SALIDA — Arguing that the community's future quality of life depends on it, Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh told a gathering Saturday that Salida needs to be part of Modesto or become a city itself. He added that he doesn't think the latter is the way to go, but challenged Salidans to find out for themselves.
Marsh held a sparsely attended town hall meeting at Gregori High School, just north of Modesto, from 1 to 3 p.m. It touched on a few topics brought up by residents public-safety staffing, homelessness, water conservation before settling into an hourlong discussion of the proposed annexation of Salida by Modesto.
"I know you're distrustful," he told Salida residents who turned out. "But we're not going to have a surprise vote to annex you. We're not going to go to LAFCo (the Local Agency Formation Commission) without an advisory vote of the people of Salida. We'll keep you clearly informed before taking any steps."
Marsh said he first brought up annexation in February 2012. "You haven't seen me rushing to push anything down anyone's throat, and you won't."
Karen Gorne of the Salida Municipal Advisory Council told Marsh that, yes, she is distrustful. She came to Saturday's meeting to see if the annexation proposal still was alive, because after Salida MAC and county supervisors came out against it, she'd hoped the issue was dead.
Marsh replied that he believes Salida MAC said "no" without having all the facts. An ad hoc committee that's been formed is not tasked with exploring just the pros and cons of Modesto annexing Salida, he said. "Part of the ad hoc study is fully exploring the ability of Salida to become its own city. Salida needs to be incorporated either as a city of its own or as part of Modesto."
Urban areas belong in cities, not counties, Marsh said; the people of Salida will get improved services by being part of Modesto. As an example, he cited law enforcement. On any given day, the Modesto Police Department's lowest level of staffing is having nine patrol cars on duty between the hours of 3:30 and 6 a.m., he said. By comparison, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department during those same hours has six cars patrolling the entire county.
But the county has a lower crime rate, a few audience members said to him. "They do not," the mayor replied, saying that if you remove a couple of crime-magnet areas, the overall crime rates are on par. He then was accused of trying to manipulate numbers.
Bottom line: "If we changed Salida's name to Modesto, it wouldn't change your crime rate," but it would increase the level of law-enforcement service.
Asked why the city is pursuing growth outward instead of filling in where businesses have left, Marsh said Salida development would be business parks, light industrial. "I don't mean filling the Raley's and Gottschalks spots in Century Center. That's going to happen anyway," he said.
"We're talking 30 years, 40 years of business park development," he continued, then later added, "We need to get a business park built," whether it's in an incorporated or annexed Salida. "That's our future, folks."
The youth of this area will graduate from high school and college and have to leave to find work unless we create jobs here, Marsh said.
And he warned that no matter which way Salida goes pursuing incorporation or agreeing to annexation it needs to happen before the land is built out. If Modesto were to annex Salida, it initially would get zero property tax, he said; tax would come only with property that is developed or improved. Ditto for Salida incorporating. "If you want to be a city, you have to incorporate before the building occurs, because otherwise that money will never come to you," he said.
Salida MAC member Ana San Nicolas said that while she doesn't support annexation by Modesto, she is a community planner and doesn't think Salida is ready to be a city yet, either. "I don't want to see us fail like other cities have done, like Waterford, which shouldn't have been a city when it became one. We need to do this right, whether it's becoming a city or staying part of the county. ... We need long-term planning."
Marsh agreed that Salida isn't ready to incorporate. Though it would need to be a city to draw tax from business park development as it happens, it currently doesn't have the tax base to support services to residents. But don't take his word on it, he said. "Can Salida be its own city? Study Ripon, Patterson, Waterford, Riverbank," he said. "Do the research."