Wood Colony residents tell Modesto: Don’t include us in your future plans

Motorists pass along Dakota Avenue in Wood Colony, in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
Motorists pass along Dakota Avenue in Wood Colony, in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

Modesto expects it will start work this year on its first comprehensive update to its general plan — which serves as a bible for a city’s growth and development — in about a quarter century.

But there is one thing city officials already know: Many residents of Wood Colony — the close-knit unincorporated farming community west of Highway 99 — don’t want to be part of the city’s growth plans.

That resistance was evident Tuesday night when the City Council approved a long-awaited and long-delayed amendment to the general plan and about a half dozen colony residents took that as an opportunity to once again ask the council to remove their community from the plan.

“We are still fighting for our home to be taken out of your general plan,” colony resident Lisa Braden said. “... I don’t know what it will take for you guys to listen to us. We don’t want to be part of the city.”

Wood Colony farmer Todd Heinrich said he understands Modesto faces a lengthy process if it tried to annex his community but wondered why the city is keeping the colony in its general plan. “If you are not planning to do anything with it, why not take it out? I guess that’s what makes us suspicious. Maybe we shouldn’t be.”

Colony residents and their supporters packed City Council meetings about five years ago as council members grappled with the general plan amendment, including adjusting the plan’s boundaries, in the most contentious issue city officials had faced in about a decade.

City staff was expected to bring the amendment back to the council in about a year or so for approval, but it took five years, in part because the council in August 2017 reset the general plan boundaries to the plan’s 1995 boundaries in what city officials called a reset in an attempt to calm the controversy.

The plan’s 1995 boundaries include about 1,000 acres in Wood Colony in what is called the Beckwith Triangle, which is bounded by Highway 99, Beckwith Road and Dakota Avenue.

The city has designated the land that fronts Highway 99 for stores and other commercial development and the rest for a business park. The owners of these roughly 1,000 acres have not spoken at council meetings. Some have declined to comment when contacted by The Bee in previous years.

Council members Kristi Ah You and Tony Madrigal reiterated their support Tuesday to have Wood Colony and Salida — the unincorporated town of about 14,000 residents north of the colony — removed from the general plan. They raised that in August 2017 when the council reset the plan’s boundaries.

Removing Wood Colony and Salida would require an additional review and work before the council could vote on the amendment, and other council members said the amendment already was long overdue. And only Ah You supported Madrigal’s motion to approve the amendment with the stipulation that staff as part of the general plan update include an option to remove Wood Colony and Salida.

Mayor Ted Brandvold said that would defeat the purpose of Modesto doing outreach to surrounding communities to get input as part of the update, though Ah You noted Salida and Wood Colony residents have been consistent in wanting out of the plan.

Other council members said the time to adjust the general plan boundaries should occur as part of the update and it was important the city follow an orderly process to avoid the problems it had with the amendment. The update could start in summer or fall, take two to three years, and cost $2 million to $2.5 million, according to the city.

The council voted 4-2 to approve the amendment and certify an associated environmental review, with Ah You and Madrigal voting “no.” Councilman Mani Grewal was not at the meeting because of a family obligation.

Council members were thanked by the public for deciding to include extensive outreach as part of the update, including the council meeting with the municipal advisory councils in Wood Colony and Salida.

Modesto was roundly criticized five years ago when the previous council was considering the amendment for not doing enough outreach and for not listening to residents in surrounding communities.

“When I look at you I have hope,” said Salida resident and advocate Katherine Borges. “I have hope with you that I didn’t have with the last council.”

But Borges also said when city officials visit Wood Colony and Salida it would be a nice peace offering if they could announce: “We’re taking you out of the general plan, and we would like to hear what you have to say about your community. That would be a good olive branch for Salida.”

Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.