Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Assets of Exits

The "Yes" is same font as the Scottish campaign
for independence in 2014
When I first read of the growing movement for California to secede from the United States, known as Calexit, I was incredulous and I must admit, a bit fearful. Understandably so because the last time that a state seceded from the union, it resulted in full scale civil war and the seceding states lost. My great-grandparents in South Carolina lived through those hellacious times. Born in the mid-1850's, my great-grandparents were children during the Civil War and both of their fathers fought for the Confederacy. One great-great-grandfather sold salt to his neighbors when the Union embargoed salt to the South. His estate was valued in the 1860 U.S. Census at $10,000 and then after the war in 1870, at $1,000. The other great-great-grandfather was a doctor and later became a South Carolina state legislator. Family stories say he was so traumatized from what he saw during the war, that he quit practicing medicine once the war was over. Did they have any inkling of the misery and suffering that was coming? Would they have left the South if they knew? In looking at the lessons of the Civil War, and if Calexit is approved, should we Californians plan to leave before a similar fate arrives for us?

Because if there's one thing I understand and empathize with, it's many of the Calexit reasons for leaving because much it of also applies to our little Salida. One of the primary reasons cited is that California pays more in federal taxes than it gets back and the same is true for Salida. Salida and Denair (and possibly Knights Ferry) are the only unincorporated communities in Stanislaus County that do not have a "disadvantaged" status. Very little of the property and sales taxes generated in Salida goes back into benefiting our community. Oftentimes, when I ask for something to improve Salida, I'm told by the County reps, "If we do it for you, we'll have to do it for everyone". Take speed bumps for example. Many Salidans have asked for speed bumps to be installed in areas where cars are speeding, especially near schools. In response to this, Stanislaus County Public Works created a policy that if a community wants a speed bump, we'll have to pay $4,000 for each bump out of our own pockets. Why can't some of the estimated $5 million generated in taxes by Salida pay for that?

Which brings up another similar issue between California and Salida - taxation without representation. Now before you go and point out how many U.S. House of Representatives California has - two words for you - Electoral College. We pay a disproportionate amount of taxes as compared to the amount of representation we have in the Electoral College. For example, a single vote in Wyoming is worth 3.5 times more than a Californian's.

Salida has a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), which as it states in the name - is "advisory". No binding powers can be made on behalf of the community by the MAC council. The only one that can make binding decisions on Salida's behalf is our County Supervisor. But unfortunately for Salida, we are a minority population in the district. The City of Modesto has the majority population so when Modesto wanted to annex Salida in 2012, our supervisor supported annexation up until several contentious MAC meetings in 2013. Salida shouldn't have to march out an army of angry residents every time one person makes a decision we don't agree with. Salida should be represented by Salida and for Salida.

But perhaps the most significant commonality between the State of California and Salida is we both have assets that our governments won't want to lose, and that's why I think they will fight any attempts to self-govern. Look at how much of the west coast is within California's boundaries. And how many federal military bases are along that coast. The ports and the commerce that goes in and out of those ports. How about Silicon Valley? What about food? There are active silver and diamond mines in California. There's oil. There's natural gas. And there's even salt. There's not much the U.S. could do to California to hurt us in the way of embargo; they will more likely suffer with the loss of our assets. Which is why they won't let us go quietly into the night based on a majority vote. I think history will repeat itself and they will fight to keep us in the Union just as they did with the South.

If Stanislaus County wanted to, they could incorporate Salida into a city with just a piece of paper called a resolution. But they won't. 
Our county supervisor gave perhaps the most telling quote that the county won't help Salida incorporate when he said in 2011, "Moreover, we would avoid the expensive and inefficient duplication of services from adding a 10th city to our county, with another expensive city manager and layer of bureaucracy that we cannot afford."  Just who is the "we" in that "cannot afford"? He
Salida sits over the highest area of aquifer
recharge in Stanislaus County.
represents the county so assuming "we" is the county, is he saying the county cannot afford to lose the property and sales taxes generated by Salida?  Not only that, but how willing do you think the
 county would be to relinquish control of Salida's assets? We have two major transportation arteries that go through Salida: Highway 99 and Union Pacific Railroad. As he mentioned in his opinion piece, Salida also has several hundred acres of open farmland that the county could develop and receive 100% of the taxes from. Full build out of this land was estimated to generate $22.8 million in a 2011 consulting study. But the asset that is worth more than gold is water. Salida is poised over the highest area of aquifer recharge in the county and our northern border is on the Stanislaus River. 

