Saturday, September 21, 2013

A victory for Salida: but a looming fight ahead for Salida and Wood Colony

The City of Modesto has been working to update their General Plan with a goal for planning the city's growth thru 2050.  From the city's website:
"Modesto’s General Plan amendment (GPA) project will modernize the General Plan goal and policy framework, and will result in a revised land use designation program intended to facilitate enhanced economic development. Regarding the Circulation Element, the GPA will identify priority locations and infrastructure projects, and establish stronger links to funding policies, programs and sources. Transportation corridors are a primary focus of the project, in terms of enhanced economic development potential, including mixed-use development, improved travel mode choice options and safety."

Last Monday (Sept 16) spelled the end for public meetings (also called "public workshops") on Modesto's General Plan update. Public meetings began in March for the City of Modesto's expansion into surrounding Stanislaus County land, including Salida. Salida has been in Modesto's General Plan since the mid-1990's when then Modesto Mayor, Dick Lang, sought to annex Salida and the Wood Colony area (see: A brief history of Salida and a past annexation attempt

At the first four public meetings held by Modesto's Community and Economic Development Department, public comments had been made requesting Salida be removed from Modesto's General Plan update. Much to the utter shock and surprise of those requesting the removal, Modesto's Planners actually acquiesced to this request citing in the August meeting packet on page 3: "The Salida planning area is removed due to the significant public input in opposition to its continued inclusion."  
Modesto's General Plan Update with Salida removed.
However, Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh was quick to object stating in an August 20th Modesto Bee article: "I think it's premature to do that." 
In spite of the Mayor's publicly stated objections in the Modesto Bee, Modesto's Planners held fast to their proposed plan and did not add Salida back into the plan for the September meeting and vote. As the Director of Economic and Community Development, Brent Sinclair explained, he and staff had made the recommendations because he believed, not only could he "sell the plan to the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), but that Modesto could set the standard for all Stanislaus County communities to follow."1  At the conclusion of Monday's meeting, the City of Modesto Planning Commission discussed the General Plan Update and then voted on it. There were three commissioners: Riddle, Brandvold, and Carter who wanted Salida added back into the Plan. My blood boiled in my veins listening to them talk about Salida based on what annexing Salida could do to benefit Modesto - it was as if people didn't live
Modesto Planning Commission's BIG VOTE - 4 to 3!
there! They obviously had no care for what Salida residents' thought! Fortunately, the other four commissioners' common sense prevailed and they voted 4-3 to pass the plan and leave Salida out. 

While its definitely a victory for Salida to be removed from Modesto's General Plan Update, Salida is not quite in the free and clear yet on several levels. The next step is for the General Plan Update to be submitted to the Modesto City Council to be voted upon and approved or rejected. Its unknown how the Modesto City Council will vote on the Plan; but if I had to guess, there will be at least one vote to reject the Plan in favor of Salida being added back in and that vote would be from the person in the most denial about the annexation of Salida: Garrad Marsh. Hopefully, the other city council members have a firmer grip on the reality of the situation as Modesto's City Planners do.

While the Modesto City Council passing the Plan would be a great feat towards staving off full-scale annexation, Salida still faces a fight to fend off another land grab by Modesto. Part of the revised General Plan Update calls for the addition of land south of Kiernan Avenue between Stoddard and the land east known as "Kiernan Business Park East". This land has been designated to Salida by Stanislaus County as part of the 2007 Salida Community Plan. The showdown over this land will likely happen at LAFCO. Salida residents will need to turn out and fight for it. Every land grab that Modesto makes upon Salida hurts the economic future for Salida's tax base as a future city. An example of how such a land grab has hurt Salida, is that Salida could've likely incorporated by now with the sales and property tax revenue that Costco and surrounding businesses generate. And just so you know, Salidans did repeatedly appeal to the Planning Commission for this land to be removed from the Plan Update as well, but to no avail.

