Valley leaders pick best proposals to attract stimulus dollars

Hoping to increase chances at landing coveted stimulus money, San Joaquin Valley leaders are cherry- picking the most attractive proposals to trot before federal decision makers.

Sexiest are ideas with regional support and huge impact, experts said this week at a strategy meeting in Modesto. Proposals pumping dollars into the economy and putting people to work immediately get extra points, they said.

"You can try to go it alone, but we'll have a lot more clout if we go in together," said Mike Dozier, lead executive of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley's secretariat. It's rallying the valley's eight counties and 62 cities, from Lodi to Bakersfield.

The partnership was among the state's first regions to submit an initial wish list April 1, showing 2,412 potential projects that would cost more than $9 billion. State officials were impressed with its thoroughness, said former Assemblywoman Nicole Parra of Hanford, who coordinates job growth for the governor's administration.

But the valley still faces stiff competition from the politically connected Bay Area and Southern California, Parra said. So Dozier's office is showcasing the valley's most promising ideas.

A pared list highlights about $1 billion-worth of the valley's most stimulating ideas. The partnership will pitch them to state leaders, who would lobby federal officials with extra effort. California is expected to draw about $44 billion of the $787 federal stimulus package.

For example, school officials want to put $44 million-worth of solar panels on campuses in Ceres, Hilmar, Hughson, Patterson, Newman and Crows Landing. The panels might generate 70 percent of the schools' energy needs and could bring in money by selling power during the summer when the sun shines bright and classrooms are empty.

"If they want to get some money moving out on the street, this really fits the bill," said Fred Van Vleck, director of educational serv- ices for Ceres Unified School District.

Two months ago, his district intended to pursue $44 mil- lion in stimulus money on its own but reconsidered when valley leaders urged multiagency proposals. So Ceres joined with Turlock Irrigation District and school districts in its area, plus Chevron Energy Solutions, which offers solar packages pre- approved by state officials.

And saving money will help preserve teaching jobs, Van Vleck said.

Patterson, Newman, Gus- tine and Stanislaus County are teaming with several health care organizations on another proposal to bring telemedicine to the underserved West Side of the valley.

"The West Side is in serious, serious isolation," said Keith Boggs, county deputy executive officer.

Other highlighted projects in the north valley include Highway 99 interchange reconstruction at Kiernan Avenue in Salida, Pelandale Avenue in Modesto and Service Road in Ceres. And officials hope to establish job programs, offer electric cars and retrofit diesel polluters throughout the valley.

"We must, as a region, come together or we're going to keep sucking ditch water," said Jim Tischer, program manager at Fresno's Center for Irrigation Technology.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star