Salida may mean "exit" in Spanish, but like our state, our assets will complicate any exit to future self governance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Inequity of Stanislaus County's Invisible Lines

My public comments to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on July 12, 2016:

Good morning Gentlemen, 

A long time ago, Modesto's “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health” arch marked the city's entrance. As we know, the city has grown way past the arch in all directions. Some of the city's limits are marked by signs, but for the most part, all the city limits really are, are lines drawn on paper indicating invisible lines on the ground. 

Salida has it's own invisible lines denoted on paper called the “Salida Community Plan”. But Salida's invisible lines are not as strong as city lines. Salida's community plan lines are consistently ignored by the City of Modesto. And while Salida's invisible lines are supposed to give credence to Salida as being a “Community of Interest”, there's no guarantee that any designation other than being a city will protect land within our lines from being taken away from us. Everything but a city's boundaries can be ignored.

I was discussing Salida with a Ripon resident last week and he said that he would've thought that Stanislaus County would care more about Salida than it appears you do because it's the first impression that people get when they cross the river into the county. If you look to the left, it's not too bad. The businesses along Pirrone are well kept, but on the right, there's a big ugly pile of dirt in the world's worst location for a drainage basin, then a nice firehouse, then an ugly patchwork painted wall (albeit a graffiti-free one) then a dilapidated fence surrounding an unsightly wrecking yard, then a bunch of billboards with trash and refuse all along the railroad tracks. That's the first impression people get as they enter the county if they look to the right.

You the County have many more big problems to tackle than the aesthetics of Salida. Spending money on the thousands of gallons of paint it would take to make our soundwalls all one color is not even on your list of things to fix in this county. But its on Salida's list. We hate that ugliness; of course we do, we see it every day of our lives. And if we were a city, we could do something about it. 

If Salida were a city, we could be like Escalon and install wayside horns to diminish the blaring train horns that pass through town around every 20 minutes. Again, not something that's even on your radar but is important to us and would improve the quality of life in Salida. 

The thing I consistently hear from You the County anytime I ask for anything to improve the quality of life in Salida is that “If we do it for you, we have to do it for everyone” or “If you want it, you have to pay for it yourselves”. If you want speedbumps, pay for it yourselves, if you want a traffic light, pay for it yourselves. After hearing those replies so many times, I feel pretty confident in saying that the majority of Salida's tax dollars are not spent in Salida. And while I won't delve into the politics behind this in the few seconds I have remaining of Public Comment, You the County and I both know that Salida is at the back of the line for any grant funding for many years to come.

The only way I can see to improve the quality of life in Salida is to incorporate as a city. The only way I know of where our tax dollars will be spent in our own community is to become a city. The only way I know of to improve the northern gateway to Stanislaus County is to become a city.

You the County can't protect our invisible lines from being taken from Salida, but you could help us change the status of our invisible lines so they can never be ignored again. Thank you for your consideration.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Stanislaus County could incorporate Salida into a city

My public comments to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors on June 28,2016:

Good morning Gentlemen, 

I think this current Board of Supervisors has enacted some very proactive and visionary things for the future of Stanislaus County. Like Focus on Prevention, or the pay increases for a future Board that might not ever apply to any of you. 