Another vital land grab that has the potential to hurt the future of Salida, are the 1,800 acres of land added in Wood Colony. In the original General Plan Update, the
Modesto's General Plan Update proposal for
the "Beckwith Triangle". (The red along Hwy 99
is "regional commercial", the purple is
"business park" and the green is
proposed land grab in Wood Colony was an area known as the "Beckwith Triangle". In June, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce presented their proposal for the General Plan Update which expanded the land grab in Wood Colony out to Hammett and Kansas. Stanislaus County District 3 Supervisor, Terry Withrow, called this expansion in July, "The Beckwith Triangle on steroids". In compromise, Modesto City Planners scaled back the northern expansion from Hammett to Dakota. While the Modesto Chamber's plan had land-locked Salida to the east and west, the actual Plan update still holds the portent of that as the City of Modesto continues its boundary creep around Salida. 

Additionally, the citizens of Wood Colony have been caught off guard by the Plan amendment and vote. Unlike Salida, many citizens of Wood Colony were sent letters inviting them to attend this latest General Plan Update "workshop". Approximately 10-15 residents did attend and many of them spoke at the meeting; reiterating the need to preserve the prime farmland and water recharge benefits of Wood Colony. But it was a little too late. This large land grab in their community was added late in the game and unlike what Salidans have been able to do for months in having our comments noted for consideration by the City Planners and Planning Commission for the next meeting, there will be no more meetings unless
Revised plan for Wood Colony
Blue-purple area denotes a combo
of Business Park/Industrial.
Green asterisk is a Regional Park.
perhaps the Modesto City Council rejects the Plan. One more very important feature to mention regarding this new General Plan update, is that unlike the old General Plan, whatever land LAFCO grants to Modesto within their new boundaries, will also be included in their "Sphere of Influence". ANY LAND within their Sphere of Influence (SOI) can be annexed and developed by them whether its designated for agricultural uses or not. Additionally, land within the SOI can adversely affect certain agricultural land designations such as land within Williamson Act contracts.

If the Modesto City Council approves the General Plan Update, this will pave the way for a repeat of the "Battle of '96 at LAFCO" with Salida and Wood Colony, side by side, fighting to save their land from being gobbled up by Modesto.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The chess game from Hell

Salida is in the "chess game from Hell"; or at least that's what it feels like. Modesto makes a move, then Salida has to counter it. 
Proposed City of Modesto General Plan update

The latest moves have to do with Modesto's General Plan update and the General Tax vote headed for the November ballot. Modesto's General Plan has included Salida since the 1990's but Modesto's Community and Economic Development Department and planners have added in an additional 1,800 acres
Modesto's latest land grab on Salida -
bordering Kiernan
bordering Kiernan that's contained within the Salida Community Plan. 

In May, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce debuted their "Pathways to Jobs and Prosperity" which takes Modesto's General Plan update and greatly expands it. The part that is especially disconcerting for Salida, (besides Salida also being included in the Modesto Chamber's plan) is that it includes the land to the east and to the west of Salida. In effect, Salida would be landlocked by Modesto. And if Salida is surrounded by Modesto and left with no room to grow, then Salida can kiss ever incorporating as its own city goodbye because LAFCO doesn't approve incorporations for potential cities which have no room to grow. Just ask East L.A. 
Modesto Chamber of Commerce's Pathways Plan

Obviously, Salida wants out - out of both Modesto's General Plan update and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce's "Pathways" plan. Additionally, Salida wants all land contained within the Salida Community Plan removed from Modesto's General Plan along with all land to the east and west of Salida removed from the Mod Chamber's plan. Granted, one of the chamber's presenters, Brad Hawn, did acknowledge at a July 15th Modesto Planning Commission meeting that Salida would likely come out of the plan. But actions speak louder than words so we need to see it become a reality. 

