Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow, a Certified Public Accountant, is running for reelection. His challenger is Scott Calkins, a high school teacher in Modesto.
This article is a summary of an hour long conversation with Mr. Withrow. The viewpoints of Mr. Calkins will be the subject of another article. The election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 3, 2014.
Supervisor Withrow was asked to summarize his proudest accomplishments of the past four years. He mentioned the following.
Stanislaus County has obtained about $80 million in California state grant money to expand the existing jail at the Stanislaus Safety Center. He said that the money will help build enough infrastructure to provide about 500 inmate beds, more than double the size of the present jail. The long term goal is to shut down the antiquated jail in downtown Modesto, which currently houses prisoners across the street from the proposed new courthouse. Supervisor Withrow credits an excellent County staff for getting the grant money to put the project together. Stanislaus County is the first in the state to obtain money for a local jail expansion.
The expanded local jail initiative is part of a statewide effort to move part of the prison population into locally controlled jails. In conjunction with the shift in prisoners, the County is also working on obtaining grants for projects designed to improve the rate of rehabilitation. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of career criminals.
Kiernan Expressway Alignment and Salida/Wood Colony
Supervisor Withrow said that his actions were key to the preservation of countless acres of farm land north of Modesto. He persuaded Caltrans to move the Kiernan Expressway alignment back to its current alignment. Previously, Cal Trans had been talking about building a freeway that would meander east from the Hammett Road/Freeway 99 interchange. The proposed route would have cut through numerous farms, putting a number of them out of business.
In Salida, he originally backed the community’s annexation into Modesto. He rescinded his backing when he learned of the opposition to annexation by many of the citizens in the community. He said that he is very sensitive to the wishes of his constituents and is willing to be flexible in order to accommodate people he represents. He expressed dismay that the City of Modesto has not gotten the message from Salidans and residents of Wood Colony. He said that Wood Colony should not be annexed into an urban area because the vast majority of residents don’t want to urbanize.
Supervisor Withrow also stated that he acted to have a law offender program shut down near Salida because it was located next to a high school.
The Water Crisis
Supervisor Withrow said that he has been very active this year in addressing the water crisis even though it has traditionally been the province of the Modesto Irrigation District to supply water. He said that County government is obligated to make sure that laws are in place to protect the residents of Stanislaus County from shortages.
One measure that Supervisor Withrow supported was the ordinance that prohibits exporting groundwater from Stanislaus County to destinations outside the County. Therefore, wells cannot be used to supply customers outside of the county. The law does not interfere with existing Modesto Irrigation District operations or agreements.
Stanislaus County has also started a project along the San Joaquin River to treat wastewater so that it can be recycled and used on farms in the Del Puerto Water District. Instead of flowing into the river, it will stay on land for crop production. Supervisor Withrow said that he has been trying to get money to fund the project from Washington D.C. and reports that the request he submitted has been accepted enthusiastically. He is expecting some funding to be approved, up to $100 million, in the upcoming legislative session.
Supervisor Withrow is a member of the newly formed 21 person “Water Advisory Committee,” which is studying the water crisis and is expected to make further recommendations about how best to deal with the ongoing water shortage.
To encourage farming to continue in Stanislaus County, the Board of Supervisors voted to allow the Williamson Act to continue, resulting in the continuation of reduced property taxes for farmers.
When the Emergency Services Contract was up for renewal by AMR Incorporated, Supervisor Withrow questioned how patients transported from the County to a hospital could be billed $3000. He was told that 80 percent of those transported don’t pay their bill and that the company has to recover its costs. According to Mr. Withrow, the County cannot regulate rates charged by an ambulance company. In renewing the contract, Supervisor Withrow said that he did obtain an agreement from AMR to reimburse the County volunteer fire department $158 for each incident in which a fire truck had to respond to an AMR request for assistance. The County chose not to put the contract up for competitive bidding in exchange for the $158 consideration in the new agreement. It is unknown whether another company would have bid for the contract had it been let. County residents will not see lower ambulance fees as a result of the new contract. The contract does not affect ambulance charges within incorporated cities.
During Supervisor Withrow’s term, the Helen White Memorial Trail was built connecting Maze Boulevard to California Street for pedestrian use. The Shackelford Neighborhood was annexed to the City of Modesto. No funding is available to upgrade the county island neighborhood located west of Carpenter Road and north of Woodland Avenue. The City of Modesto will not annex the area until the infrastructure of the neighborhood is upgraded to city standards.
Through informal monthly meetings between city and county leaders, intergovernmental relations have improved cooperation in providing services. Transportation partnerships have formed and urban development competition has ended. Urban growth is being directed to the cities.
Four More Years?
If elected to serve four more years, Supervisor Withrow wants to continue working on projects he started during his first term. Some of the projects are listed above. He stated that he would like to see urban limit lines established. He said that there are not enough votes on the Board of Supervisors to put a proposal on the ballot, so he will work with initiative proponents to get a measure on the ballot to establish limit lines for the City of Modesto.
Mr. Withrow wants to continue to push the first phase of the 132 freeway forward. He would like to see the toxic waste site within the right of way properly mitigated, but only would commit to “a safe solution.” Caltrans is expected to present a recommendation in September. Supervisor Withrow acknowledged that a below grade facility east of Carpenter Road would require the removal of all the toxic waste piles and would also reduce the amount of noise that would affect the adjacent neighborhood. An elevated freeway, as proposed by Caltrans, would not be aesthetically pleasing. He said that the project has enough funds to build the freeway from Highway 99 to Dakota Road. Because the funding is in place, he does not believe there would be support among all of the elected officials to stop the project altogether, regardless of whether he is reelected. Mr. Withrow also expressed support for a full freeway interchange at Carpenter Road.
Supervisor Withrow said that the Board of Supervisors has a billion dollar budget. Seventy-five percent of the budget presently goes to addressing problems that have the root cause of the breakdown of the family. He said that he would like to divert some of that seventy-five percent toward prevention by promoting mentoring programs and other low cost interventions.
Long Range Plans
Supervisor Withrow concluded the interview by stating that he wants one more term to finish what he has started. Then, he will turn the job over to a new person. He expects the new person will keep Stanislaus County moving forward.