Interim City Administrator Steve Frazier, a former Madera police chief who took over the city’s top job after former City Administer David Tooley resigned and then retired in December, put a challenge before the City Council during a Tuesday budget discussion which may have taken council members by surprise.
“We need to have bold vision by the council to move the city forward,” he said.
Unspoken was the implication that this council and past councils have been a little short in the vision department.
Not since the Vision 2025 program was initiated several years ago have any councils taken a look at where the city is headed.
Frazier is right. The council needs to break out of its rut and move forward instead of waiting for the cavalry, in the form of out-of-town money, to come to the rescue.
Frazier even went to a conference in Las Vegas to set about selling the City of Madera to businesses and other organizations looking for places to land.
He didn’t get any takers, but the process of selling a location is arduous and takes some time — sometimes a lot of time.
It has to be done, though.
You also have to have something to sell besides “We’re right in the center of California.”
For example, how could we lure a business such as a cheese factory to town without the sewer capacity to handle such an enterprise?
We were reminded of that Wednesday night when a request by Baltimore Air Coil to hook up to the city’s sewer was denied because of lack of capacity of our trunk lines. Baltimore Air Coil has been using its own wells and septic tanks, but that’s poor policy if you have an alternative.
What kind of town doesn’t have an adequate sewer system? A town where years ago councils made decisions not to provide for growth. Of course, they thought they were doing the right thing by doing that. They wanted to restrict growth by keeping Madera as a quiet little farm-service community.
But the days of that being good policy are long gone.
Farming has changed, and so have farmers and their expectations of where they want to live and rear their families.
How often do we hear moaning and groaning about how “Madera’s downtown needs to be fixed up. It’s a mess!” Well, nobody’s going to fix up downtown unless the people who own it can see gain in doing it. In other words, unless they can participate in a general prosperity.
Madera can still be an excellent farm-service community as part of a larger vision — a vision that includes welcoming new ideas that build on what we already have. For example, vertical integration with agriculture has worked with nuts and wine grapes; why not add dairy to that mix by doing what it takes to get a cheese factory to locate here. After all, we have a big dairy industry, but the milk all has to be hauled to factories in other counties, which makes it tough on the dairy farmers who have to pay for the haul, and who don’t usually have it easy under the best of circumstances.
The Madera County Arts Council, in conjunction with Madera County and the City of Madera, is trying to create a center for the arts. That would do a lot to draw new residents for whom the arts are an important part of their lives.
We’ve seen at least one set of ideas for this, from Paul Halajian Architects of Clovis, but the arts council is going to have to move now to expand. It’s moving to a building on Gateway Drive, which will be perfectly adequate, but also right across the street from the railroad tracks. That takes a bit of the steam out of a cultural arts center, at least for now.
Frazier is right when he says the council needs a vision for the future, but that won’t come easy.
He made a step in the right direction Tuesday by challenging to council to think in larger terms than it usually does.