Community Columns

Recommendations on 2 Stanislaus anti-sprawl measures on Feb. 5 ballot

On Feb. 5, you can vote on the growth initiative, Measure E. More than 16,000 citizens signed this initiative, known as "Stamp Out Sprawl," in only six weeks last year.

What is Measure E? E is easy. Measure E requires voter approval to convert land zoned for agriculture into housing if it is outside cities. It will help drive growth and housing into the cities and off Stanislaus County ag land.

Why do we need it? E is essential to our quality of life. For decades the Board of Supervisors has allowed residential developments outside cities. Its stated goal is to direct growth into cities, but that goal is often disregarded as they approve large-scale housing developments.

Does E restrict agricultural uses? No. Measure E does not place any restrictions on ag uses. Farmhouses and farm labor housing are exempt.

Does this take away property rights? Not at all! All property owners have the right to use their land as it is zoned, this does not change. Zoning is important because it concentrates similar uses and practices and reduces incompatible uses.

Does it stop the county from planning? No, it only adds the protection of letting the taxpayer decide if the loss of agriculture is worth the cost of adding residential. It's not that the voters can do a better job, it's that the supervisors can do a better job.

Shouldn't we build off the valley floor to protect ag? That sounds like a good argument. Wouldn't nearly everybody vote to approve a great foothill project that supplies housing and services and preserves farmland? Shouldn't this apply to cities? County and city measures are separate under law. Each city must enact what is right for them.

Cities are designed for housing and set up to provide services such as sewers, roads, water, police and fire systems. It is a financial drain to provide for housing and proper services in the county.

Since Stanislaus County receives only 11 cents of every property tax dollar that landowners pay, each new house puts the county further in the hole. It is time to stop draining our services for the sake of developers.

Is residential in the county really bad? If you look at the distressed housing areas of our county, they are county-approved projects. There is more than $500 million in infrastructure needs -- sewer, water, storm drains, sidewalks, streetlights and public safety -- in these areas.

The county's last major project was approved and built in the 1990s -- let's call it "Salida Then." It is so costly that the county is still trying to fix it. "Salida Now" is the supes' attempt to solve a financial fiasco by digging the hole even deeper.

Had Measure E been in place 20 years ago, we would not have the annual county budget deficit that is caused by housing outside cities. We would not be losing needed county services to cover the cost of poorly planned residential development. And we would not have thousands of acres of prime farmland under concrete and congestion.

Most importantly, this might be the last reasonable chance before it really is too late. County officials and developers in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and the Santa Clara Valley told residents "it's only one more project." Today, ag is gone from all those regions. Let's not repeat that mistake here. We can do better. We must vote as if our quality of life depends on it. It does.

Vote "Yes" on E!

Marsh is a member of the Modesto City

Council. Jackman is a former member of the Modesto City Council.