Making good on one of his campaign promises, Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh held a town hall meeting in west Modesto Saturday, a concrete signal that he intends to be accessible to the entire city. Marsh said he plans to have at least three more such events around town.
Marsh acknowledged that Modesto has an image problem, but reiterated his refrain that Modesto is a, “great town.”
“We don’t need to have Scott Peterson on the front page,” he said. “We need to have Chris Peterson, who just won a teacher of the year award, on the front page.” Like many long time Modesto residents, Marsh is acutely sensitive to Modesto’s reputation as a sensationalist hotbed of crime and scandal.
Between thirty and fifty people attended the meeting at the King/Kennedy Center on Martin Luther King Drive. The city itself was well represented by police and fire officials, including Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden. Dave Geer, the district’s City Councilman and County Supervisor Terry Withrow also attended.
After a brief introduction, Marsh called for questions from the crowd. One of the first to respond was former Mayor Carmen Sabatino, who asked Marsh what his position is on the proposed Modesto Irrigation District (MID) water sale to San Francisco.
“I don’t have a problem with the first part of the plan,” said Marsh. “The 2,000 acre feet is essentially a drop in the bucket. It’s less than one percent of the 310,000 acre foot allotment for the MID. The second part of the plan, 25,000 acre feet, will have to have a full Environmental Impact Review. I plan to make sure the City’s water supply is secure.”
Former mayoral candidate Bev Finley was well received when she made a plea for the extension of the library tax. She distributed yard signs to a generally enthusiastic crowd.
Marsh fielded questions and complaints about graffiti, metal theft, parks, and curbs and sidewalks. Audience members raised the curbs and sidewalks issue persistently, and Marsh explained more than once that the City can’t be responsible for infrastructure normally included in housing sales. He offered some solutions for the problem in terms of creative financing, but west Modesto residents seemed unsatisfied with his answers.
In response to questions about crime on the west side, Marsh and Harden agreed that metal theft is a city and county-wide problem, and there are no immediate fixes for it.
In fact, while continuing to boost Modesto as, “a great place to live,” Marsh admitted there are problems it will take years to fix, including the gang and graffiti problems. Marsh reiterated his strong support for law enforcement in general and said he will seek ways to put more police offers on duty, despite lean budget times.