Stanislaus planning process needs everyone's input

August 24, 2013 

DN farmland

DEBBIE NODA/dnoda@modbee.com A strawberry field along Monte Vista in Turlock, Jan. 17, 2013 is next to housing. Farmland preservation and development policies are being scrutinized in the San Joaquin Valley.

DEBBIE NODA — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

Eight to 10 years ago, many residents were alarmed by rising housing prices, too much traffic and the feeling of unfettered growth. People asked: Where's the planning?

Newly elected officials complained that their predecessors hadn't shown the foresight to plan, to deal with the problems that have persisted in our community for years: Not enough land for business and industry. Roads two narrow to accommodate large amounts of traffic. Housing developments sprawling across good farmland. No lofts or other appealing housing in downtown Modesto.

These cries about poor or no planning subsided when growth screeched to a halt. The attention turned to the economy and the blight associated with empty houses rather than the impact of new houses. Traffic fell away as a big issue. School districts that had worried about how to make space for all the students began to focus on the financial consequences of fewer students.

These days, we're starting to see some new homes being built. And the need for space for business growth is back at the forefront. Where is the planning? It's under way. But not everyone knows it.

A few are welcoming the planning and participating in the process. Some don't like the plans they're seeing and some don't seem to like planning at all. Part of the reason is a general distrust of government. Part is that they see preliminary maps that show something nearby — a multistory building or a wide roadway — that might disrupt their current lifestyle. And part of the reason is that they don't know that a plan is simply a forecast for the future and not something that will be rising from the ground in the next year.

The time is ripe for public input. The earlier people become involved, the more they will understand the process and the more influence they can have in the plans that are eventually adopted.

• The big picture effort is Valley Vision Stanislaus, a countywide effort to identify ways to put businesses and houses close to transportation — or vice versa. Four scenarios have been developed, ranging from not much change to pretty radical.

The overall goals are worthy: Reduce pollution and congestion by making it easier for people to walk, bike or use public transit to get to work, shopping and so forth, and protect farmland by clustering housing on the poorer soils. Businesses also need to be able to move their products in and out, so they'll do better with better transportation planning. Reporter Garth Stapley describes the scenarios and the upcoming public meetings in a report in today's Bee.

• Meanwhile, the city of Modesto is updating its general plan, the mandated and fundamental document from which other plans and decisions are made. The Modesto Planning Commission has held five public workshops on the drafts so far this year, and eventually recommendations will be made and an environmental review launched. The final update probably won't go to the City Council until 2015. The documents are available at www.modestogov.com/ced/projects/gp-amendment.asp.

Among the high-profile decisions to be made regarding Modesto's planning process is whether Salida should remain within the general plan boundary, which would leave open the possibility that it might someday become part of Modesto. That's an important decision, but far from the only one.

We routinely urge citizens to be informed about and get involved in local decision-making. When you think about it, planning decisions are pocketbook, quality-of-life, environmental and social justice decisions all rolled into one. It may take 20 years for the effects to become fully apparent, but they will determine what our community looks like a generation or two from now and whether we or our children want to live here.

Please, if you care about your community, get involved in the planning process.

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