Stanislaus supervisors down on Riverbank leadership

Riverbank's hope for a rebirth of its Army ammunition plant nearly was dashed Tuesday because most Stanislaus County supervisors don't trust city leadership.

Supervisors largely ignored recent political dysfunction on the Riverbank City Council, focusing instead on whether its members had wisely spent a pot of redevelopment money. The city wants to expand the pot to promote the former ammunitions plant and age-worn nearby neighborhoods.

"My vote reflects lackadaisical, at best, and poor performance" on redevelopment projects, Supervisor Jeff Grover said, "and no controls going forward."

Supervisor Vito Chiesa joined Grover in voting against Riverbank's request to include 175 unincorporated acres in a 320-acre expansion of the city's redevelopment boundary. Losing that land could cost the county $1.43 million over 45 years of collecting fewer property taxes, according to a county analysis.

Riverbank has only a vague plan for upgrading the plant or blighted neighborhoods, Chiesa said. Grover said: "It's disingenuous to hold out to these folks in a substandard community the idea that this is going to bring a lot of change. The whole reason is to improve the (plant's) commercial aspect and bring jobs."

More critical was Supervisor Bill O'Brien, who helped create Riverbank's redevelopment agency when he was the city's mayor. The county boosted the new agency then by "loaning" 92 unincorporated acres.

"We had to convince the community we would be good stewards of the money. That hasn't happened," said O'Brien, who won election to the board five years ago.

Sticking to financial issues

Supervisors did not discuss political turmoil on the Riverbank council, including the resignations of two mayors this year, a divisive recall drive or a recent grand jury report demanding the resignation of a councilman. The grand jury said Jesse James White wasn't a registered voter, as required by law, when he became a council candidate last year.

O'Brien instead outlined the city's redevelopment record, criticizing:

The $1.7 million purchase of the 1940s-era Del Rio Theater on a prominent corner. The city had hoped to renovate the landmark, but a structural analysis after the purchase deemed it unsafe, and in May council members voted to raze it.

Downtown street construction, a $9 million project running about $1 million more, and taking a year longer, than initially expected.

A $544,000 waterfall fountain at the city's gateway; $40,000 of the cost came from redevelopment funds.

"My concern is, if that's the path Riverbank is going to continue on, I'm not real interested in giving up more money for it," O'Brien said.

But he ultimately voted with Supervisors Dick Monteith and Jim DeMartini to grant Riverbank's request on a 3-2 decision.

"You barely made it," DeMartini told Tim Ogden, Riverbank's economic development director.

In a lighter moment, DeMartini said: "If we had known you would spend $500,000 on a water feature, we would have given you ours."

He referred to the much- maligned fountain in the plaza at Tenth Street Place, co-owned by Modesto and the county. Its design in the shape of a Stanislaus County topographical map was favored over others in a public survey, but found no end of detractors who called it ugly after its installation in 2000 at a cost of $558,400.

Quipped Ogden: "We wouldn't have taken it."

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