Opposition to the urban limit measure facing Modesto voters Nov. 3, Measure I, was hard to spot – if not impossible – in a festive throng Saturday at the second annual Wood Colony Country Fair & Colony Tour.
Support for the initiative, on the other hand, was abundant.
Drivers could not miss dozens of “Save Farmland! Yes on I” signs lining Beckwith Road, posted on nearly every property, along with others recalling last year’s pitched battle with Modesto leaders intent on annexing the rich-soiled farming enclave just west of town.
A Yes on I booth nestled Saturday between a row of food booths, where people could buy linguica made by a butcher family down the road, and pioneer-style games where children threw bean bags and lassos. Gilbert Hernandez, who has a Modesto seed business, came away with a new Yes on I yard sign tucked under his arm.
“This helps people understand,” he said of the fair, with hundreds of people moving among antique steam engines, locally grown food and dozens of country-themed crafters. Some had donated items to a silent auction and raffle raising money for the ongoing “Save Wood Colony” effort.
Wood Colony is named for Eben Wood, who first farmed there in 1869, and is known for agriculture and a concentration of Old German Baptist Brethren followers.
Nancy Hampton proudly wore a “Save Wood Colony” T-shirt. She and her husband, Don, moved to the rural hamlet 51 years ago; their four children attended Hart-Ransom Elementary School – headquarters for Saturday’s event – and now their grandchildren are Hart-Ransom students.
“I don’t know why people would fight Measure I: All it does is give people a say,” she said.
Measure I would restrict development beyond an urban limit, which could be changed only by voters, and was designed to protect prime farmland just outside the city. If approved in a couple of weeks, the initiative would shield Wood Colony and Salida from being annexed to Modesto unless people in those communities decide to join the city.
On a 5-2 vote last year, Modesto leaders designated 1,152 Wood Colony acres for future business parks and stores, leaving 1,254 acres for farming, over strident urging not to meddle with Wood Colony. A partial response was last year’s inaugural Wood Colony Country Fair & Colony Tour in August, moved this year to October and greeted with mid-70s temperatures after five straight days in the 90s.
This is how people want to live in Stanislaus County – a combination of urban and country. If you eliminate farming, we’re just like everyone else.
Terry Withrow, supervisor, Stanislaus County
Some merchant and labor groups opposing Measure I say it could harm Modesto’s economic development. That view was absent from Saturday’s fair, which included tours of several farms, a pottery studio, a country boutique and Farmer’s Catfish House restaurant.
Jim Nelson’s grandparents established a service station, and he worked there as a boy, before it changed hands and became the Catfish House.
“People don’t realize what a great life that was – one of the dream things, a Pollyanna life,” said Nelson. He now lives in Modesto but returned Saturday for the memories, and to show support for Wood Colony.
Other Modestans attending the event – all with Yes on I signs in their yards, they said – included Josephine Parra, Joan Rutschow and Karla von Hungen, who likened shortsighted leaders to “spoiled children who don’t take care of their toys; then they see another shiny toy over there and they want it.”
“Modesto has other options for development,” Rutschow said. “There is a lot of available land where the soil is less rich,” particularly to the east.
More land is not more better.
Hillari DeSchane, Wood Colony Community Association
“More land is not more better,” said Hillari DeSchane, a Modesto resident and Wood Colony Community Association member.
Another ballot item confronting Modesto voters next month, Measure G, is being pushed by leaders saying higher taxes are needed for better public safety; “It doesn’t make sense,” DeSchane said, “to give them more land to not cover with police services.”
Measure I originator Denny Jackman, a former Modesto councilman, staffed the Yes on I booth, handing out information and yard signs. His mother, who died a few weeks ago, was raised in Wood Colony.
“When you mess with the legacy of a community that is there and on the ground,” he said, “that’s where Modesto made a big political mistake.”
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390