Modesto to weigh chamber's economic development plan

kvaline@modbee.comMay 28, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
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— Modesto will consider the Chamber of Commerce's economic development plan, which calls for more land for business parks and upgrading roads to attract jobs.

Chamber officials presented the plan Tuesday night before the City Council.

At the end of the presentation, Mayor Garrad Marsh said the plan will be sent to the city's Planning Commission for review. It also could be reviewed by the council's Economic Development Committee before coming back to the council.

City Manager Greg Nyhoff and council members thanked chamber officials for their hard work, soliciting input from a variety of groups and courage in taking a stand.

Echoing Michelle Obama's remarks after the election of her husband as president, Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. said: "I'm proud of my chamber for the first time in a long time. What you guys did was very impressive."

But during the two-hour presentation, chamber officials faced criticism from speakers who said the plan was a land grab to build more houses and would pave over too many acres of prime farmland.

Chamber officials stressed their proposal is about creating jobs — jobs they say will allow young people to stay in Modesto and raise their families and let commuters give up their Bay Area jobs and work near their homes.

They also said their plan allows for the continued success of the area's many food processors, such as Del Monte Foods and Frito Lay.

The plan's highlights include:

• Having Stanislaus County voters pass a road sales tax, which would fund major transportation corridors to make it easier to move goods throughout the county. For instance, chamber officials say Claus Road could be upgraded. A road sales tax could be on the ballot as soon as November 2014. The county also would receive $2 from the state and federal governments for every $1 the tax raised, allowing for more road projects.

• Upgrading Highway 132 from two to four lanes so it can serve as a direct route between Stanislaus County and the Bay Area for delivering goods by tractor-trailer to the Port of Oakland, and the San Jose and San Francisco airports.

• Creating more so-called shovel-ready land for business parks. This is property that has utilities, or a financing plan to bring utilities, and all the government permissions needed for development.

This is one of the more controversial elements of the chamber's plan. The chamber proposes to set aside several thousand acres of prime farmland west of Highway 99, from Hammett Road to roughly Kansas Avenue. The chamber proposes protecting other farmland through what it calls agriculture investment zones.

Farmer Jake Wenger said chamber officials are the very same people who opposed a recent effort to protect ag land.

Chamber officials stressed that many elements of the plan could take 50 years to come to fruition, while other elements, such as improving downtown traffic patterns for tractor-trailers, can be done quickly.

Council members also met in closed session to discuss the state's decision to build a new downtown courthouse in 2018 on 2.75 acres bordered by Ninth and 10th streets and G and H streets. The city plans to buy the properties at the site it does not own, relocate the utilities and sell the site to the state.

As of press time, the council still was discussing whether to tighten a campaign finance ordinance, which prevents council members from voting on matters affecting their major campaign donors.

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