Community Columns

Support for almond hulling plant on 132 was misplaced

The Bee made the wrong conclusion when it endorsed the Salida Hulling Association’s request to relocate to Maze Boulevard (Highway 132) and Dakota Avenue. It made a worse decision when it chastised Supervisor Dick Monteith for his attempts to obtain information concerning traffic issues from the person who should have known the answer, the applicant’s traffic expert.

SHA provides a vital service to members of its cooperative -- the hulling and shelling of almonds. To expand, SHA concluded that it needed to relocate, and with that comes truck traffic and other operational issues.

SHA purchased a site before fully evaluating its constraints, then spent an inordinate amount of time and money trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. SHA improperly controlled the environmental review process, first offering then withdrawing a negative declaration, then circulating a draft environmental impact report that omitted an entire chapter!

While The Bee has accepted SHA’s “spin” that the EIR was voluntary and unnecessary, the EIR found that the project would cause three environmental impacts and thus was required by law. These environmental impacts were the product of a bad site choice.

Friends of the Central Valley, an organization of area residents, never opposed the right of SHA to relocate and grow. FOCV strongly opposed the site selected, because the roadways were ill-suited to handle the project’s traffic, putting commuters at serious risk for the benefit of a select few.

While seeking a conditional use permit, SHA disclosed that it expected to generate as many as 148 truck trips per day during a 10-hour day. That’s a truck entering or exiting the site every four to five minutes. The impacts of this traffic is exactly what Supervisor Monteith sought to understand.

Dakota Avenue is heavily traveled. Highway 132 suffers from chronic congestion and conflicts from its service as a high-speed commuter route and truck thoroughfare. The intersection at Highway 132 and Dakota Avenue already falls below what Caltrans and our county consider “acceptable” in terms of wait times to enter the intersection safely. Adding truck traffic without mitigation is irresponsible.

SHA offered to pay for the installation of a traffic signal at the Highway 132-Dakota corner, but paying a fee does not equate to mitigating the project’s impact. Caltrans’ approval is required before any signal can be added to a state highway, regardless of who pays. Monteith asked, as had FOCV, what would happen if the county approved the project but Caltrans declined to allow the signal. The applicant’s traffic consultant told supervisors there were several other options, but could not answer Monteith’s question when asked what those options were. Then the applicant’s attorney stated that there were no other options!

Further questions about truck traffic at Dakota and Shoemake Avenue and around Hart-Ransom Elementary School also weren’t answered. No elected official who takes public safety seriously should tolerate this kind of game-playing, and Monteith’s questioning was on the mark.

The other supervisors were content to approve the project after a contrived compromise that obscured the key question of whether or not the signal could be installed. We learned later that the Public Works Department had been told that Caltrans preliminarily had rejected the justification for the signal, but this information was withheld from the supervisors.

Members of FOCV have been mischaracterized as unhappy ranchette owners, and this case was held up as showing how a right-to-farm ordinance does work. Neither is correct. Right-to-farm ordinances protect agricultural operations from changes in surrounding land uses, but do not apply when those uses -- here residential -- preceded the change in agricultural operation, particularly when the agricultural change adds what is an industrial operation. Area residents lived compatibly with adjacent agricultural operations for years. But adding such a large huller with significant impacts is a mistake that erodes the nonfarming public’s support for agriculture.

FOCV supports agriculture and works to assure its preservation through well-planned land use decisions. But FOCV is not afraid to stand up when bad decisions are made that jeopardize the safety and well-being of the entire community.

Ramos, a Dakota Avenue resident, is president of the Friends of the Central Valley.