On Tuesday, July 23rd at 7 pm at the Salida MAC meeting held at the Salida Library Community Room, members of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce will be presenting their Pathways plan. They know our concerns with their plan as myself and other Salidans' have expressed those concerns at multiple public Modesto General Plan update meetings including the latest one held at the 1010 10th Street chambers last Monday. I don't know what the Modesto Chamber will do but I figure they have at least three options: 1. Try to sell the plan as is to Salida. (Um, good luck with that!) 2. They might offer to remove Salida and the land to one side from their plan in an attempt to compromise. Problem there is how much room will there be to grow until Salida runs into Modesto?  The North County Corridor is on Kiernan so that behooves Modesto to develop the area plus they have already annexed land into the city on the corner of Dale and Kiernan. Or to the west where the new Highway 132 will be the newest artery to bring commerce to the city. 3. They may decide to outdo the City of Modesto and offer Salida an olive branch by removing all three areas. (I can hope, can't I?)

Another part of the Modesto Chamber's presentation includes support for a county Transportation Tax which may be on the ballot in 2014. When I first heard this 1/2 sales tax mentioned by our Stanislaus County Supervisor, Terry Withrow, I was mentally shaking my head no and thinking, "Oh no, not another tax!" up until he explained that it was a matching funds tax where the state will match the amount we pay and it will be returned to our county to improve our roads instead of being sent to other counties. Fresno and San Joaquin counties both have this tax which funds part of their freeway infrastructure improvements. Speaking as a county resident, if I'm going to vote for any sales tax, at least this is one that I'll derive benefit from, as opposed to...

...on July 9th, the Modesto City Council voted and unanimously approved their own sales tax proposal for the November ballot. They want a one cent "General" sales tax which will be divided up between "public safety" and "general government purposes". (Read the Modesto Bee article for more info on this tax.) If the county Transportation Tax passes, then the General Tax will be reduced to a 1/2 cent tax.

Interestingly, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce opposes the General Tax for various reasons (as cited in the Bee article). And until the City of Modesto specifically defines what the tax should be used for and excludes it from being used to annex (or parcel annex) Salida, then Salidans should also oppose this tax. Following is a portion of the comments I made at the July 9th Modesto City Council meeting:
"Now, despite Salida's public outcry against annexation, and our County Supervisor who has announced his support for us against being annexed, we know its not over as far as Modesto goes. No one in Salida has taken down their “NO SALIDA ANNEX” signs.  However, one thing that has helped Salida feel a little more at ease over the threat of being annexed, is that we know that Modesto does not have the money to annex us.  We know that you are in financial straits because you wouldn't be trying to implement this tax otherwise.  And while you may be sitting there wondering why a Salidan would comment on this tax, someone who can't even vote “Yay” or “Nay” on this tax, I'm here to let you know that that doesn't necessarily mean we don't have a say in this tax.
You see, the average Salida household spends between $15-20 thousand per year on commerce in Modesto.  Let's average that and say $17,000 per year and times that by the 4,000 households in Salida which comes out to Salidans pumping $68 million into Modesto's economy.  So technically, Salidans are Modesto taxpayers.  And even though we can't vote on the tax nor serve on the Citizens Oversight Committee, we can influence the vote by asking our friends and relatives who do live in Modesto to vote no on the tax.  Its not difficult at all to get people to agree to vote no on a tax, I've already tried it.  Additionally, we can even volunteer to help those who might campaign against the tax.  
In conclusion, something to consider – tighten up section 2 to leave Salida out of “general governmental purpose” or other areas of “economic development”.
As the old adage goes "politics makes strange bedfellows". While we may oppose being a part of the Modesto Chamber's Pathways plan, we're on the same page in opposing Modesto's General Tax (albeit for different reasons). Unless of course Modesto's politicians take my recommendation to exclude Salida. It's your move Modesto.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Behind the Draft Drama

We've all heard the old saying, "There are two sides to every story" and quite often, there are more than just two. I'm going to share my side of the story regarding the Goodwin Study draft "leak". 

