Name: Goals haven’t changed, but can we still reach them? July 1, 2014 

It seems we’ve entered an era of appraisals and predictions regarding, as city planners would put it, a “robust vision for a viable, sustainable future.” But can consensus and solutions be found during such chaotic present times?

In April, the editorial board of The Modesto Bee invited readers to anticipate what our area will look like in 2020. The Bee website encourages responses regarding transportation, education, public safety, leadership and jobs. Meanwhile, for months the office of the Modesto city manager has been contemplating a strategy document to provide guidance for the next three years. The potential of a workshop was mentioned, which would help pull together community opinion on where we want to go.

That is, assuming others than just Chamber of Commerce members and the residents of Wood Colony and Salida have given it any thought.

On April 25, the deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research came to town for a small – very small – public workshop on the new Environmental Goals and Policy Report , a document mandated by 1970 legislation and adopted by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1978 as “An Urban Strategy.” Last September a new version was released as a discussion draft focusing on “California’s Climate Future,” looking ahead 20 to 30 years.

If one concept can sum up the report, it is its challenge to make our lifestyles “sustainable,” a contemporary buzzword that seems to appear in almost every sentence (and even twice in one). OPR offers a terse definition of a “sustainable community” as one that “promotes equity, strengthens the economy, protects the environment and promotes public health and safety.”

On June 17 the Stanislaus Council of Governments, or StanCOG, adopted its regional transportation plan with the trendy title, “Sustainable Communities Strategy.” This document was mandated by Senate Bill 375 (2008) requiring all Councils of Government to integrate land use planning by local governments with transportation decisions by the regional transportation planners. This arrangement should affect future development and lean toward “sustainable” growth patterns.

To better understand such mandates, I returned to the 1978 OPR report to see how we had framed our aspirations back then. The goal was “a society in which people live in harmony with the land; where urban areas are exciting, safe places to live; where the air and water are clean; where work places are close to homes; where crops and animals thrive on the state’s best agricultural lands; where areas of great scenic or fragile nature are set aside for permanent protection.”

This required “more compact urban areas” and their “revitalization” with the “continued production of its best agricultural lands.” All grand ambitions, backed up by 14 actions. Some of those “actions” were no more specific than the goals.

Specificity is always a challenge in drafting future projections. Planners like to produce big, inspiring goals and objectives, but, given the reality of economics, master plans often ultimately fail. But we have to try.

This brings us back to the Modesto Strategic Plan, which has the potential of providing overview and direction for a city long searching for an image. But in spite of attractive buzzwords and regardless of whether we look at projections for three, six or 20 years, there is a looming and terrifying prospect that will change everything.

And that is worldwide climate alteration, which in our Valley means at least semi-permanent drought. Instead of just urging s ustainability we should be planning for survivability.

In the words of that great philosopher Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” And we are moving very quickly into a murky future.

Jones is a community columnist who writes on environmental and tourism issues. Email:

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