Editorials

A truck stop in Salida? Here’s why planners should tap the brakes on this proposal

Northbound Highway 99 near Salida, California
Northbound Highway 99 near Salida, California California Department of Transportation

A company wanting to build a truck stop in Salida might want to tap the brakes.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 512 people had signed an online petition against a “travel plaza” just east of Highway 99 and south of the Stanislaus River, at Hammett Road. Opponents are worried about noise and light pollution from a 24-7 operation, and the potential for vagrancy and crime.

A handful of Salidans told Stanislaus County planners they support the idea, while more than 100 complained.

Also showing thumbs down is Terry Withrow, chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Stanislaus County. His agency has power over this proposal, and he doesn’t like it.

“Something else might be a great fit, but a truck stop is not going to work,” Withrow said Tuesday.

An email from a proponent to a neighbor claims that it’s not a truck stop because it wouldn’t have showers for truckers. With fuel pumps, a convenience store and a fast food restaurant, the Salida plan looks similar to the truck stop three miles north at Jack Tone Road, and surely would siphon off some road-weary travelers heading north on 99 just before they hit Ripon.

Opinion

The idea nearly cleared an initial hurdle Tuesday with an expected rubber stamp vote from leaders in neighboring Modesto, which was asked to provide the truck stop with tap water. Salida, by far the county’s largest unincorporated town with about 15,000 people, doesn’t have an independent water source and everyone there gets water from Modesto.

The City Council was expected Tuesday evening to issue a “will serve” letter on its consent agenda, routinely approved without discussion along with a bunch of other noncontroversial stuff. But this truck stop, right or wrong, is being met with plenty of controversy.

One would hope that a city professing commitment to open and transparent government would have treated this one differently.

Nowhere in a city staff report do you see the words truck stop or travel plaza. The true location — Salida — is missing from the subject field, the description and the full “discussion” narrative. Anyone depending on the legal description would assume it’s in Modesto because the report says it’s in Modesto, even though the true location is on the other side of Salida, nowhere near the city. “Salida” shows up only once in the report, in the background field.

That’s because only properties in Salida’s urban footprint carry Salida addresses, and this is just outside that boundary. So it’s technically not the city’s fault. But how hard would it be — again, for a city professing transparency — to make absolutely clear what this approval is for, instead of appearing to try to hide it?

But neighbors are no dummies. They figured it out.

So did Withrow, whose influence got the item removed from the City Council agenda.

Officially, it was withdrawn “because the county has not yet approved the item,” city spokesman Thomas Reeves said in an email.

It’s entirely possible that proponents — identified on various government documents as Cal Sierra Financial Inc., and Grover Family Properties LP — will press on; they must produce studies predicting traffic, noise and air impacts, and hold a “community meeting,” a county planner told a woman in the neighboring Vizcaya subdivision. Neighbors must acknowledge knowing that something eventually would replace the vacant field, but they also have every right to express themselves when plans come forth.

It’s tempting to ask why items scheduled for Modesto council consideration keep getting scrapped at the last minute.

Mayor Ted Brandvold also removed, from the same Tuesday agenda, a plan to spend $380,000 of city taxpayer money in a specious attempt to lure someone to build a new hotel in downtown Modesto. That happened just after he tried justifying the expense to The Modesto Bee Editorial Board, and after he apparently learned something from a hotel development expert.

It’s good that the plug was pulled on both bad ideas.

In Salida’s case, a pause gives the county and the landowner some time to consider whether a truck stop is a good fit for that spot.

Garth Stapley is The Modesto Bee’s Opinions page editor. Before this assignment, he worked 25 years as a Bee reporter, covering local government agencies and the high-profile murder case of Scott and Laci Peterson.
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