Let's begin with a brief history of the Goodwin Consulting Study. At their board meetings on August 7 and August 8, 2012 respectively, the County of Stanislaus and the City of Modesto agreed to spend $60,000 of taxpayer money on a fiscal feasibility study for the annexation of Salida by the City of Modesto. Originally, it had been thought that the study would be available within 60 days of the dates they were approved in August, but after several months of waiting and no study, it was finally revealed that Goodwin Consulting did not consider the 60 day countdown to begin until they had received all the needed documents and information from both the City and the County which did not occur until about November 2012.

In the interim months while waiting for the study to be released, there was much politicking going on behind the scenes by politicians in Modesto. And added to this was the growing frustration of Salida's residents as we waited for the fate of our futures which was pinned on the data in this study.  So the Chairman of the Salida Municipal Advisory Council (aka Salida MAC), Thomas Reeves, decided to do something about it and I quote, "To give Salida a voice at the table" and with the County and City form "The Salida Annexation Ad Hoc Committee".  Thomas called and invited me to be on the committee and I must admit, I was reluctant to agree at first. Because in no way, shape, or form, do I want to assist the City of Modesto in annexing Salida. But I ended up agreeing because I could be one of "Salida's voices at the table" and Salida needs a voice to defend against the political talking points.

The make-up of the Ad Hoc Committee is supposed to be three representatives from each entity: representing Salida besides myself are Salida MAC Chairman Thomas Reeves and former Salida Fire Chief Dale Skiles*. (*NOTE: I'm using Chief Skiles former title here since he's serving as a Salida representative). Representing Stanislaus County are Supervisor Terry Withrow (and possibly Supervisor Dick Monteith), along with staff*. Representing the City of Modesto are Mayor Garrad Marsh and Modesto Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. along with staff*. (*NOTE: I don't know who these staff members are as I have not met them yet or seen any document where they are named.)

We had been told that the Goodwin Study would be available in early December 2012 so Thomas scheduled an Ad Hoc Committee meeting for December 13th at Perko's Cafe in Salida. While I dreaded attending this meeting, I was glad that Thomas placed the meeting in Salida and not in the lion's den. And in case you are wondering why I dreaded attending, its because as I stated before, I do not want to assist in the annexation of my town to Modesto. 

When that cold winter day arrived, not only was there no Goodwin Study, but the only two to show up from the County and City were Withrow and Marsh. In spite of there being no study to go over, the meeting proved useful for me because I felt I found my place and that's "Devil's Advocate". Marsh says something and I counter it. In a way, I realize that it may inadvertently be helping him, but its not something he wouldn't find out anyway. For instance, we've gone round and round a few times discussing Salida Sanitary and sewer related-issues but I'm not telling him anything he couldn't find out for himself by contacting Salida Sanitary.

But the significant part of this meeting that relates to the Goodwin Study was that Withrow and Marsh said, "We should be getting a draft of the Goodwin Study in early January and we'll take a look at it before its released to the public." At no time did they ever say, "But not you Salida - not you Thomas Reeves, not you Dale Skiles and especially not you, Katherine Borges". So when Thomas, Dale and I left Perko's that day, we fully expected to be viewing a draft of the Goodwin Study in early January. Thomas scheduled the next Ad Hoc Committee meeting for January 10, 2013.

On January 3, I spoke with Withrow and asked him if the draft had come in. He said that it had and I asked if I could see it and he replied, "No". I didn't question him at this time as to why I could not because I just assumed that it was because I'm a "hostile" and that Thomas would get to see it because he's not a hostile. (BTW- "Hostile" is my word, not theirs - I'm a 'call it like it is' kind of person.) However, the next morning, I received an e-mail from Thomas stating that the January 10 Ad Hoc Committee meeting had been cancelled and changed to January 28th which happened to be the day before the Salida MAC meeting where the study was the main agenda item to be discussed. I wrote back in an e-mail to Thomas that, "They did get the draft but Terry said I cannot see it.  Knowing that and having to wait til the day before the meeting makes it look like they're hiding something." When Thomas replied back that he wasn't allowed to see it either, that REALLY concerned me! (Click here to read a member of the public's version of events surrounding the January 10 meeting.)

