Mike Dunbar: Don’t forget the popcorn on Tuesday night

January 25, 2014 

If political drama is your favorite entertainment, arrive early at Tenth Street Place on Tuesday night. That’s when the Wood Colony controversy is scheduled to come to a head.

The Modesto City Council is set to vote on whether or not to include the 1,800-acre area in its general plan update. If it does, the area just west of Highway 99 will be earmarked for eventual industrial development. Farming will disappear.

The people who live there are fairly (though not totally) united in their opposition. Many have roots that stretch back more than a century. The colony’s farms show the careful devotion that comes from generations of attention. Expect the Wood Colony families and their friends to just about fill the room.

The Modesto Chamber of Commerce and its supporters say this is a battle for jobs and Modesto’s future. If Wood Colony is not part of the general plan, they insist, then Modesto will become a bedroom community. They take umbrage at any suggestion that Wood Colony’s tidy parcels might one day be reassigned to housing – though that’s a common pattern in Modesto’s past.

Doing a casual head count, it’s unlikely the families of Wood Colony will win this battle. The chamber appears to have at least four votes and possibly five for inclusion. The strategy is fairly obvious. Take this vote now, then do nothing for years, allowing the fervor to cool and time for pro-development investors to buy up a few more parcels. Then, when the time is right, the city will quietly annex the area and the bulldozers can begin their work.

Those trying to save Wood Colony vow this is just one battle in a war. And they’re already bringing the fight to Modesto, carrying their message door-to-door in selected districts. For any council member with higher political aspirations (yes, it’s obvious who you are), they’re promising long memories. We doubt that’s an idle threat. The show starts at 5:30 p.m.

Darrell Steinberg got this one right. The Senate president pro tem has appointed state Sen. Anthony Cannella to the Little Hoover Commission. Why is this such a good choice? Because Cannella, the former mayor of Ceres who now represents much of Stanislaus and Merced counties, brings a lot to the conference table.

As an independent thinker, engineer and businessman, he’s not easily fooled with numbers. That’s important since the issues covered by the Little Hoover Commission often come down to numbers. For instance, the commission has looked at pension spiking and how to keep open little-visited state parks. Its recommendations go to the Legislature.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” said Cannella. “They dig into some pretty heady things.”

Cannella is already behind legislation to create more transparency – one of the commission’s goals. He and Assemblyman Adam Gray wrote a bill to require every state agency to provide the state treasurer with tax ID numbers. That would make it difficult for state agencies to squirrel away money in secret. It’s hard to believe that isn’t already the law.

Dunbar is the editor of the Opinions pages.

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