TRACY - Central Valley mayors will gather in Stockton on Friday to talk about gang violence, air quality, higher education, transportation funding and just about anything else that city officials are concerned with these days.
It will be a repeat of a conference in Fresno last year hosted by that city's mayor, Alan Autry, who modeled the conference on a nationwide event that brings the mayors of U.S. cities together. The group of mayors, which includes Lodi Mayor Susan Hitchcock, already tentatively scheduled its next meeting for next year in Bakersfield.
Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto, the host of this year's event, said that the growth facing the state as a whole will have a big impact on the Central Valley. That means that political leaders in the valley need to brace themselves for the prospect of the valley's population doubling in the next 40 years.
Podesto said that the daylong conference at the Radisson Hotel will offer city leaders a look at issues that will be high priorities for just about every city in the Central Valley.
"All of the projections are that the state is going to grow, and this is the area where the state will grow. But we still don't lead in funding to assist transportation and housing," Podesto said, adding that the issues posed by growth are varied. City leaders learned at last year's conference that a big city like Fresno, a medium-size city like Stockton and a small city like Tracy all have similar challenges.
"We're far more alike than we are different," he said.
Podesto said he hopes the conference turns out to be more than just an educational experience, noting that it could lead to a way to advocate for the needs of cities on a state and federal level on behalf of Central Valley mayors.
"We discussed last year maybe having someone become the executive director to have this ongoing and have some meat to it," he said. "That's the whole idea: To get the valley to speak together."
Tracy Mayor Dan Bilbrey said political leaders across the valley are already dealing with the impacts of population growth. The Great Valley Center in Modesto projects that the population of the 18-county region, from Shasta County to Kern County, will grow from 5.6 million residents to 11.5 million residents by 2040.
"The forecast is that the Central Valley will really be impacted by this population increase, and we need to have our act together, knowing what we're going to do and how we're going to do it," he said.
The daylong conference will touch on varied issues. Featured speakers will include Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, chancellor of University of California, Merced, and Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy.
Podesto said he hopes the conference will highlight issues that will be adopted by state and federal legislators, adding that Pombo was invited because he's taking on a bigger role in policy discussion in Washington, D.C. as chairman of the Resources Committee and a member of the Agriculture and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
The conference will also feature a panel focusing on gang violence, with panelists including the police chiefs from Stockton and Fresno, a criminology professor from California State University, Fresno, and the gang coordinator from the California Youth Authority.
Another workshop will focus on air quality, and the panel will include the president of the California Trucking Association, the executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and a representative from the California Fuel Cell Partnership.
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