Later that evening, Modesto Bee reporter Ken Carlson called but I missed the call. When I returned his call, I had missed him so I started writing an e-mail to him. When I proofread the e-mail, I saw how bad it sounded so I texted Withrow and asked him to call me. He did and I tried to make every case possible to be allowed access to the draft like agreeing to sign a confidentiality statement. Withrow said that the reason they were withholding the draft was because they didn't want to release it in case it had errors. I replied, "How do you know I won't catch any errors? I know a lot about Salida". Still no dice. I even asked if they would accept it not being given to me but at least give it to Thomas. Withrow said he would make some calls and call me back. When he did call, he said that Stanislaus County CEO, Monica Nino, would not allow it. Needless to say, Thomas and I were not happy with this outcome and Thomas ended up canceling the January 28th Ad Hoc Committee meeting. I was good with this since we weren't allowed access to the draft, we had nothing to discuss. The meeting wouldn't have been anything more than a dog and pony show.

I never did end up speaking with or e-mailing Ken Carlson and on Sunday, January 6, his article appeared in the Modesto Bee in which it quoted Modesto City Manager Greg Nyhoff as saying, "He expects city and county staff will spend about 10 days checking the report for accuracy. He estimated the review will be completed by month's end." So counting ten business days from that date I estimated that we might be able to view the Goodwin Study on or around January 18th. On January 17, I asked Withrow if we would get the study the next day and the answer was still "no" and it may be another two weeks before we would.

With the publication of the article in the Bee, the public knew there was a draft of the study received. And it would be quite normal to assume that ALL the members of the "Salida Annexation Ad Hoc Committee" would be allowed access to the draft. How would anyone know any different? I mean, how ludicrous is it to deny a draft to the very people whose lives it affects?  

So when someone innocently asked me what I thought of the draft because they had heard Bill Bassitt of the Workforce Alliance say that the draft favored annexation and that he had included the annexation in the Alliance's Strategic Priorities for 2013, I was furious! Here the draft had been withheld from us Salidans, but someone within the City of Modesto or Stanislaus County had leaked it to the Alliance!

Bassitt's strategic plans for Salida were to be included at an Alliance Board Meeting on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 3 pm. We passed the word and planned to attend to hear just what was in this draft that we weren't privy to, but that Bassitt was.

We showed up at the scheduled time on Monday only to learn that the meeting had been changed that morning from 3 pm to noon. How convenient for them that all the board members and officials had been notified but the public had been left out! The Alliance blamed their violation of the 72 hour notice afforded by the Brown Act on an "I.T. glitch".

The next morning, January 29, I attended the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting and shared just what I thought of the draft leak and the meeting switcheroo. Following is an excerpt of the comments I made during the public comment portion:

"I tried to attend the Alliance meeting yesterday because I had heard the Goodwin Study would be covered in the meeting and in spite of being on the Salida Annexation Ad Hoc Committee, none of the Salida members on the committee have been allowed to view the draft so I figured that at least I could learn what was in the draft at the Alliance meeting.  
It can be quite discouraging being a Salidan when you see the laundry list of those who are working for Salida to be annexed.  Besides the City of Modesto, there's Mayor Marsh's buddy, Denny Jackman, Modesto City Councilman Joe Muratore, Vintage Faire Mall, and now the Alliance and those are only the ones I've heard of.  The odds, the power, and the influence that's against little Salida just continues to grow and grow. And the worst news of all is what's in the Goodwin Study.  I now understand what you're hiding from us because while I may not have been allowed to view the Goodwin Study draft, I know what's in it thanks to someone who attended the meeting. I know Bill Bassitt included it in his “Strategic Priorities for 2013” which he will be submitting to the Board of Supervisors.  The Alliance has big plans for an annexed Salida and control of Salida's Enterprise Zone.  He said that the Goodwin Study highly favors annexation and the City and County support it."
It was actually fairly difficult for me to read this aloud because I had been seething with rage over it. I not only felt fury over the cronyism of the leaked draft but also that it sounded to me as if the Alliance had already sliced and diced up an annexed Salida for development. I managed to get through my comments and then I immediately left. 