So today, I want to share what I think is a huge problem that lies in our future and ask you to decide if you want to be proactive and visionary about it and that huge problem is the future of Salida. On Thursday, June 9th, I received a call from the Planning Department at the City of Modesto to inform me that the City plans to revert to their 1995 General Plan boundaries. While that doesn't appear to be much different than the way things are as Salida is still within the City's General Plan boundaries, I was also told that this does call for a change in their Sphere of Influence and they plan to apply to LAFCO for an SOI that includes Salida Community Plan land. The City of Modesto currently has over 11,000 acres in their sphere of influence, yet they consistently go after the land that You the County set aside for us in the Salida Community Plan. I think it goes without saying, but no one in Salida is going to be ok with this. And the worst part of it is, even if every Salida resident showed up to protest it, that may not be enough for us to stop it from happening.

Modesto tried to annex Salida in 1997 and it was voted down by one vote at LAFCO. In the meantime, they cherry-picked Salida's tax base and annexed in the land that Costco and Kaiser are on. Then Modesto planned to annex us again in 2013 and were met with a resounding “No”. And here we are only three years later and they are back to cherry-picking the open farmland which is all they really want anyway.  It's proof positive that Modesto is never going to relent until they get what they want; and all they want is Salida's tax base of undeveloped land.

The future for Salida is dismal. If allowed to, Modesto will take all the Salida Community Plan land that's north and south of Kiernan. We will be walled in by Modesto on the East, which only leaves growth to the west which is NOT what the majority of residents of Salida and our neighboring Wood Colony want. I see this future as the death of Salida. It will have no where to grow which is a requirement for incorporation as a city. Nowhere to grow was one of the reasons cited as a denial of East L.A.'s incorporation. Salida will age and stagnate; and next thing that will happen is we will end up a disadvantaged county island that Modesto will be forced to annex before they can grow further west under SB 244 requirements.

There's only one way to stop the destruction of Salida and the sprawl of Modesto westward, and that's to incorporate Salida as a city. An online poll last year showed that 70% of Salida residents supported incorporation. But incorporating Salida is easier said than done. Trying to do it ourselves has the odds stacked against us. You the County, has all the resources we don't have. You the County, has our $150,000 set aside by landowners for our incorporation studies. You the County, would be the ones to negotiate tax-sharing so Salida can have it's tax revenue go to the new city. You the County, as shocking as this might be to you, can incorporate Salida into a city. 

“After meeting the basic legal requirements for incorporation, the proposal can be initiated in one of two ways. One way is through a public agency. A resolution of application can be adopted by the legislative body of an affected agency, which is defined as any city, district or county that contains territory within the proposed incorporation boundaries.”

Salida will never be the town that David Curtis dreamed of when he founded it in 1908 calling it “A Model Town”. It will always be the poor man's Ripon of Stanislaus County unless we can incorporate. We will never get grants to build a city hall like Waterford did. We will never have the police coverage that Hughson does and they are 6,000 people smaller than Salida. Hughson City Councilwoman Jill Silva told me the best thing Hughson ever did was to incorporate. 

Incorporation would be the best thing Salida ever did too. It would have a chance to be a charming city like Ripon. It would have a chance to be a safe city like Hughson. Its borders would be set to prevent the slide into poverty. A green belt could be put between Salida and Wood Colony. Salida would have a chance to be the city David Curtis dreamed of and the present residents want. Please consider giving Salida that chance. You have the ability and the funds to make it a reality. Thank you.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Semantics of Sprawl

When you like new development, its called "growth". When you don't like it, its called "sprawl".

Where you really hear the word "sprawl" used a lot is in reference to the "urban sprawl" that has overtaken nearly all available open space in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. "Sprawl" is not a word that I ever used in reference to cities or communities in Stanislaus County. Once you've seen how all the cities in the Los Angeles basin have sprawled together to where you cannot distinguish one city from the next, they make Stanislaus County look like a wilderness trek.

So when I heard Modesto City Councilman, Bill Zoslocki, use the term "county sprawl" during the June 2, 2015 (see video) Modesto City Council meeting, I was taken aback for a moment and then I laughed. The word "sprawl" uttered by a real estate developer/broker? Really? You're going to call something that puts the roof over your head a term that has a negative connotation? He works for Prudential Real Estate. So if someone comes to him with a project anywhere in the county, is Bill Zoslocki going to say, "No, I'm sorry, I can't represent you, that's just more county sprawl. No sprawl for me! I'm 110% against sprawl!"

