Modesto chamber's plan could cover best land with sprawl

June 4, 2013 

— Before the Stamp Out Sprawl movement becameMeasure E and was publicly voted "the law of the land," each member of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors was consulted and asked to place the initiative on the ballot.

We wanted our representatives to understand our intent to direct housing into cities in order to prevent sprawl and better capture the costs of urban services. Salida was not the issue; they could exclude it from the language. To put it mildly, the supervisors balked, called it back-room dealing and did everything in their power to delay and minimize a citizen vote on one of the major issues of the day.

The public responded with a super-majority vote to direct housing and reduce unwanted sprawl onto our best farmland.

Recently, I advanced an idea for Modesto to reflect that public sentiment by establishing a Residential Urban Limit to direct housing and reduce unwanted sprawl onto our best farmland. Even though it was made clear that the City Council would choose the line, it has met with an amazing amount of resistance. Yet, the value of the idea remains.

Let's take a component of sprawl — housing — and use it as a tool to direct it toward the lesser soils and to prevent the old bait and switch. That is the term used when vast areas are proposed for job creation, then switched to housing development that adds to our bedroom community concerns.

Now that the Modesto Chamber of Commerce has rolled out an idea to consider adding vast amounts of land to our development inventory, my concern about bait and switch returns to focus.

Focus is the key. The existing Sphere of Influence of the city of Modesto is nearly the same size as when it was adopted in 1972. There remains about 10,000 acres of undeveloped and underdeveloped land within the sphere. Additionally, two major and improving transportation corridors, Kiernan Avenue and Pelandale Expressway border much of this important area. Soon both roadway systems will be six lanes each. Though this area has incredibly superior food-growing soils and is now known as a high water recharge area, there is a proposal for more housing — not jobs — within it.

Go figure? Why is such a highly regarded area for quality farmland and job creation going into more housing? Ask the proponents of the chamber plan. Ask the city. Ask the county. All continue to fight over the job component by blaming one another for the impasse. Yet for years — no, decades — plans have been in the city and county between Modesto and Salida to convert that incredible farmland for "job creation."

How can our community ever endorse a plan that discounts existing plans and speculates the elimination of our finest soils? Having a vision may be fleeting. Taking focus requires consistence and persistence.

Jackman's Rural Urban Limit proposal will be discussed at 5 p.m. today by the Modesto City Council's Economic Development Committee, meeting in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place.

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