Kevin Valine

February 20, 2014

Modesto News: Mayor takes hits at meeting but raises some valid points on Wood Colony

Mayor Garrad Marsh faced more criticism Saturday as he tried to explain the city’s growth plans, but he raised some valid points, though he did it awkwardly and offended his audience.

Modesto News

Issues affecting the city, the economy and quality of life

When Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh spoke Saturday to a couple hundred Wood Colony residents, he said he wanted to educate them on the process of how their farming community has been included in Modesto’s growth plans so they would be prepared for the next time.

That comment offended audience members. Hundreds of colony residents and their supporters attended City Council meetings in December and January to deliver one message: We don’t want to be part of Modesto. They are baffled that the city does not seem to hear them.

Modesto is in the midst of amending the transportation and land-use elements of its general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how the city will grow and develop in the coming decades. The City Council on Jan. 28 approved a land-use map that includes more than 2,000 acres in the colony, a farming enclave more than century old west of Highway 99.

The map designates 211 acres for regional commercial development along the highway, such as big-box retailers; 1,254 acres as farmland; and 941 acres for business parks near Highways 99 and 132.

While he did it awkwardly, the mayor raised an important point Saturday: Changing a general plan is lengthy and complex. Modesto has spent about two years amending its general plan and has about two more years to go. So based on information from the Local Agency Formation Commission – which makes land-use decisions – and the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, here are the remaining steps:

• The city now is updating the general plan’s environmental impact report based on the proposals the council approved Jan. 28. The draft EIR should be completed in 2015, and the public will have an opportunity to comment.
•  Another key point Marsh made Saturday is that it takes more than being in the general plan for land to be annexed into the city and developed. The land must be in what is called the city’s sphere of influence for that to happen. About 1,000 acres in the colony have been in the city’s general plan since 1995 in an area the city calls the Beckwith-Dakota Triangle. But none of it is in the sphere of influence.
•  Marsh said Saturday that he expected the City Council in coming months to adjust the sphere of influence as part of amending the general plan. But city staff said that won’t happen until after the draft EIR is complete. Staff expects the Planning Commission and the City Council to take up the sphere of influence in late 2015 or early 2016. The public can comment at those meetings.
•  LAFCO has to approve any sphere of influence changes, and the public can comment when LAFCO considers any proposed changes. In 1996, LAFCO rejected including the Beckwith-Dakota Triangle in Modesto’s sphere of influence.

More information about Modesto’s general plan amendment – including land-use maps – is available at

Marsh is scheduled to give his third State of the City address Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. It’s been a tough year for the mayor, who was elected in February 2012 in a runoff election after getting the most votes – but not a majority – in the November 2011 election.

He faced vehement opposition to his proposal of exploring the annexation of Salida, the city’s unincorporated neighbor to the northwest. Marsh first raised the idea in his 2012 State of the City address. And he saw his 1 percent sales tax increase fail at the polls in November.

The criticism he has faced over the general plan and Wood Colony may sting the most. He and other city officials have been accused of trying to make a land grab in the colony and being in league with greedy developers. But Marsh has been a longtime advocate for smart growth and farmland preservation.

He talked Saturday about how during his roughly a decade on the council, he often cast the only vote for ag land during many of those years. And he talked about how he is being portrayed and perceived as someone he is not. But that was a message that did not seem to get heard Saturday.

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