Student protesters march on Modesto mayoral gathering

A mayoral news conference about protecting local redevelopment funding was hijacked today in downtown Modesto by a large group of Modesto Junior College students protesting proposed cuts at the school.

About 70 students, who had walked out of their classes on MJC’s East Campus, marched a few blocks to Tenth Street Plaza for a rally. As they marched, the students chanted loudly — some using megaphones — urging the community to support their fight to rollback funding cuts to education.

“Our education affects you as well,” student James Varble said to officials from the county’s cities at the plaza. “All of us here, we’re also voters, and we will take vengeance at the poll booths.”

One of the student organizers said the protesters weren’t aware the mayors were also gathered there for a press conference on state funding.

Mayors from Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Riverbank, Patterson and Newman had gathered behind a podium at the downtown plaza as part of a statewide campaign to galvanize voters called “My Vote Counts.”

The effort asks voters to urge state lawmakers to fight against Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones if voters don’t extend state taxes due to expire this year.

“They’ve got to quit taking the local money,” said Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour before the student protesters arrived.

The state will lose an estimated $11 billion a year without the temporary income and sales taxes, and vehicle license fees. Brown proposes to end redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones unless other ways are found to deal with the with the state’s $26 billion budget deficit.

Cities and counties use redevelopment to bolster local economies, and the tax breaks in enterprise zones encourage employers to put people to work.

Efforts to close the budget gap also threaten cuts to social services, health care and education.

“Leave our money alone,” said Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra. “Find other ways to balance your budget.”

The mayors, who could not use the podium’s microphone due to technical difficulties, could not be heard over the loud chants from the students.

Varble said they were not aware the city officials had gathered for a news conference to speak out against state funding mess.

“We just figured this was a good place to make our voices heard,” Varble said.

The student protesters remained in the plaza for several minutes after the city officials finished their news conference. The protesters then marched back to the college campus.