Riverbank-based consultant Virginia Madueño, who until recently served as Riverbank’s mayor, coordinated the conference at the West Side Theatre on behalf of mayors Luis Molina of Patterson and Ed Katen of Newman. Madueño has promoted a study by Shawn Kantor, a professor at University of California, Merced, that predicts the restoration project could create more than 11,000 jobs.
“I really think Patterson, Newman and even Livingston has enormous potential,” Madueño said during the conference. “I really think you are on the brink of something huge.”
Kantor was among the speakers Thursday to address the 20 attendees, about half of whom spoke during the conference.
Also speaking during the four-hour session were Dan DeSantis, CEO of the Fresno Regional Foundation, which sponsored Kantor’s study, and former Stanislaus County Deputy Executive Officer Richard Jantz, who discussed numerous tourism opportunities the project could bring to the county.
The project entails restoring spring-run Chinook salmon on a 153-mile stretch between Friant Dam east of Madera and the confluence of the San Joaquin River with the Merced River east of Newman. Doing so will return water to portions of the river that are now typically dry.
In November, the state Department of Fish and Game reintroduced salmon from the Hills Ferry area east of Newman to a stretch of the river 20 miles from Friant Dam.
The salmon effort is just one part of the restoration work, most of which is expected to be completed within seven years. The various projects include water management and construction of channels and structural improvements, including a fish barrier about 20 miles southeast of Patterson.
Jobs potential predicted
Kantor’s study, released in September, predicts the project will directly create 4,696 jobs — mostly in the construction industry, but some in scientific fields.
It also predicts that restoration work could produce 1,891 indirect jobs as the result of supply-chain purchases, benefiting fields such as the cement industry, and 3,696 induced jobs involving real estate agents, retailers and other industries that could benefit from the project.
Another 635 or so jobs could be created by private groups seeking grants to carry out restoration efforts of their own, the study predicts.
Kantor told conference attendees the project would also lead to some job losses in agriculture. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials estimate deliveries to farm water districts will drop by 140,000 acre-feet to 170,000 acre-feet annually, as water is diverted back to the river.
At the same time, he said the project could have other benefits, such as improving surrounding property values.
“Studies do show that people value having amenities,” he said. “Restoring a river closer to its natural state probably will have a positive effect on land values.”
Tourist destination envisioned
Jantz, the former county deputy executive officer, said the restoration project could benefit the region not only in terms of the jobs it would produce, but also in the tourism dollars it could create.
He said Interstate 5 and Highway 99 already bring tourists into the county. He cited a 2012 study conducted on behalf of the California Travel and Tourism Commission that indicated travelers spent $420.2 million in Stanislaus County in 2010, up from $229.1 million in 1992.
Despite that progress, Jantz said officials could do a better job of marketing the region.
He recalled speaking with a Middle Eastern resident who noted that the Central Valley is filled with beautiful orchards, but they are not generally open to the public and can be viewed only from freeways.
“If you build something of interest, people will come,” Jantz said. “People are looking for new experiences.”
Madueño similarly recalled how delegates from China who visited the northern San Joaquin Valley in June appeared more impressed by the Central Valley than by areas typically frequented by tourists, such as San Francisco.
“They said, ‘You have an amazing, amazing valley … and yet you pay so little attention to it,’” she said.
Both Madueño and Kristi Massey, who moderated a roundtable discussion at the conference about economic development related to the river, cited Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding as a model of how to attract tourists.
The park, which stands along the Sacramento River, includes an arboretum, botanical gardens, science and art museums and the city’s Sundial Bridge. The bridge relies on cables rather than underwater supports, so it does not interfere with salmon spawning in the river below.
“They took an idea and made it a destination,” Massey said.
She said she felt the West Side was similarly in “a wonderful position to be creative.”
Local opportunities anticipated
Molina, who said he wanted to serve as an ambassador for the San Joaquin River project, said the city is connected with and interested in the river.
During the conference, Molina noted that Patterson city officials had discussed expanding the city’s boundaries east to the San Joaquin River during general plan talks in 2010.
“We have lots of assets,” Molina said. “We should not only be talking about what’s wrong with us, and what do we need, but also what’s right with us and what do we have.”
Patterson resident Mary Clemmer said she wanted to see educators involved in future talks, in hopes that schools would incorporate information about the river into their curriculum.
Madueño plans to host another summit about the restoration project’s potential economic benefits some time during the spring, somewhere in the northern San Joaquin Valley. The exact time and date have not been determined.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or firstname.lastname@example.org.