October 31, 2007

2 measures on Stanislaus growth will be on Feb. 5 ballot

Stanislaus County voters will choose from two measures on limiting growth in unincorporated areas on the Feb. 5 ballot.

County supervisors approved an alternative measure Tuesday to Measure E, the Stamp Out Sprawl initiative.

Called the "Stanislaus County Responsible Planning and Growth Control Initiative," it calls for a two-year moratorium on converting farmland to residential uses while a 15-member commission writes an update to the county's general plan.

The commission would be appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and have representatives from agriculture, business and manufacturing, environmental groups, developers, community-based organizations and the public.

The new general plan is to be completed within two years, and would be subject to a public vote. If the supervisors can't get a version the public likes after two votes, they can implement a plan themselves. Normally, a majority vote of the board is enough to approve a general plan.

Once approved, the general plan can be amended, but would require Planning Commission approval, two public hearings and a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.

The measure was developed at the request of the county board, as an alternative to Measure E, which was co-authored by Modesto city Councilman Garrad Marsh and former city Councilman Denny Jackman. Measure E would prohibit the conversion of unincorpor-ated farmland to residential uses without a countywide public vote.

County officials oppose Measure E because they contend that it doesn't address the biggest cause of sprawl, city expansion onto farmland. They also say it encourages planning by ballot box, and sophisticated political campaigns by developers to get projects approved.

The "Responsible Planning and Growth Control Initiative" has many of the same goals as Measure E, said county Assistant Executive Officer Stan Risen, but uses a comprehensive planning approach rather than balloting on individual projects.

Policies the commission, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, would consider include:

Directing growth to less-productive ag land in the foothills region

Encouraging cities to adopt community boundaries and buffer zones to develop community identities

Ensuring new growth goes into areas that discourage sprawl and minimize impacts on agriculture

Encouraging economic development, requiring adequate infrastructure and ensuring that growth pays its own way

The board voted 4-1 to put the measure on the ballot, with Supervisor Tom Mayfield dissenting.

Mayfield commented that he didn't like Measure E or the county proposal. He questioned who would be on the committee to draw up the general plan, and commented that the county proposal doesn't address the problem of city-induced sprawl, either.

"I'm kind of torn about this," Mayfield said. "I'm not crazy about Measure E, and I'm not crazy about this one. I don't know."

The other supervisors backed the county measure.

"This puts planning back in the hands of the people who should do planning: the county," Supervisor Jeff Grover said.

"The reason we are talking about these initiatives is the public is getting fed up with the way we've done business," Board Chairman Bill O'Brien said. "I like this. It creates a plan, and goes out to the public to get it voted on," he said. "I think voters need an alternative."

Jackman attended the meeting, and commented afterward that Measure E has focused the county supervisors on growth.

"Everything they proposed in the alternative they can do already," he said. "I'm pleased to see them focused on growth and how to manage it."

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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