The Modesto Chamber of Commerce is to be commended for advancing the paradox of urban development and agricultural preservation. For decades, sides have been taken and lines have been drawn in attempts to carve out, in piecemeal fashion, areas to urbanize.
For some, if you don't grow you die! For others, growing urban is an oxymoron for one of the most prolific agricultural growing areas in the world! Who's right?
The chamber's massive areas of planning provide an opportunity for those of us who call Stanislaus County home to answer the call. Who is right? We are!
There is at least one thing about the collapse of the housing industry and financial debacle of 2008 no one was untouched by its negative impact. Like it or not, we are interdependent. Big or small, urban or rural, what goes around, comes around.
Agricultural investment zones (AIZ) are identified on the chamber's map as areas presumed to be dedicated long term, if not in perpetuity, to agriculture. What's not to like about that?
On top of that, at recent Modesto City Council meetings, the chamber and the Building Industry of California, in public endorsed residential urban limits! Is this the end? Is the sky truly falling? Do pigs now fly?
No. We are living through an era of expected consequences. The housing industry continues to be choked as an aftermath of 2008, while agricultural sales hit new highs, exceeding $3.2 billion for 2012 in Stanislaus County. We will obviously need food forever and ever, amen. And we will need housing in areas that minimize negative impacts upon that which we are world class at doing growing food!
So what are agricultural investment zones? In general they are areas designed for long-term protection of agriculture. Yet beyond that, a take-it-to-the-bank definition is forming. With 10 different land-use authorities in Stanislaus County (excluding schools), how can our local representatives ever work it out? Let's give them time while holding them accountable. Local government is having a rough time providing services, so expect that each city and the county will want these AIZs to have something in it for them.
But let's not wait. Let's stop the planned urbanization of our best soils. AIZs may be the best new tool to replace the political hammer of signature gathering and ballot-box planning because citizens feel at odds with voting by boards and councils.
We have recently witnessed significant movement for farmland protection.
Stanislaus County has an effective ag element in its general plan. Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission now requires cities to have a plan for farmland protection. The city of Hughson has 2-1 mitigation for farmland loss to urbanization (Two acres must be set aside for each acre that is urbanized). Turlock's general plan seeks a smart growth approach, and the Modesto City Council is sending a residential urban limit for voter approval next year.
Local leaders have examples of working together on land-use issues. agricultural investment zones may be the proper tool at the proper time to make us in Stanislaus County a superior model by choice!
Jackman, a former Modesto City Council member, is active in farmland preservation efforts and the proponent of a residential urban limit for the city.