ALLEN: No outgrowing the dilemma over Modesto's growth

columns@modbee.comAugust 12, 2013 

Ah, here we go again. ("Council to put growth to vote," Aug. 8) "To grow or not to grow, that is the question, whether 'tis nobler to suffer ... outrageous fortune or take arms against a sea of developers." Once more the problem of where, if, how and how much Modesto growth should be allowed rears its ugly, but very familiar head.

I played a minor part in the part in the passage of Measure A in 1979 requiring a public vote before city sewer lines could be extended. These were heady times — the typical standoff between the greedy, money-grubbing developers with outside money vs. the liberal, tree hugging anti-growth zealots. With a lot of hard work, especially from Peggy Mensinger and Sue Siefkin, the anti-growth measure passed. Problem solved? History was to prove otherwise as Modesto growth continued on its merry way.

With 50 years to observe Modesto and the growth issue, I come away with some axioms that have proven true over the years.

There is no relationship between population growth and unemployment rate. The unemployment rate in the 1960s was roughly the same as in recent years, even subtracting the recent recession. During that time we have grown from 40,000 to over 200,000 resident. There is some underlying economic force requiring only 90 of every 100 new, employable arrivals to find jobs. Those who use our high unemployment level to support population growth are misleading the public.

"Slow growth" and "smart growth" are both oxymorons. The first ignores the long-term problems of growth and any speed, and the latter simply crowds more people into less space, ah la San Jose/San Francisco. The problem is not how fast people come or where we put them, but whether they come at all — and, with occasional relief from economic downturns, they still come.

Growth, controlled or otherwise, is regional, not local. Should Modesto effectively limit population growth, Oakdale will continue to ooze south toward our northern border and Turlock will continue metastasizing north to our southern border in ways unacceptable to Modesto's pride and psyche. Should all communities in Stanislaus County agree on growth limitations (and should elephants sprout wings and fly), there would be hope to retain the semi-rural, agriculture-based living style we appreciate in the valley. But not until then.

We ignore long-term thinking. I was once told "short-term planning is next Friday, long-term planning is the Friday after that." True if we consider Modesto over the next 10 years when we should be thinking, what happens to agriculture and what kind of place will Modesto be in 100 years? The space is fixed, the population is increasing — San Jose, here we come!

With tongue in cheek I once suggested on these pages we have check points on every road into Stanislaus County, allowing three types of entries — those traveling through to other regions, those given a 60-day visa requiring them to depart thereafter, and those lucky few who live here and may come and go as they wish. In 100 years, we would be the only place in California with lawns or orchards. Looks better all the time.

Allen is a semiretired Modesto physician and regular community columnist. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.

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