Council keeps Wood Colony, Salida in general plan despite protests

kvaline@modbee.comJanuary 28, 2014 

After several hours of public comment, the City Council voted early Wednesday to reconfigure the land the city's general plan designates for development in Wood Colony and to keep Salida in the plan.

The Wood Colony vote was 5-2 with Councilmen Dave Lopez and Bill Zoslocki voting "no." The vote to keep Salida in the general plan was 4-3, with Council members John Gunderson, Jenny Kenoyer and Mayor Garrad Marsh voting "no."

The Wood Colony vote also designates about 1,300 acres in the colony for agriculture. About 1,000 acres is designated for development, about the same number of acres as designated in the 1995 general plan. But colony residents believe the city should not have any of their community in the city's general plan.

Hundreds of Wood Colony residents and their supporters packed the Modesto City Council chamber Tuesday night to deliver a single resounding message: Leave us out of the city’s plans for its future.

Colony residents told council members that their close-knit farming enclave west of Highway 99 does not belong in the city’s general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how Modesto will grow and develop in the coming decades.

The council also heard from Salida residents who want their unincorporated community north of the colony removed from the city’s general plan.

“As though you have a say in our fates is political folly,” said Salida Municipal Advisory Committee Chairwoman Katherine Borges. “ ... All you are doing is wasting your time and precious tax dollars.

“You are committing political suicide if you do it (pursue growth policies in Wood Colony and Salida). The threat of annexation has brought Salida and Wood Colony together.

“Border to border, united we stand,” she concluded, to thunderous applause from the audience.

Modesto is in the midst of amending the land-use and transportation components of its general plan, and the council was tasked Tuesday night with deciding what land should go into a preliminary general plan map and how that land should be designated, such as for business and industrial parks.

More than 300 people jammed into the meeting. The crowd was so large that people lined the chamber’s walls and filled the overflow room, where they watched the meeting on television as the council grappled with one of the most contentious issues it has faced in years.

Now the city will embark on a lengthy environmental review before bringing the general plan amendment back to the council for adoption in 2015.

City officials say they need to plan for the city’s long-term future, which includes setting aside enough land for business and industrial parks. They say those parks will help diversify the city’s economy and bring in badly needed jobs.

That’s why Wood Colony and Salida, the unincorporated town north of the colony, have drawn the city’s interest. Some city officials believe those communities would be ideal for business and industrial parks because of their proximity to Highway 99.

City officials stressed that none of the decisions they were to make Tuesday were necessarily final, and the public would be able to weigh in as the city continues the process of amending its general plan. But that did not stop opponents from speaking against the city’s potential plans for Salida and Wood Colony.

Wood Colony dairyman Jake Verburg said he was forced out of Torrance in Southern California 50 years ago because the city let development into agricultural areas. “I don’t want that to happen here,” he said. “I don’t have another place to go unless I go to another state. I employ 10 families at my dairy. ... That’s why I’m here to talk to you about this annexation, which I think is absolutely nuts.”

Colony residents and their supporters said the city could set aside land for business and industrial parks elsewhere and not destroy the unique character of Wood Colony, which was founded more than a century ago by Old German Baptist Brethren and other settlers.

Residents say they have some of the most productive agricultural land in the state. But they also take pride in their close-knit enclave that emphasizes family, community and neighbors helping neighbors.

It does not make sense to target an area for development where there is so much resistance, colony residents and their supporters said.

Some speakers warned council members that should the elected officials decide to run for re-election or higher political office, there would be a steep political price to pay if they did not take Wood Colony out of the city’s plans. Speakers also talked about mounting recall campaigns against council members.

Before council members heard from the public, they voted on Councilman Dave Cogdill’s proposal for the city to embark on a comprehensive update of its general plan rather than proceed with the general plan amendment.

The city has not done a comprehensive update since 1995. Cogdill said though such an update is expensive and takes time, it’s something worth doing. He said the city has taken a piecemeal approach to planning and would get much better results if it were to take a comprehensive look at its future.

But a motion to table the general plan amendment and consider doing a comprehensive general plan update failed on a 3-4 vote, with Cogdill and Councilmen Dave Lopez and Bill Zoslocki voting for it.

Seneca Foods off agenda

In other action, city officials removed from the agenda a staff recommendation for the council to grant a nearly $8.5 million waiver to Seneca Foods for producing more wastewater than it is permitted under a city formula.

City officials had recommended that the council grant what they are calling a “one-time, nonprecedent-setting” waiver to Seneca because the manufacturer has changed its production methods and no longer uses more wastewater than allowed. Officials said Seneca – which produces canned peaches, fruit cocktail and apricots at its Modesto plant – approached them with the request.

Because Modesto can process only so much wastewater, it allocates usage among its 44 biggest industrial users – primarily food manufacturers such as Del Monte, Seneca and E.&J. Gallo Winery. The users produce about one-third of the city’s annual wastewater flow.

The city also has created a wastewater capacity bank to facilitate the allocation of wastewater among its big industrial users. A 2007 City Council resolution requires the city to impose what it calls a capacity charge on those users if they exceed their wastewater allocation by 10 percent for two consecutive years or for three years during a five-year stretch.

City Manager Greg Nyhoff said Tuesday that the city’s legal staff requested additional time to review the Seneca Foods item.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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