Often there is perception and then there is reality. The Modesto City Council’s actions on the general plan update have, for most, been perceived differently from what is real.
The most far-reaching recommendations to protect our agricultural economy ever in Modesto’s history were proposed by the City Council. At the Jan. 28 council meeting, the general plan (for land use) was recommended to be amended. Unlike reports and some general concepts of the votes taken, these votes were unprecedented.
There were four votes to preserve ag that evening that were unlike any former votes ever made by a Modesto council. This seemed to be missed in the reporting and in the general public’s understanding of that long evening’s events.
First, Modesto reversed an almost 20-year general plan policy by returning over 800 acres of Wood Colony to agricultural zoning. In 1995, Modesto designated the “Beckwith Triangle” to become business, industrial and commercial uses. This council is abandoning the scope of that former unsound plan.
Second, your City Council rejected the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s plan to convert almost another 1,000 acres of Wood Colony into industrial and business park uses. The chamber had actively lobbied your council to target this pristine agricultural treasure for development. The chamber’s early plan was to take over 4,000 acres of Wood Colony, but city staff lowered that to about 1,000. I believe Modesto’s council has never before been so agriculture-friendly as to rebuff a developer-backed Chamber proposal.
Third, based on feisty Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer’s motion, Modesto moved forward the idea of farmland mitigation. Never in Modesto’s history has it taken steps to enact – on a 4-3 vote – a policy to save farmland. If completed, it will require permanent protection of agricultural land equal to any land the city takes into its city limits.
Fourth, Modesto is returning 1,500 acres of land that was targeted for housing back to ag and out of the general plan. It also is returning 320 acres of business-designated land to agricultural uses. What especially makes these plans unparalleled is this land was already blessed by LAFCO to let Modesto develop. The Local Agency Formation Corporation is the countywide land authority on urbanization.
Think of that. Modesto is taking prime farmland that has for decades been planned for houses and is returning it to agricultural uses.
I believe that those who have had undue influence over the council for far too long were shocked by the Jan. 28 actions. There have even been whispers of recall. Really? A recall because the importance of ag was finally recognized? This council finally put our agricultural heritage ahead of money.
Besides those extraordinary votes, the council took action to secure well-located business property for the future. I support the idea of moving forward on the business-designated land around Gregori High. The county Board of Supervisors had already given a 25-year right for developers to build on this land. This is the best and quickest way for Modesto to attract more jobs without taking any land that retained its agricultural zoning.
Another vote from the week previous to the general plan agenda also got no coverage. The City Council moved a residential urban limits question to the next city ballot. If approved by voters, the RUL would build a wall between Modesto homes and prime farmland. Again, a historic move by this council.
If anyone would like more information on these historic steps and Modesto’s recognition of agriculture’s importance or the votes taken by your council, I would be pleased to meet with you. I will present the State of the City address Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers, lower floor at 1010 10th St. Questions will be taken at the end of the address.
Marsh is mayor of Modesto; email email@example.com.