Supervisor Terry Withrow said he is seeking a second four-year term to keep working on what he sees as key issues for Stanislaus County: groundwater and surface water supplies.
It appeared Withrow might go unopposed on the June 3 ballot, but Wood Colony native Scott Calkins threw his hat in the ring March 5, two days before the filing deadline.
Calkins has actively opposed Modesto’s plans to develop business parks in the farming area west of Highway 99. The winner in June will represent District 3 on the Board of Supervisors, an area including west Modesto, Salida and farmland to the west.
Withrow affirms that he also believes Wood Colony and plans for the Beckwith Triangle industrial area should be removed from Modesto’s general plan, or blueprint for growth. He criticized the Modesto Chamber of Commerce “Path to Prosperity” plan unveiled last year, calling the swath of business parks west of 99 the “Beckwith Triangle on steroids.”
The two candidates disagree on a major issue, however.
Calkins argues that the Highway 132 expansion, on a realigned route north of Maze Boulevard and west of Modesto, will doom Wood Colony by encouraging development that can’t be contained. “That is the launching pad for changing the land-use pattern west of Highway 99,” said Calkins, a Modesto High School teacher. “I don’t see any future method of containment. If there is a transportation project, the land-use change will come with it.”
Withrow, who supports the realignment, countered that voter-approved urban limit lines for Modesto could prevent sprawl along the new route. The incumbent said he is working on the urban-limit measure with former Modesto Councilman Denny Jackman and Wood Colony organizer Jake Wenger. The ballot measure in 2015 would establish strict growth boundaries for Modesto.
The state owns the land for a four-lane Highway 132, swinging north of Maze, so it makes no sense to spend millions buying easements alongside the current 132 route, Withrow said.
“We just need a safe road,” Withrow said, alluding to a history of deadly crashes on 132. The highway project also is needed to transport locally made products to the Bay Area and other markets, he said.
Withrow supporters point out that Calkins’ home on Elm Avenue is near the realigned route. The challenger’s strong views on 132 and Wood Colony leave him open to being tagged as a one-issue candidate.
His reply? Calkins said residents in Wood Colony and other areas of the county are concerned about the slow response from sheriff patrols, as well as home invasions, burglaries and metal theft. He plans to talk with Sheriff Adam Christianson and candidate for sheriff Tom Letras about public safety concerns.
As a schoolteacher and sole breadwinner for his family, Calkins said, he can identify with working people and county employees. “I am more sympathetic to the labor side,” Calkins said. “Because of my background, I would be more of a sympathetic listener.”
Withrow is an accounting firm partner and farmer. In his first term, he led the effort to write the county’s first groundwater ordinance and serves on the Water Advisory Committee, formed this year to study aquifers and policies to sustain the resource.
Withrow pushed for keeping the North County Corridor route on Kiernan Avenue, north of Modesto, and worked to move a day reporting center for probationers out of Salida. His stated accomplishments include an emergency services contract renewal that requires ambulance companies to pay fees to volunteer fire services when they assist with medical calls.
Withrow said water will top the county’s political agenda for the next several years, whether it’s groundwater pumping in eastern Stanislaus County or state proposals to release more water from Sierra dams for fisheries.
The incumbent said he’s a strong advocate for farmland preservation. He believes the county has improved relations with its nine cities by staying out of the development game. “We are not in the business of development,” Withrow said. “We are here to support the cities.”
Modesto’s growth plans have stirred passions in District 3 among Wood Colony folks and Salida residents who don’t want to be annexed. Withrow has sided with his vocal constituents. “You have to listen to the people who put you here,” he said.
Calkins suggested that holding a vote on Salida incorporation could settle the question of whether it remains an unincorporated community.
He said the county seems eager to improve commuter highways such as 132 but should focus more effort on bringing the Altamont Corridor Express to Modesto, which would take cars off the freeways.
As a teacher, he said, he has a natural interest in how the county Probation Department tries to reform juvenile offenders. His education experience would be valuable to county government, he added. “I know the critical support that the Stanislaus County Office of Education provides for smaller school districts.”
During a labor council interview with candidates, Calkins said he was asked about overtime pay for in-home support service workers. There is pressure to hold the caregivers to 40 hours a week, he said, but it may be more convenient to pay overtime in certain circumstances.
Calkins said he’s taking the advice of a political consultant to shoot for raising $40,000 to $50,000 for campaign signs and mailers. As of April 6, his campaign had reported contributions totaling $12,900, including donations from farmers and retired teachers, and $2,000 from himself.
Withrow said his fundraising will start next week to rejuvenate a campaign fund that had $10,358 in cash and $13,200 in debts as of March 17. “We didn’t think we were going to have an opponent,” he said. “We didn’t feel right asking people for money if no one was running against us.”