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West Park proposal has potential to damage local economy

A few months ago, the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau board of directors took a stand on the proposal to develop the 1,528-acre former Crows Landing Naval Air Station. Essentially, our board opposed any development and proposed to keep the area in agricultural use.

The Board of Supervisors had two options. Ultimately, on a 3-2 vote, they elected to contract for one year with PCCP West Park LLC to devise a master plan to develop a job-creation project for the West Side of Stanislaus County.

The project area that West Park is actually asking for includes 4,800 acres, or 7.5 square miles.

I challenge anyone to get in their car, bike or even walk almost three miles, turn left or right and go three more miles. Inside that box is the amount of land that this project will take.

Even better, the city of Ceres -- the third-largest city in Stanislaus County -- encompasses 7.8 square miles. That is a large piece of land for a single project by anyone's analysis. Not to mention the impact to the land surrounding this project.

We see this proposed project dividing a community that has a tremendous agricultural heritage. It will open the door to development far beyond its planned 4,800 acres.

We need to be prepared for this. We believe this might be one of the most important land-use decisions made in a long time. If allowed to move forward, this massive plan will result in substantial impacts. Just think of the jobs lost from taking all this agricultural acreage out of production. The West Park plan will create jobs, but before there is any net gain it will have to replace the agriculture-based jobs it eliminates.

Commercial and industrial development creates long-term jobs; building houses creates short-term jobs and then becomes a drain on public services. The long-term costs far outweigh the short-term gain.

Job creation is certainly an important component when planning for the future, and we believe the Board of Supervisors has the responsibility to look for opportunities for all citizens of this county. However, wiping out 7.5 square miles of the most productive farmland in the world with one swipe of the brush has to be looked at very seriously. When will we ever recognize that producing food and fiber is the "best use" of land?

We strongly believe in the future of the agriculture industry and we believe it will continue to be the most viable industry. Look at the crop reports from the early 1990s; we made about $900 million in farm income alone. In 2005, we were a $2 billion industry just in Stanislaus County. The steady growth comes from the most valuable resource -- the farm families of our communities.

We hope the West Side communities come together and find common ground and common solutions. Remember the old saying: "Divide and conquer." This appears to be happening -- hopefully it is not intentional.

I am sure that Gerry Kamilos, representing West Park, is producing what the county has asked for. Once he has fulfilled his obligation, we, as citizens of this county, need to listen and evaluate the outcome of this master plan. Just remember: 7.5 square miles!

Zipser is executive manager of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau.