OAKDALE -- When alerting thousands of people 14 months ago that a future freeway could affect their properties, the government overlooked 121 parcels east of Oakdale near the potential path most desired by city officials.
New evidence of Oakdale's itch to grow there seems like salt in the wound, some say.
"People are mad. People are hurt," said Sheri McRae, sizing up the feelings of neighbors whose lives could be altered by a faceless state highway bureaucracy, leaders in a city to which neighbors don't belong, or both.
Matt Machado, Stanislaus County's public works director and project leader for the North County Corridor, met with neighbors Thursday night and apologized. An outreach consultant missed them when mailing 5,942 invitations to a June 2011 meeting, he acknowledged Friday.
"It stinks that we messed up," Machado said. "It makes me feel terrible. (Landowners) feel like we're hiding something, but we don't want to hide anything."
Transportation officials have staged dozens of meetings, and dozens of newspaper articles on the future freeway have been published, many with detailed and colorful maps. But agencies must abide by rules requiring notification of property owners at specific steps in the planning process.
A letter to county officials, signed by several landowners, says people "feel as though Caltrans is trying to just slide it through, under our noses.
We have not had the opportunity to stand up for ourselves."
Transportation officials are eying three potential paths for that section of the planned freeway east of Oakdale. Two options would parallel Wamble Road to its east, but city leaders prefer one much closer to town, a bit west of Stearns Road. They figure it could brings thousands of potential shoppers each day past a future commercial center and office complex.
It's not clear how much clout the city would have with California Department of Transportation commissioners, who are expected to pick one of the paths in 2015. Construction could begin five years or so later, proceeding west toward Riverbank and Modesto.
Oakdale recently called for public input on a revamped general plan, expected to guide growth through 2030, and leaders seek comments on a pair of specific plans, the technical name for documents with details on anticipated expansion that together would augment Oakdale's housing stock by more than 20 percent and its land area by 12.5 percent.
In addition, Sierra Pointe the plan east of Oakdale could feature 1.12 million square feet of commercial and office development, potentially fed by North County Corridor traffic.
City leaders say planning ahead is their job.
"It makes good sense," Machado agreed. "Look at Highway 99. Cities grow up around freeways."
Curt Porter, who built a home for eventual retirement on 10 acres eight years ago, said it feels like someone rang a school bell signifying the end of recess just as he sat down to start lunch.
"A neighbor said, 'Hey, it looks like the bypass is going up your driveway.' I thought he was messing with me," Porter said.
Jim Godkin said he would not have bought land recently and sunk in thousands of dollars of improvements "if I would have known there was a possibility of a freeway in my back yard."
Machado said the county will mail information packets to the previously neglected landowners, including reproductions of the slide show he presented Thursday. It sets forth reasons for the 26-mile expressway smoothing traffic and drastically reducing travel time from Highway 99 to points in the east county.
The packet features maps, plus information on the city's Sierra Pointe vision.
Transportation leaders will schedule another town hall meeting to update people on the North County Corridor, hopefully in the first or second week of September, Machado said.
People can provide comments on Oakdale's draft general plan, an environmental impact report, two specific plans for growth and related documents through Sept. 17 at email@example.com, or 455 S. Fifth Ave., Oakdale 95361.
The next Joint Powers Authority meeting for the North County Corridor begins at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 19 in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
On the Net: www.ci.oakdale.ca.us/gp/Project_Documents.html.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.