Mr. Zoslocki is not the only one prone to uttering "county sprawl". His fellow council members, Garrad Marsh and John Lane Gunderson have both used the term "county sprawl" on numerous occasions. Councilman Gunderson posted about it on his Facebook wall and included maps in an effort to support his stance. The irony of the maps is that it really only shows how much sprawling that Modesto has done, not Stanislaus County. The yellow on the bottom map at left shows Modesto's annexations over the years. And there's A LOT of yellow!

Yet once again, the term "urban sprawl" raises is ugly head. Gene Richards, whom I met several months ago at MJC's MICL politics class, wrote a letter to the Modesto Bee recommending a no vote on Measure I. His flawed arguments include:
"But Wood Colony is not under siege. There is no law on the books that require farmers to give up their land – and the next generation might have different ideas. Wood Colony is excellent farm land – but Wood Colony is on a freeway. Freeways mean business." 
Wood Colony IS under siege. This is the second time in the last 20 years that the farmers of Wood Colony have had to fight off annexation by Modesto. Twenty years ago, their sons who were small children and are now grown, are farming their family farms. Just ask the Covers, the Heinrichs, the Wengers if they think the next generation will follow the last as they've done over the past 100 years. 

Richards acknowledges that "Wood Colony is excellent farm land" but tries to justify paving it over by chalking it up to "...the city fathers are trying to do is plan for the inevitable growth of Modesto.

Yes, Modesto will inevitably grow, but it hasn't grown into Wood Colony in the last 145 years (since its founding) and it doesn't have to. The annexation attempt of 20 years ago was driven by politicians, developers, and Bill Lyons Jr. and nothing has changed between then and now. The overwhelming majority of the farmers in Wood Colony DON'T want to sell their land for development and it shouldn't be forced upon them by annexation. And there IS a law that will "...require farmers to give up their land". It's called eminent domain. At a meeting in early January 2014 with city leaders and staff, former Prudential Real Estate owner, Craig Lewis said, "We are going to have to eminent domain Beckwith". 

It should also be pointed out that Gene Richards wrote another letter in support of annexing Wood Colony to the Modesto Bee on January 11, 2014 that nullifies his own argument that farmers would not have to give up their land saying, "If the city annexes the land it wants, the area will not be developed for at least 10 or 15 years."

Richards additionally tries to rationalize the loss of prime farmland by replacing it with"...Tall buildings with hydroponic farming that produce six crops per year on a tenth of the water". First off, hydroponic farming is not what's being proposed to be built in Wood Colony. And if it were to be built, just how would tall buildings that use a tenth of the water be able to recharge the aquifer that lies under Wood Colony?

Simply put, Measure I takes the annexations of Wood Colony and Salida out of the hands of politicians and puts it into the hands of Modesto voters at the ballot box. If you're a Modesto voter, please support your neighbors in Wood Colony and Salida and vote "Yes on Measure I".

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tokyo Rose Russell's campaign against Modesto's Measure I

Modesto Chamber of Commerce
CEO, Cecil Russell left. Craig Lewis
and Jon Rodriguez seated behind at
June 2015 Modesto City Council
In the last week of January 2013, I received a tip that the Modesto Chamber of Commerce was planning a mailer campaign to try and promote the Salida Annexation to Salida residents. The first thing I did was call the Modesto Chamber of Commerce to verify the tip. Modesto Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer, Cecil Russell, returned my call. I told him about the tip and asked whether it was accurate. His response was, "Well Ms. Borges, you have received a very unreliable tip. We are planning nothing of the sort." My reply to that was, "Oh good, because if you were, we would have to counter it."

Two months later at a Salida Annexation Ad Hoc Committee meeting, I relayed that story to a county official who responded, "Oh, I think Craig Lewis and the Chamber have been
Source: - Tokyo Rose was
later pardoned.
talked out of that now." That was the first time I had ever heard Craig Lewis' name but I must admit, I was a bit shocked that Cecil Russell had so blatantly lied to me. As the daughter of a WWII veteran who fought the Japanese in Leyte Gulf, this potential propaganda campaign by the Modesto Chamber of Commerce to manipulate the minds of Salidans reminded me of the famous WWII Japanese propagandists known as "Tokyo Rose.
I began thinking of Cecil as "Tokyo Rose Russell".

