Some members of the Modesto City Council and their friends at the Chamber of Commerce have tried to depict their desire to include Wood Colony on the city’s general plan as an either-or situation. Either designate the 1,800 acres of prime farmland as future business parks, or the city will run out of jobs.
Why frame it in such stark terms? Because if they don’t, the public is unlikely to embrace this bad plan.
We do not believe Wood Colony is the city’s only option for attracting good jobs. Here are some reasons we feel the council should look elsewhere to expand the city.
Even if development in Wood Colony is a decade or more into the future, is that supposed to placate families who have lived on the land for four or five generations? If development is that far off, there should be ample time to identify and develop other suitable alternatives. Embracing Dave Cogdill Jr.’s call for a general plan update would be a good first step.
Meanwhile, the soils east of Modesto are not nearly as rich and don’t produce the same kinds of highly valuable crops. More visionary leaders have talked about putting business parks and houses on that land for decades, as Riverbank and Oakdale have done. Using land east of Modesto would probably be less costly than land in Wood Colony without incurring the losses in agricultural productivity.
Perhaps the city could talk to Riverbank and Oakdale officials to see how they did it.
Experts project the fastest growing occupations over the next 10 years to be health care services, research (perhaps for food companies), computer design and construction. Such businesses are not dependent on easy highway access. And though we would never mock City Council members for being dedicated to finding “jobs, jobs, jobs,” we must note that not all jobs are created equal. Is the job of farmer less important than that of a truck-stop cashier?
There’s no reason to expect their hearts to change.
But more than a decade ago, those trying to envision a viable future for our valley recommended that we save the best soils for farming and put houses and businesses on ground that’s not as good. More than a century ago, some industrious families identified the land of Wood Colony as perfect for farming.
Each of those assessments was correct and neither has changed.