Modesto resident and Salida ally, Emerson Drake, had also shared public comments about the leaked draft and the Alliance meeting. So during a break in the Supervisor's meeting, Withrow and Nino questioned him about it and sent a county employee to question Bassitt. Bassitt promptly denied it. When it comes down to it, whether Bassitt actually received a copy of the draft or perhaps a City/County employee just talked too much, it could still be proven he had knowledge of the draft -IF- his comments about the draft proved true, and/or if the Salida annexation is in the Alliance's strategic plans for 2013.

My copy of the Goodwin Draft
That evening was the Salida MAC meeting with the main agenda topic being the Salida annexation issue. Withrow took the floor first and presented copies of the Goodwin Study draft to Thomas, Dale, and myself. He referenced the leaked draft and that he was giving us a copy despite being told not to by the County because he thought we should have one for transparency's sake. 

I have heard from others that Withrow may be in a lot of trouble for doing this. That there might even be legal ramifications against him. I truly hope that doesn't prove true because he did the right thing when no one else did. The draft should have never been withheld from us in the first place and its a travesty that it ever was. Stanislaus County would tarnish itself irreparably if it indeed plans to prosecute his just action. 

The final version of the Goodwin Study was (FINALLY) released to the public on Monday, February 11, 2013.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Annexation to Modesto = the end of Salida's Post Office

Let's begin with a conversation that occurred in September 2011. I was in Springfield, Illinois for a conference when a nicely dressed man struck up a conversation with me. He was in Illinois on business and his business was that he worked for the U.S. Postal Service. His job was to close post offices in small towns.

I said to him, "I live in a small town in California." To which he asked, "How far are you from the next largest cities' post office?" Thinking of Modesto's Kearney post office, "About five miles", I replied. To my utter shock, he stated quite confidently, "Then your post office will be closed." 

"WHAT?!? I DIDN'T EVEN TELL YOU WHERE I LIVE!!!" I was horror struck and my mind raced trying to predict when this Grim Reaper of the U.S. Postal Service would reach California.

Salida, California's Post Office
One of the first things I did upon my return to California was go to the Salida Post Office and tell the clerk that the USPS Grim Reaper was on his way to close our post office.

The clerk did her best to reassure me that the Salida Post Office wouldn't be closed because its very profitable. 

She did help alleviate my fears...until now. 

In the time that I've researched the annexation issue, it never occurred to me that a potential casualty of annexation to Modesto would be our little hometown post office. Yet that may come to pass if Modesto succeeds in annexing Salida.

According to our Salida Postmaster, John Cabral, the other post offices in Modesto are also profitable. So if Salida were annexed, there wouldn't be reason to keep the Salida Post Office open. Salida would be serviced by the Paradise Road post office

January 2013
I would imagine that most Salidans would be upset about our post office being closed and having to go to the Paradise Road post office for services. Not to mention, many Salidans know our postal workers and mail carriers on a first name basis. I know I'm not alone in appreciating our Salida postal workers when spotting things like this bag of fruit left atop a nearby mailbox which says "Happy New Year Mail Lady".
Its bad enough that the recent cessation of Saturday mail delivery will result in the loss of thousands of jobs, and Salida doesn't need the further hit of losing our post office too. Salida's post office has served our community since 1875. Saving Salida's post office is just one more reason to tell Modesto "NO SALIDA ANNEX"!