Leaders in a majority of Stanislaus County's cities don't much like proposed rules that could hamper how they expand.
Heading toward Wednesday's vote by the Local Agency Formation Commission, a growth-regulating agency, six of the nine cities have come out against a farmland preservation policy, some in strongly worded letters.
"The proposed policy appears to be rushed and does not appear to be fully investigated," reads the Ceres letter, signed by its councilmen.
Modesto planning manager Patrick Kelly and others said the proposed rules would hand an "unfair advantage" to county leaders.
The proposed rules seek to slow sprawl by requiring that cities choose among options designed to save farms when cities apply to grow. Options include setting urban boundaries beyond which cities could not expand in a certain number of years, and permanently preserving so much farmland elsewhere for every acre to be developed in an annexation.
Turlock, Riverbank, Oakdale and Patterson also sent comments looking down on the policy. Newman and Waterford appear not to have weighed in, while Hughson stands alone in support of preserving the county's farming heritage and economic backbone.
"This may be the most significant policy created by Stanislaus LAFCo in the past few decades and may have far-reaching impacts for all development for decades to come," Ceres' letter reads.
LAFCo moves forward
Some cities say the rules would impinge on cities' right to determine their destinies. Others say LAFCo has no right to assume such power and urged research on how the rules could affect the environment.
Turlock planning manager Debra Whitmore said the policy could "thwart efforts to provide affordable housing and to creating balanced, sustainable cities." Some cities suggested that a mayors consortium needs more time to develop a countywide growth initiative that could be put before all voters.
LAFCo commissioners, composed of elected representatives from the county and some cities, have scoffed at the mayors' inability to produce a policy and decided a few months ago to push toward farm-saving rules. State law clearly gives them power to do so, they say, and LAFCos in several other counties have done just that.
"The cities can now be seen chasing their tails, largely at the request of developer interests," said Del Puerto Water District general manager William Harrison in a letter. He charged cities with an "inability to rein in their historic pattern of unbridled growth" and praised the idea of being "surrounded by agricultural bounty as opposed to simply owning houses in a sprawling industrial wasteland."
Job creation stunted
But the Modesto Chamber of Commerce said the rules would stunt job creation. "We must continue to diversify our economy" and not simply protect farms, chamber officers wrote.
The proposed policy is "unnecessary, unfair and unreasonable," Keystone Corp. vice president Keith Schneider wrote. Patterson Frozen Foods project manager Craig Moon said in his letter that the policy would "simply transfer money from one group future home buyers and business development to another group (the) farming industry."
Farming advocates in April sued LAFCo for not requiring farmland preservation when the agency approved Ceres' 960-acre West Landing annexation. Last month, LAFCo demanded to know why Patterson dropped farmland conservation from its 1,100-acre annexation request for an industrial park.
Tuesday's meeting also features Modesto's request to supply water to a car dealership north of the city, approved by county officials at 4249 McHenry Ave.
On the Net: www.stanislauslafco.org/info/Agenda_PDFs/12/09262012a.pdf.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.