Image of City Manager Joe Lopez

City Manager's Blog

Sep 21

Temporary Homeless Camping at Beard Brook Park

Posted on September 21, 2018 at 4:36 PM by Thomas Reeves

Make no mistake, the issue of homelessness in the City of Modesto is a crisis.  Travel past any number of our city parks recently and you would have seen homeless encampments popping up all over.  This is simply unacceptable.

Recently, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that a city cannot criminalize a homeless person for unlawful camping if there are no available beds in shelters.  Homeless individuals and homeless advocates took this as an opportunity to more blatantly set up camp in some of our most populate and visible public spaces.  At this point, it has become increasingly challenging for our law enforcement personnel to enforce our current laws regarding camping in our parks.

As we weigh the implications of this decision, and review our current policies and ordinances, a temporary solution – some would call it a Band-Aid – is required.  

The city’s leadership team has decided to allow for homeless camping at Beard Brook Park.  Beard Brook Park is a reasonable location for homeless camping for several reasons.  Essentially, it is not yet widely used by the public, and as a matter of fact, the park is not located adjacent to schools or residential neighborhoods.  By asking homeless individuals to vacate the other parks in our city, and moving them to this one location, our public safety personnel will have a clear line of sight to those who need these services most.  

It is absolutely my intention - and the goal of our team - to open Beard Brook and its new dog park, and to celebrate the larger Tuolumne River Regional Park program, very soon.  We anticipate this park and the Tuolumne River will be a huge draw for dog owners and recreationalists alike.

This situation is evolving by the hour, and soon our team will have a plan to address the immediate needs of this make-shift homeless camp at Beard Brook Park.  I am committed to ensuring the safety of those in and around this park by ensuring law enforcement is present, and basic human needs are met, including washing stations and restroom facilities. In addition, our partners with the Outreach & Engagement Team will be out there daily creating opportunities for these individuals to obtain various services.

I want to make clear, the city will not back down from tackling the homelessness crisis head-on because we firmly believe the safety and health of our communities, and everyone who calls Modesto home, is at risk.  

At the same time, however, we are not neglecting the larger issue at-hand: we need more beds for those in need.  We need a brick-and-mortar building, an emergency low-barrier shelter for those who need a bed and access to services.  

We continue to collaborate with the county and our community partners on the next phase of addressing this crisis, and we will offer sites that could work as a shelter.  Certainly there is a more permanent need for shelter beds in Modesto and throughout the state, but we will tackle this by taking one step at a time.

As we work together to address this serious issue in Modesto, I will continue to entertain any and all innovative concepts for meeting the needs of each member – regardless of where they lay their head at night – in our community.
Sep 07

Pulse Check on Modesto Crime

Posted on September 7, 2018 at 9:02 AM by Thomas Reeves

This week's post is provided by guest blogger, Police Chief Galen Carroll

Modesto has a reputation of being a rough city when it comes to crime in spite of our great neighborhoods and neighborhood groups. There’s no doubt we face a lot of challenges in public safety. 

It is a fact that Modesto has a higher crime rate per 1,000 people than the average crime rate for in California.  We have often been ranked in the top five for both violent crime and property crime per capita for the state.

The goal of the Modesto Police Department – really, your entire group of city leaders – is to “Make Modesto Better.”  

Year after year, crime reporting statistics show fluctuating increases and decreases, and they’re never really an accurate measurement of the police department’s performance or the strategies we have been employing to combat the crime in our city. 

In 2012, the police department compiled a 10-year report on crime in our city in comparison to the rest of the state. We found our violent crime and property crime were consistently higher than the state average. Since that time we have implemented new area commands for greater accountability, implemented intelligence-led policing strategies to focus on the offenders committing the most crime, invested in a robust Predictive Policing program, implemented greater reporting and crime trend analyses, and built a real-time crime center. These strategies have had the most impact on our property crime rates. 

This year, for the first time in over a decade, Modesto was not ranked #1 in auto theft per capita in the nation – or even in the top 5 cities.  

Below is a comparison of the property crime reduction in Modesto as compared to the State of California; it shows the percent difference from 2012 to 2017:

   Burglary Auto Theft Larceny TOTAL
MODESTO -46% -22% -16% -28%
CALIFORNIA -28% -0.1% 1.1% -4%

Modesto is on the right track, though we definitely have a lot more work to do in order to meet the state average for crime.  

While there is reason to celebrate the reduction in property crime in our city, I continue to focus on the violent crime problem.  Below is a comparison of violent crimes in Modesto as compared to the State of California; it shows the percent difference from 2012 to 2017:

   Homicide Rape Robbery
 0% 86% 15% 43% 30%
 CALIFORNIA -2.6% 88% 2% 11.6% 11.2%

I attribute the large increase in rapes, both for the state and city, to the change in reporting criterion by the department of justice. 

