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In race of growth bids, Salida Now has edge

Two groups concerned with growth decided to approach voters throughout Stanislaus County.

Both gathered boxfuls of petition signatures. Both qualified for countywide ballots.

But the Salida Now initiative, launched less than two months ago, appears headed to the November ballot while last year's Stamp Out Sprawl initiative waits until February.

How is that fair?

It's not a question of fairness, but of state law.

Stamp Out Sprawl collected more than 16,000 signatures in 2006. That represents more than 10 percent of those who voted in the last election for governor.

And that's good enough to make the next ballot for statewide election, though the initiative would go before only Stanislaus County voters. The next statewide election is California's presidential primary, recently moved from June to February.

" 'Statewide election' is the operative language," said Mick Krausnick, the county's attorney.

Salida Now supporters, meanwhile, coaxed signatures from more than 29,000 registered voters. That's more than 20 percent, a higher threshold affording special treatment, or the earlier vote. This year's November election is not a statewide ballot.

A link between the two initiatives further muddies the water.

Stamp Out Sprawl, also known as Measure E, would ban subdivisions in unincorporated areas until there is a countywide vote. The idea is to force all home development into cities, which many say are better equipped to provide urban services.

Unincorporated Salida would not qualify.

Those unwilling to give up big dreams for Salida — some civic leaders envisioning cityhood, and developers hoping to double its population of 14,000 — formed Salida Now and circulated petitions. It would be a pre-emptive strike of sorts, complying with Stamp Out Sprawl's requirements before voters decide whether to pass Stamp Out Sprawl.

The Salida plan also calls for an enormous shopping center and industrial park.

Letting the people decide

Denny Jackman, a former Modesto city councilman and author of Stamp Out Sprawl, continues to applaud the other effort. He still opposes the loss of Salida's prime farmland — among the best on Earth — but acknowledges that Salida Now is giving the say to regular people instead of politicians.

The Salida Now initiative's November berth remains subject to an Aug. 7 motion by county supervisors. By law, they could opt to waive the countywide vote and enact its provisions immediately — something they refused to do last year for Stamp Out Sprawl.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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