Tokyo Rose Russell and Craig Lewis are at it again with their propaganda campaigns. Mailers hit homes on Friday, October 9, 2015 claiming "Your Modesto Police Officers & Firefighters Urge You Vote NO on Measure I - Measure I will Make Modesto Residents LESS Safe". So let's dissect that statement on the rationale of how urban limits could make Modesto residents "less safe". First off, they are trying to capitalize on a fear factor that Modesto residents might have because the city has high crime rates. That's something that the Modesto City Council has tried to sell Measure G (a sales tax hike) to the voters by calling
it "Safer Neighborhoods Initiative". But how can a measure that imposes urban limits on developers make Modesto "less safe"? The thinking may go something like this: if Modesto politicians and developers are restricted from being able to easily annex and build in the communities of Wood Colony and Salida, then that means less tax revenue for the city which is what funds their police and fire. Notice that I highlighted and emphasized the word "easily" - because technically, if Measure I passes, Modesto politicians and developers can still annex and develop in Wood Colony and Salida but not without first sending it to Modesto's registered voters for approval

Now let's address the mailer piece claim that Modesto police officers and firefighters urge a no vote. Do all Modesto police and firefighters really think this? No, it was a small number who voted for this on their union boards; the general membership wasn't polled. There are Modesto firefighters who live in Wood Colony and Salida. Do you think they think its better for Modesto's politicians to decide the fate of their communities as opposed to themselves and their neighbors? And I've had a Modesto policeman tell me personally he thought Salida should decide it's own future. Self-determination is all we want. But the money and power wrought against us by the Modesto City Council and Modesto Chamber of Commerce makes this difficult to achieve.

The most important thing to note on the mailer is the most innocuous, but definitely wordy: the return address. Tokyo Rose Russell and friends have gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like the entire population of Modesto is against Measure I. Even going so far
Easier just to write:
"All of Modesto"
as to double cover the bases by listing "Modesto Taxpayers" and "Residents" as if those are two separate groups. Ok, maybe you can count children as being residents and not taxpayers but its not like they can vote on it nor have any children's groups come out in opposition against Measure I. Additionally, the return address is either a misprint or the Modesto Chamber is using a criminal law attorney, Earl Carter, as a front for their organization. The chamber's address is listed on their original Form 410 filing.

The Modesto Chamber of Commerce is garnering some big donations from their members to fight Measure I. The Modesto Chamber's president, Dave Gianelli donated $1,000 and Craig Lewis, (former owner of Prudential Real Estate) has donated $3,000 under the guise of Sylvan Property Management. Tokyo Rose Russell donated $1,000 and the Modesto Chamber donated another $3,000.

Just as our G.I.'s saw through Tokyo Rose's propaganda, Salida and Wood Colony residents hope City of Modesto voters will see through this charade and vote 'Yes on Measure I'. Please help give the ability for your neighbors to the north and the west to decide our own futures.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Out of the developers' closet - Bill Lyons Jr.

Ahhhh Councilman John Gunderson, how I've missed you so! You've been so quiet lately and then you drop this Labor Day gift in our laps - you just outed Bill Lyons as one of the key drivers of the City of Modesto's Wood Colony annexation quest!

Former California Secretary of Agriculture
and local Modesto-area developer,
Bill Lyons Jr.
Photo source 
You see, it is already well known in Wood Colony that the former California State Secretary of AGRICULTURE is the largest landowner in the Beckwith Triangle area of Wood Colony and that he wants his land annexed into the city for development. Bill Lyons is already well established as a developer; he owns the shopping center on the southeast corner of Standiford and Sisk Roads and the Wood Colony shopping center at Pelandale and Sisk. But he's NEVER BEFORE been outed publicly or in print as being one of the key drivers and proponents of the City of Modesto's plans to annex Wood Colony. In fact, when asked directly by Modesto Bee reporter, Kevin Valine as to whether he was seeking annexation for his Wood Colony property, he denied it saying, "...not aware of any talks between his family and the city". (Quote from March 20, 2014 Modesto Bee article "Was microphone left on after Modesto City Council meeting?")

