SALIDA -- Some opponents claim that Modesto's motivation to annex Salida amounts to a power play, an example of Stanislaus County's largest city throwing its weight around.
Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh said the reason to absorb Salida's prime business park sites near Highway 99 is to produce thousands of jobs in a county with 15 percent unemployment.
The annexation could include the unincorporated town plus land in the 3,400-acre Salida Community Plan, a blueprint for extensive growth that could double Salida's population and create an industrial center with 27,000 jobs. Stanislaus County supervisors approved the "Salida Now" plan in 2007, but few think it's realistic today after years of recession.
Marsh is faced with selling the idea to the town's 13,700 residents, many of whom are skeptical or outright opposed. A vocal group of Salidans supported the 2007 plan to create the tax base necessary to one day become a city.
If the city and county agree to move forward with annexation, Marsh sees the process taking two to four years.
Officials say it would involve a city and county tax-sharing agreement. Modesto would take over law enforcement, street sweeping, parks and other services in Salida, which are said to cost the county $3 million more than revenue taken in from residents each year.
The city would try to spur business park development along Kiernan Avenue and Sisk Road. Other pieces include a large shopping center at the Hammett Road interchange on Salida's northern edge, and Marsh's idea for a 100-acre sports complex near Gregori High School east of town.
Transfer of services
County Supervisor Terry Withrow, who represents the area, said the Salida plan was put on hold by the recession. He said the county has three options:
It can wait for an economic rebound to put the development on track.
It can defer to those who want Salida to incorporate as a city.
It can let Modesto try to bring jobs to business park sites.
Taking over public services in Salida would be part of the package for Modesto.
Withrow said the county doesn't have the money to pay for the roads, utilities and other improvements to create shovel-ready sites for buildings in the business parks. The Salida Now plan was designed so that fees on 4,500 homes were to pay for improvements for the industrial areas. Without demand for housing, there is no revenue to pour concrete.
Withrow said Modesto may be able to pay for basic infrastructure. He figures the city also can provide better services for Salida residents.
"If Modesto wants to annex it, they have to sell it to Salida," Withrow said. "I won't support it if they can't show (that) residents will have better services."
Marsh said the city has collected developer fees for the Salida area since it was enveloped by Modesto's 20-year growth plan in 1995. But he had no estimate on available funds.
The city is able to provide water to the industrial areas. Recent decisions to drop plans for the western section of the North County Corridor greatly reduce the costs for roads to serve the growth area, Marsh said.
Annexing the area would allow the city to revise or possibly downscale the Salida growth plan. Marsh would remove plans for thousands of homes that could have boosted Salida's population to 26,000 or more.
"I don't like the idea of adding 5,000 to 6,000 housing units in Salida," said Marsh, who co-wrote the countywide Stamp Out Sprawl initiative in 2008. "I don't think most Salida residents want that."
Concerns about timing
Some community leaders think city incorporation is a viable option for Salida, but not before the economy is stronger.
Don Murphy, a former Salida Municipal Advisory Council chairman, said he worked on the Salida Now plan to create a tax base for incorporation. Today, the choices for cityhood advocates are "waiting it out and going with the plan we have now or something close to it," Murphy said.
He added: "I can't for the life of me understand why we want to be part of Modesto.
What am I going to get as a homeowner that I don't get now?"
One developer said the Salida business parks with freeway access should be attractive for companies scouting for sites in Northern California.
"It's a perfect location for the type of job-creating businesses that are coming to the valley," said Keith Schneider, vice president of Keystone Corp. The Keystone Pacific Business Park near Interstate 5 has lured large distribution centers to Patterson.
Companies usually are looking for business parks with local government approvals and basic improvements so they can start building, he said.
"Shovel-ready dirt is probably better, but these companies will spend the money necessary to extend serv-ices," Schneider said. "The market is not as robust as we would like, but it has improved."
Neither the county Board of Supervisors nor the Modesto City Council have reached a consensus on annexation. They are waiting for a $60,000 study, which is expected to show that the industrial and commercial centers would more than fund public services for Salida when completely developed.
Marsh said the preliminary analysis indicates Modesto can provide one-third more police officers per 1,000 residents in Salida than can the Sheriff's Department.
The study also will provide details on service costs, revenue projections and tax-sharing scenarios. City and county officials recently sent a draft back to Sacramento-based Goodwin Consulting for more work; the study could be finished in another week.
Gauging desire of Salidans
If Salida is added to Modesto, Marsh said, he wants it to keep its sense of community and name in perpetuity. He said he favors putting the annexation to an advisory vote of Salida residents.
County Supervisor Bill O'Brien said he will reserve his opinion until he reads the fiscal study. He said he believes a city can better serve residential areas than the county, but "I will tell you that voters of Sa-lida should determine their fate."
Modesto Councilman Dave Geer said he supports a referendum for Salida residents. He said he was neutral on whether the city should annex its neighbor.
Modesto residents also could face a Measure M advisory election, required when sewer lines are extended outside the city borders.
David Wright, a Modesto resident and insurance agent, said he has no qualms about the annexation, as long as Salida residents support it and it doesn't affect the city budget.
"If they are wanting to come into Modesto and make sure Modesto is not subsidizing them, I don't see a problem," said Wright, who has served on city committees.
Marsh knows his vision for annexation is a tough sell, especially to Salidans.
"We need to give them something they don't have now and that they want," the mayor said. "If we can't do that, they are probably not willing to be annexed."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
Modesto's proposed annexation of Salida will be discussed at the Salida Municipal Advisory Council meeting, starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Salida Library community room, 4835 Sisk Road. Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh, City Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. and Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow are expected to answer questions.