A neighborhood group is asking the City Council to put a Measure M advisory vote on a future ballot, asking voters to approve a sewer line extension to the Parklawn area of south Modesto.
In another ballot issue, the council could decide this evening to ask voters in November to change the runoff system for council and mayoral races. Changes recommended by a mayor-appointed committee would do away with council runoffs and move the mayoral runoff from early December to the first Tuesday in February.
Parklawn residents struggle with failing septic tanks, causing waste water to overflow onto their properties and the streets. In addition, the saturated soil is causing some homes to sink.
The 80-acre neighborhood off Hatch Road, just west of Highway 99, was built to the careless building standards of the 1940s and 1950s. Measure M votes are required before sewer lines can be extended.
The request from Parklawn United Neighbors was put on the council agenda for this evening, but representatives have asked the council to consider it July 13 so residents can attend the meeting.
"There are hundreds of communities like Parklawn in the state, but it's in the worst shape of any that I've seen," said Martha Guzman, a legislative advocate for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation in Sacramento. The legal group is working with neglected communities in California, including Parklawn.
Guzman said it's a good time to start the process for a sewer extension because of available grants for community improvements. Recent federal changes to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund could provide grants for funding 75 percent of the project, with the balance financed by a low-interest loan, she said.
Efforts to improve neighborhoods such as Parklawn, an unincorporated area of Stanislaus County, were dealt a setback when a state budget move in May took money from local redevelopment agencies.
The county has a $12 million plan to improve the streets and lay lines to connect Parklawn's 326 homes to Modesto's sewer system. The city expects the county to pay for improvements before it allows the sewer hookups.
City Councilman Dave Geer said he supports putting the issue to a public vote but doesn't know if a majority of council members will agree next week. His council district would absorb Parklawn if it is annexed to Modesto.
"It remains to be seen what comes out of this," Geer said. "It is a hard situation in that it's one of the most depressed (county islands) in the Modesto sphere of influence."
Parklawn lies inside the district of county Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who has worked with other south Modesto neighborhoods to connect to city sewer service.
"I don't have a problem with putting it on the ballot, but funding is the issue," DeMartini said.
Hortencia Franco, a member of Parklawn United Neighbors, said the group is representative of most Parklawn residents. She has gone to community meetings for several years to try to spur local government action.
Some of her neighbors can't wash their clothes and take showers at the same time; others don't use their own bathrooms. Her list of desired improvements includes things taken for granted in subdivisions built today.
"We don't have any sidewalks. We need to fix our streets, and mostly we need to connect to city sewer lines," she said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2321.