Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What about Salida's Farmers?

One of the biggest ironies of the Salida annexation issue is that while what's driving the issue is control of Salida's farmland, the owners of that land will have the least amount of say in the issue. Other than possibly wielding political influence, Salida's farmers have nearly no voice in the issue. I'll explain why.

There are only two options at present: that Modesto annexes Salida or it doesn't. The annexation is likely to proceed because there are powerful political forces and entities behind the scenes that are pushing for Salida to be annexed. Its mostly a mix of politicians, developers, and farmland preservationists propeling it, and Salida's farmland is the pawn that's being bartered around.

Ratto Bros. land near Toomes and Bacon, Salida
Specifically, the farmland that's the pawn is the land contained in developer agreements in the Salida Community Plan. If Modesto annexes Salida, those developer agreements are shortened from 25 years to 8 years. From comments made by Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh at the Beyer High and Senior Citizens Center Town Hall Meetings, Modesto plans to wait out those 8 years so they can change the zoning of the land. All of the land on the west side of Salida - north of Toomes will be put into "agricultural preserve". Some farmers might not mind that. But some farmers will mind, because what this new land designation will do is affect their ability to sell the land they own and the price they can get for it. Modesto is planning an initiative like Measure E, where the farmers' land cannot be sold for residential development without a vote of the people. Will they be able to sell for commercial or industrial development? I don't know because the initiative doesn't exist yet, but that would seem to defeat the purpose of "agricultural preserve" if they allowed that, wouldn't it?

Now this wouldn't affect all of Salida's farmers because with Modesto calling the shots on where development in Salida occurs, some farmers east of Freeway 99 will still be able to sell their land for light industrial development and a proposed 110-acre sports park. Yet note that I wrote "some farmers" because according to Mr. Marsh, some with land north of the irrigation canal between Kiernan and Ladd will also be subject to their land being designated "agricultural preserve".

If Modesto's politicians decide to proceed with annexing Salida, the only way to stop the annexation is a majority protest and/or petition by Salida's registered voters. If the annexation goes as far as a LAFCO vote, landowners only get one vote each. This is why Salida's farmers have so little say in the matter. The future outcome of what they will be able to do with their land will rest solely on what the majority of Salida's registered voters decide.*

*From "Stanislaus LAFCO Policies and Procedures Manual" page 17:
"NOTE: Although both landowners and registered voters may submit a protest against annexation, the ultimate outcome of an inhabited annexation is decided on the basis of registered voter protest or votes cast in a special annexation election.  Thus, the most that can be accomplished through landowner protest in an inhabited annexation is the scheduling of an election wherein the voters–whether they own land or not–will decide the issue."

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