The Greater Modesto Chamber of Commerce has worked two years on the Pathway to Prosperity initiative to address our communitys chronic unemployment and lack of prosperity.
With more than 30,000 unemployed in our county, the scope of the problem is enormous. Many more are underemployed. More than 44,000 people drive one to five hours a day to jobs outside the area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Our high schools graduate capable students each year, but many leave for college, then never come back to Modesto. Their skills, potential and entrepreneurial energies are exported to other communities that care about creating prosperity more than we do.
The lack of jobs and opportunity worsens many of our communitys problems crime, gangs and drugs. It is the reason many retail spaces sit empty. It stresses local government budgets.
We have heard over and over from representatives of the Stanislaus County Economic Development and Workforce Alliance that we have missed many opportunities to attract core businesses to our community because we do not have nearly enough land in that is shovel-ready for new or expanding businesses near major transportation arteries.
So, the chambers land use and transportation committee decided to create an approach to get the city moving toward real economic development. Pathway to Prosperity analyzed transportation improvements necessary to serve existing job centers such as downtown Modesto and the Beard industrial district.
The project designated two large areas west and north of Modesto to study for the ingredients necessary for job creation including the willingness of landowners to convert their land into business parks for offices and modern logistics.
The Pathway to Prosperity acknowledged the importance of agribusiness and farming by calling for the creation of large agricultural investment zones, protected from the pressure for urbanization. This would ensure that ag can continue far into the future.
The Pathway suggested Modesto should require additional lands for residential development outside its general plan to locate mainly to the east, where ag soils are less fertile. Separately, the chamber endorsed a residential urban limit to allow residential development to the west and north only if Modestans vote to allow it.
We believe our approach recognizes and celebrates agriculture. But we also recognize that Modesto will be stronger and more vibrant if we can diversify without displacing our ag base.
In response to chamber advocacy, city staff recommended amendments to Modestos general plan that included some but not all of Pathway to Prosperitys recommendations. We supported those amendments that were ultimately endorsed by the Planning Commission because it would get our community closer to having shovel-ready land for business parks.
Unfortunately, the general plan amendment discussions became acrimonious. As the emotional appeals continued, it became clear more analysis including gauging landowner support should have occurred in the study areas.
Lost in this debate was that the Pathway embraced self-determination for our 12,000 neighbors in Salida. Because fewer people live in Wood Colony, it did not occur to us that a similar notion should apply there.
While we might not agree with our neighbors on all the details such as appropriate boundaries for their communities and the city we agree that residents and landowners outside Modestos city limits should have a voice in designing the future we all will share.
We believe the City Council felt it was taking heed and leaving Wood Colony alone by changing the proposed land use designation from business park to agriculture. However, many in Wood Colony still feel threatened by inclusion in the citys general plan.
By identifying common ground, addressing areas of disagreement and resolving those through discussion and deliberation, we can design a future that can be embraced by all, preserving much of our agricultural heritage while diversifying our economy to increase jobs and prosperity.
We do not minimize the challenges in balancing these interests, but we encourage the Modesto City Council to continue working to bring more jobs and more prosperity to our community.
Gianelli is the Chairman of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.