The increase in robberies and aggravated assault is highly alarming to me as your police chief. In the last several years, the State of California has implemented multiple changes to the criminal justice system.  Each of these changes has resulted in the release of more offenders onto the streets of Modesto and California. Many of those offenders had violent criminal histories; however their incarceration charges were not considered “violent” by the State, and therefore they were released without regard for their past offenses.  This has had an impact on our crime rates. 

Equally concerning here in Modesto is the level of violence in the home.  Our rate of domestic violence has increased 44% in the last five years from 877 cases in 2013 to 1,320 last year. Domestic Violence is never acceptable, and the Police Department is actively working with the District Attorney’s office and the courts to help address those volatile relationships. Individuals experiencing Domestic Violence should reach out for help from counselors, churches, friends, and family to break that cycle of violence. 

There is help for those who need it.  Members of the community who are in an abusive relationship can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Local resources are also available with the Family Justice Center at (209) 525-5130 and at 1418 J St. in Modesto. 

There are many factors that come into play when considering how crime affects the quality of life in our city. Residents are encouraged to continue to get to know your neighbors.  We continue to be rated among the top cities in participation for National Night out for the past five years. 

The tighter we are as a community, the more we can look out for each other and help prevent many of the property crimes. In working toward preventing crime, we can all do our part in making sure to secure our homes and vehicles, not leaving valuables in plain sight, utilizing anti-theft devices on older model cars, and never leaving cars running unattended.  Remember to be cognizant of your surroundings and pay attention to the world around you, not just the cellphone in front of you.  Look for things that seem out of place and trust your instincts.

I, like you, desire a community where we feel safe to go for a walk at night, go shopping, and enjoy our neighborhoods.  Together we can make Modesto better for all of us, and for our children and grandchildren.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about my department, please call me at (209) 572-9501.

Galen Carroll

Aug 31

Modesto: Tree City, USA

Posted on August 31, 2018 at 11:39 AM by Thomas Reeves

In 1883, when construction of the McHenry Mansion landmark was completed, Robert and Matilda McHenry planted at least 20 trees along 15th and I Streets.  

Cleary Mr. McHenry knew of the immense benefits of having a tree-filled neighborhood, and those benefits have been at the heart of the city’s tree program ever since.  Not unlike many cities across the county, there is an expectation of trees in Modesto.  The benefits of a healthy tree population are vast, from the numerous environmental qualities to the aesthetic value that comes with a green canopy in a city park or along a busy street.  Our city trees reduce energy costs, help storm water management, control erosion, boost property values, build ties to our neighborhoods and neighbors, and help us better connect to the outdoors.

At one time, Modesto was one of only 3,400 communities nationwide labeled “Tree City, USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation.  In the mid-90’s the city maintained more than 110,000 street trees; and today, we oversee 81,000 trees.  

As I’m sure you can imagine, a tight budget often hinders the city’s ability to keep up with the challenges of a healthy urban forest.  

Let me give you a specific example of a challenge the city faces in maintaining its massive tree program.  

According to forestry experts, a city tree should be pruned – depending on its species, of course – at least every seven years; this has been difficult for the city to manage. 

Beyond pruning, another aspect of maintenance is water, and on a very oversimplified level, without the abundance of this cherished resource, city trees are certainly not getting the drink they need in order to remain healthy.  And on a global scale, a tree that experiences the devastation of drought is far less likely to survive.

Water is critical in ensuring a tree has the proper ability to push out killer insects and the strength to shore up its limbs.  

This city is working hard to address the challenges we face with the forestry budget and maintenance program.  We’ve got a team of people removing and pruning 40-60 trees per month, and we continue to work down a backlog of nearly 500 trees that have not yet been cared for.  Though by no means ideal, when a dead tree is reported to the city, the entire process from proper diagnosis to stump grind can take a year and a half.  

With all the challenges, I'm encouraged by the team of passionate experts we have in place to delicately manage our city trees.  Our team has some innovative ideas – including the pursuit of grant funding – for addressing our critical tree program, and we’re partnering with local groups and advocates to ensure our trees are given every possible access to water and maintenance.  I encourage more discussion on this, and we welcome your ideas on how to effectively maintain this valuable resource so we will continue to be known as a Tree City, USA.  

For now, I encourage members of the community to download the GoModesto app so you can report tree concerns.  The GoModesto app is a communication tool that allows City residents to easily connect with government services.  This intuitive, on-the-go reporting tool provides quick, easy access to online systems in seventeen languages, and helps residents instantly submit service requests to the appropriate department.  With one click, report your concerns!  Find it in your convenient app store.