Not only did Councilman Gunderson out Bill Lyons as a fibber, but Mr. Lyons apparently wields all of the City of Modesto's annexation decision-making power as well. Councilman Gunderson wrote in the comments section of the September 7, 2015 Modesto Bee article "Wood Colony meeting on proposed urban growth limit"
"... if the realignment was out of the picture and Bill Lyons wanted to withdraw the commercial color on the map for Beckwith Triangle I would totally support SOS."
So Bill Lyons gets to decide the colors on the city's General Plan map? Bill Lyons gets to decide what is zoned commercial or industrial for the City of Modesto? WOW! For not being a city employee, council member, city planner, or even on the planning commission, Mr. Lyons sure has a lot of power over the city!

How can Mr. Lyons deny it now? When a sitting Modesto City councilman names you in writing, it is pretty-much beyond the "not aware of talks" point. Whether inadvertently or not, Councilman Gunderson is the most transparent council member, I'll give him that.

Since Councilman Gunderson may edit or delete his post on the Bee, a screenshot is provided below:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Of Law and Land Grabs

I've had a couple of phone calls about the Modesto Bee article, "Modesto considers urban growth boundary, budget" and I can see why the callers are concerned. Some of the wording of the article sounds like Modesto has launched a fresh annexation attack. But its actually quite the opposite.

For those residents who lived in Salida in 2007, the acronym "SOS" or "Stamp Out Sprawl" should ring a bell. It was the same name for a residential urban limits growth initiative passed by voters that year known as Measure E. Same name, same author, which is former Modesto City Councilman, Denny Jackman. author is the same at least. The other, Garrad Marsh, is now the Mayor of Modesto. 

To give you a little background on just what a "residential urban limits" initiative is, its proponents gathered the required number of signatures to place it on the ballot. Once passed, it means that any time a developer wishes to build residential housing in the county (not cities, just county areas) that it goes to ballot for voter approval first. In all county areas...except Salida. The reason it doesn't apply to Salida is because the Salida Community Plan was placed on the same ballot, in the same year - BUT - the Board of Supervisors pulled the initiative off the ballot and passed it so it would supersede Measure E (aka SOS). 

But Modesto really blew it when they crossed Denny Jackman's ag line in the sand and went after Wood Colony. He capitalized on the huge public outcry against pushing generational farmers and a gentle non-political religious community from their lands to slap up commercial and industrial development on some of the best farmland in the county. So Denny decided to do for Modesto what he had already done for the county and introduce an urban limits initiative. This new SOS includes different boundaries for both residential and non-residential development. Proponents easily gathered the needed signatures for the initiative to be placed on the November 2015 ballot.

Modesto City Council voting on SOS initiative - June 2, 2015
And that is what the article was about in the Modesto Bee. Its all part of the process to place SOS on the ballot. BY LAW, the Modesto City Council HAS TO VOTE YES to place it on the ballot. They have NO CHOICE but to vote yes as they are required to do so by law. I witnessed this vote and the look on their faces pretty much says it all.

Now I will say that I do support SOS and I hope it passes. It will offer a layer of protection against Modesto's land grabs on Wood Colony and Salida. Except for one area: Denny carved out some land south of Pirrone, east of Sisk and west of Dale. This was in part to appease a developer, Dave Romano, because he did not want Romano to fight the SOS initiative. Of course I'm unhappy this area was excluded because its part of the Salida Community Plan. Being that the land is included in the Salida Community Plan, and being that Mr. Romano, along with other landowners who signed a development agreement for the Salida Community Plan, I think that if they want to develop it, they need to talk to Salida and not Modesto. Salida is done with Modesto's land grabs - no more!