Community Columns

While Stanislaus County sleeps, developers pull the strings

Land use issues are boring as hell: Zoning variations, mitigations, environmental impact reports, yadda yadda.

Zzzzz.

And yet so many things that confound us — the rotten air we breathe, the terrible state of our roads and our sewers, maddening traffic jams that worsen every year, a looming water crisis that's just waiting for two consecutive dry years to hit us right between the eyes — all these are traceable to land use decisions made when nobody was paying attention.

That's why it's important to understand what the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors has just done regarding development in Salida: A year ago, cynically but legally, the supes maneuvered the controlled-growth Stamp Out Sprawl initiative away from the November 2006 ballot and onto the first statewide ballot in 2008.

Prospective Salida developers then spent $400,000 gathering signatures for their very own initiative, known as Salida Now. Duly qualified, this pro-growth measure was presented to the supes last week, the expectation being that it would be placed on the November 2007 ballot for voter approval.

Still awake? Good, because what happened next should take your breath away. Instead of putting the Salida Now measure in front of the voters, the board simply, without warning, voted it into law.

Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am, now what's next on the agenda?

It only took three votes to pull this switcheroo, and the developers had 'em: Jeff Grover, Jim DeMartini and Dick Monteith. Is there anyone, anyone at all who pays attention to local politics, who doesn't believe this was scripted well in advance?

Had the supes done the expected thing and placed the measure on the November ballot, there would have been plenty of time for public debate and analysis, with no guarantee the voters would have approved it. Obviously, that was a risk the developers — and their sock puppets we call leaders — were not willing to take.

To add insult to injury (or is it chutzpah to hubris?) the measure — sorry, the new law — contains a provision for the county to reimburse the developers for the $400K they spent gathering signatures. Somebody has to be quietly chuckling over that one; it's sort of like China, where — after they execute you with a single bullet — they send your family a bill for that bullet.

If this was a politically aware community, recall petitions for Grover, DeMartini and Monteith would already be circulating, but voters' memories are short ... and it's a land use thing.

Zzzzz.

So we'll have to be content with a rather stinging Aug. 9 Bee editorial on the matter, headlined "Maybe the developers really do run the county."

Maybe?

Flint is a Modesto resident. E-mail him at columns@modbee.com.

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