The public can expect Jim DeMartini to trumpet the benefits of agriculture next year as chairman of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.
The longtime farmer is slated to begin a one-year stint as chairman Jan. 7. Supervisor Terry Withrow will serve as the boards vice chairman.
The biggest companies we have are ag-based, whether it is Foster Farms, Del Monte or Gallo Winery, DeMartini said Friday. What I keep hearing from the (Modesto Chamber of Commerce) and the building industry is that agriculture is not that important, and we tear out orchards for warehouses. I think we are going in the wrong direction.
According to his biography on the county website, DeMartini has more than 1,000 acres in farm production between Ceres and Patterson. His operation employs more than 20 people year-round in growing almonds, walnuts, peaches, grapes and other crops. He was first elected in 2004 to represent a district that today includes parts of south Modesto and most of Ceres as well as Patterson, Newman, Grayson and Crows Landing.
A county representative on the Local Agency Formation Commission, DeMartini first criticized Pattersons proposal to annex more than 1,100 acres for business parks near Interstate 5, but joined in the 5-0 vote that approved the citys request early this month.
Nonetheless, he grouses that developers view the countys rich farmland as inventory for the next housing project or distribution complex.
Soon after taking the gavel next month, the chairman and other supervisors are expected to appoint a Water Advisory Committee that has three designated seats for the county and two agricultural leaders. Some have suggested that cities should have a fair share of voting members on the panel, which is being created to develop groundwater policies for Stanislaus County.
For representatives of Modesto or other cities to serve on the panel, they will need to be chosen by county supervisors. The five supervisors each will nominate three members for the committee. The other seats are reserved for the county board chairman, the Agricultural Advisory Board chairman, the county Farm Bureau executive director and two members of the community at large.
I cant think of any (city representative) from my district who would want to be on the committee, DeMartini said. Two of his picks likely will be someone from an irrigation district and a hydrologist who expressed interest, he noted.
The county needs a good management plan to stop the overdrafting of aquifers, and the solution is not going to be agreeable to everyone, he added. Somebodys ox is going to be gored.
Other priorities for the county next year are contract negotiations with labor organizations and the states ongoing initiative to realign public safety in California. In addition, the district attorney, sheriff, assessor, auditor-controller, clerk-recorder, treasurer-tax collector and Supervisors Dick Monteith and Withrow are up for election in June.
DeMartini also said the county needs to work on having better relations with the nine cities. Although the county reached a tentative agreement with eight cities to reimburse them for excessive property tax administration fees it collected, there are tensions with cities such as Turlock, he said. And the county still is talking with Newman about a property-tax administration fee settlement.