Mayor Garrad Marsh said Wednesday during his annual State of the City address that Modesto will revisit its recent decision to include Wood Colony – the farming enclave west of Highway 99 – in its growth plans.
But that will not satisfy colony residents, who have turned out by the hundreds at recent City Council meetings to protest the inclusion of their community in the city’s general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how Modesto will grow and develop in the coming decades.
The reason? The City Council will consider removing the 1,254 acres of the colony designated as agricultural land from its general plan but will keep about 1,150 acres designated for commercial development and business parks.
Marsh’s position is that those roughly 1,150 acres are not part of the colony’s historic boundaries, though residents say that land is part of their community.
“It’s a start,” said Jake Wenger, a fourth-generation colony farmer and community leader, in an interview. He did not attend the State of the City address. “I think eventually you will see more and more come out” of the general plan, added Wenger, who also is a Modesto Irrigation District board member. “We are slowly getting there. You have a group of people saying to the city, ‘Don’t go west of (Highway 99), don’t go west of (Highway) 99.’ ”
The council is expected to take up this issue March 25. The city is amending its general plan. More information about that – including land-use maps – is available at http://modestogov.com/ced/projects/gp-amendment.asp.
The mayor delivered his speech Wednesday evening in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, the city-county government administration building, before an audience of about 50 people, most of them government officials.
Marsh touched on an array of topics during his address:
• He wants to target the area surrounding Kaiser Modesto Medical Center and Gregori High School in north Modesto for economic development. He said developing there should remove development threats for other agriculturally sensitive areas.
This later drew a critical question from an audience member, who said that land belongs to Salida – Modesto’s unincorporated neighbor to the northwest – and Salida needs that land as it pursues incorporation. Marsh responded by saying Salida cannot afford to incorporate.
• He highlighted two proposals in the general plan amendment: a farmland mitigation measure that says when land is annexed into the city and developed, an equal amount of land must be preserved forever as farmland, and a measure that requires new housing to pay for its police and fire services. He called both proposals historic.
• He noted the need to cut the city’s roughly $113 million general fund budget to bring expenses in line with revenues. City officials have said those cuts will amount to $8 million to $9 million over the next 28 months. The general fund primarily pays for police and fire services, parks, trees and roads.
“The cuts necessary to bring our budget into balance,” the mayor said, “mean we can no longer afford all our parks, can no longer maintain our trees, cannot keep all our fire stations open, and will need to further reduce our already inadequate level of policing. Difficult choices that will not please anyone, but they are the choices your council will need to make.”
• He also focused on Modesto’s positives, from last year’s opening of the seven-field, state-of-the-art soccer complex at Mary Grogan Community Park and its strong neighborhoods and engaged residents to the city’s hospitals and other health care facilities, such as last year’s opening of the new Veterans Affairs Clinic on Oakdale Road.
“So much good is happening in Modesto,” the mayor said at the end of his speech. “So while fiscal challenges will persist until added revenue sources are put into place, together we are capable of a stronger, brighter future for Modesto. Join me as we make the difficult choices ahead. Join together to move Modesto toward a better future.”
The council voted Jan. 28 to put about 2,400 acres of Wood Colony in the city’s general plan amendment. Marsh has said he supported putting the 1,254 acres of farmland in the plan as a way to provide colony residents with a buffer against development. But colony residents oppose having any part of their community in the general plan.
Marsh told colony residents Feb. 15 during a talk at Hart-Ransom Elementary School that he would be willing to support removing those 1,254 acres if that’s what colony residents want. Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer requested at Tuesday’s council meeting that the council consider that at its March 25 meeting.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.