the SCAP scandal. And just weeks ago, the Bee exposed what appeared to be gross negligence in city involvement with an affordable housing project named Archway Commons on Carver Road. Again, the City’s part in the affair was during the Ridenour administration.
The intent of the articles was to discredit city government in general. It worked. Opponents of Measure X are now referring to SCAP and Archway Commons as reasons to distrust our current city government.
In a classic case of doublethink, Bee editors started calling Measure X the “trust-us tax” as early as August. The Mayor and most of the current members of the City Council were endorsed by the Bee when they ran for office. Now the Bee is telling us not to trust the very people the Bee endorsed.
Maybe the real message is, “Don’t trust the Bee.”
In Sunday’s editorial, the Bee claims citizens’ oversight committees such as the one that will be appointed to monitor expenditures of revenue from Measure X aren’t effective. That’s only true if the public fails to hold government accountable. In the past, it has been the local newspaper’s role to inform the public, but the Bee has chosen to inform Valley citizens only when the news fit the Bee’s own political agenda.
That tactic survived until the recent proposed water sale by the Modesto Irrigation District (MID). When the Bee tried to tilt the story in favor of the water sale, the public found other news sources via social media.
The outcome was not only rejection of the sale. As a result of an ongoing tsunami of public criticism, three MID Directors decided not to run again and MID General Manager Allen Short resigned. Public scrutiny no longer depends on the Bee.
The six-year span of the one cent tax offers ample time not only for public review, but for the betterment of the city through enhanced public safety. Expenditures from Measure X revenues will be the most scrutinized expenditures in Modesto history.
The motive for the Bee’s opposition to Measure X is the Bee’s preference for a county-wide road tax. The road tax has been the developers’ Golden Fleece for years because it’s growth-inducing. The Bee is also in favor of growth. Supporters of the road tax say it will make us a “self-help” county, a designation that brings in millions of federal and state dollars.
The reality is that unless used wisely, road taxes promote unsustainable growth and destruction of farmland. San Joaquin County, our neighbor to the north, is a “self-help” county. It’s largest city, Stockton, is not only beset with high crime rates, it’s bankrupt.
The Bee claims sales taxes hit poor and middle income families hardest, but says nothing about the devastating effects of gangs and crime on those same families.
The Bee says a one cent sales tax would be a drag on the economy, but makes no mention of the costly effects of crime.
How many of our citizens pay higher insurance rates because of our nation-leading crime statistics? How many properties decrease in value because of crime? What is the cost of the psychological trauma when entire sectors of the city are held hostage by criminals and gangsters? How many citizens and businesses avoid locating in Modesto because of our crime and gangs?
The Bee, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Building Industry Association, want another growth binge. Thoughtful citizens should reflect on previous growth spurts and the negative effects they produced.
If Modesto is to prosper, it will fulfill the first duty of any city to its citizens and provide public safety.
Once we’ve established public security, we can begin a program of smart growth that features protection of prime farmland. Until then, wise Valley citizens should recognize the need to provide essential public services is far more worthy of public investment than another ill-advised growth binge whose only possible result will be the expansion of a crime-ridden outpost for the Asphalt Empire.