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!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Pointing out a policy inequity in LAFCO

My comments during the public comment period at Tuesday, June 2, 2015 Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting:

"Good morning Gentlemen, 

Three years ago, I was living a peaceful suburban life in Salida, doing things like playing Bunco and quilting. This is the quilt top I was working on three years ago when my quiet life was upended by Mayor Marsh saying he wanted to annex Salida.  

Three years ago, I had no idea what kind of political machine we were up against. And that Modesto machine is still cranking against Salida. In November, the council voted to remove all of Salida from their city manager being able to approve any municipal water connections and just last week someone quoted Dave Lopez as recently saying, “Salida is doomed.”

Now you and I both know that Salida is not “doomed”. If they apply to annex us, we will vote it down. But I didn't know this three years ago when this all started. I had no idea what LAFCO was or that Salida's fate rests so heavily upon the LAFCO board's decisions. 

Over the past three years, I've tried to learn as much as possible about LAFCO. Keith Boggs wrote* a great article about LAFCO in this edition of Stanislaus Magazine, which I pick up at the blood bank while donating blood. Kudos Mr. Boggs, I recommend this to anyone who needs a good primer on LAFCO. However, there's much more to know and that includes studying how the LAFCO board votes. 

So if those of you were thinking that myself and the other Salida and Wood Colony folks who attend LAFCO meetings have nothing better to do on a Wednesday night than attend a LAFCO meeting, you'd be sadly mistaken. No offense to those of you who serve on LAFCO, but there's a whole host of things I'd rather be doing on a Wednesday night like going to happy hour with my friends or finishing this quilt top. But no, we go to study you and watch how you vote.

I've been attending LAFCO meetings now for quite some time, and have witnessed firsthand this appalling sideshow that has transpired over Mayor Beekman's vote on Amendment 22 regarding farmland mitigation. What's so appalling is how low of a mitigation amount that some cities are trying to get away with, as if our prime farmland, which to quote Supervisor DeMartini, grows over 200 different types of crops, is worth so little to mitigate. And equally appalling is the modern witch trial they are now using to punish Mayor Beekman for his vote. 

Now there's an inequity about this that I wish to bring up here. Apparently, the way the rules are written the mayors can vote to remove a mayor as their representative, but the public cannot vote to remove the public member on LAFCO. But the Board of Supervisors can. 

Now I don't know Matthew Beekman. I've never met him and I know very little about him other than he's a beekeeper and mayor of Hughson. I have met Brad Hawn, and have briefly chatted with him twice and he seems a nice enough fellow. And while I don't know nor can predict how they would vote on Salida if and when it comes before LAFCO, I can tell you this:  As a member of the public, Brad Hawn's vote did not represent me on Amendment 22. Based on the outcry in favor of Mayor Beekman, I'd say there's quite a large segment of the county that feels the same way. And depending on how the mayors' vote comes out on July 8, this may be an inequity that the public asks you to rectify. Afterall, you do represent the public.

I look forward to the day that Salida is no longer threatened by whomever is trying to exploit us next and I can go back to my formerly quiet life where my biggest worry was correctly stitching together quilting squares. Thank you."

(*CORRECTION: The author of the LAFCO article was Stanislaus LAFCO Director, Marjorie Blom)

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Modesto City Council's water extortion policies on Salida

It sounds unbelievable that the 18th largest city in California would resort to extortion tactics in 21st century America, but that is exactly what they do to their neighboring community of Salida. Water for land, is the name of Modesto's game.

I've written about Modesto's water extortion in the past, but it helps for you to see it in action for yourself to truly comprehend it. Because its not like if you decided to call Modesto City Hall and ask for their water extortion policy, they'd have a handout ready to give you.

City of Modesto Del Este map illustrating Modesto's
refusal to provide water connections in undeveloped
areas of Salida. See full map here.
As a resident of Salida since 1993, I remember when Del Este was our water company. But I don't think that anyone in Salida realized how bad it would turn out for our community when the City of Modesto purchased the Del Este Water Company in the mid-1990's. Salida is the ONLY former Del Este community that the City of Modesto uses to leverage land in exchange for water. To put it more simply, Modesto will not supply water to any new development in Salida unless they can annex the land into the City of Modesto. The land that Costco, Save Mart, and Lowe's is on was formerly part of Salida's tax base. The land that Modesto Kaiser Permanente is on was formerly part of Salida's tax base. No one tried to stop them. No one in Salida knew what was happening until it too late.

That each new council member allows themselves to be indoctrinated to accept this hostile policy towards their neighboring community is outrageous, abhorrent and shameful! EVERY SINGLE CURRENT Modesto City Council member has cast their vote in FAVOR of continuing a policy of water extortion against Salida as recently as Tuesday, November 25, 2014. Item #6 on the consent agenda that day, was an amendment to allow the Modesto City Manager to approve water connections in former Del Este communities EXCEPT FOR SALIDA. Watch the video, beginning at 51:03 and you will see Councilman Bill Zoslocki request that land contained within the boundaries of the Salida Community Plan be removed from the area and sent to council for approval. This same man has announced that he's running for the 12th California State Assembly District seat in 2016. This same man has voted against removing Salida and Wood Colony from Modesto's General Plan despite a huge public outcry. And this same man would be REPRESENTING SALIDA in the 12th Assembly all the while he VOTES AGAINST SALIDA while serving on the Modesto City Council! I don't know about you my fellow Salidans, but I for one, certainly don't want someone who consistently votes against my community to represent it!

After Zoslocki's request, Mayor Garrard Marsh chimes in to ask if additional taxes like User Utility Tax and other taxes can be added to water connections in the undeveloped Salida area (59:19). Again, the ONLY DEL ESTE COMMUNITY THIS REQUEST IS FOR IS SALIDA.

And last, but not at all least, the councilman who would represent us if Salida were annexed into the City of Modesto, John Gunderson asks if all of the "purple area" can be removed (1:00:08). Brent Sinclair advises against this based on prior agreements made when Del Este was purchased. Councilman Gunderson has a particular fixation on Salida. He writes about Salida often as you can read in many of my 2014 posts. It just completely boggles my mind that for someone who would potentially represent us, to display such an utter disregard for what we think. But then again, we would be in that same situation too if Zoslocki wins the 12th Assembly so why should I be surprised?

As long as the Modesto City Council continues their water stranglehold, there's no hope for an independent Salida as long as Modesto is our only option for water.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lending a voice for SB 25

2013 seems to be the pinnacle of the most recent battle against the annexation of Salida by the City of Modesto. That's when Salida resident, Nanette Spyksma, reached out to several newly incorporated cities in Riverside County to gather information on incorporation. In doing so, she established communication with Verne Lauritzen of Jurupa Valley. 

Jurupa Valley was the last of four new cities to incorporate in Riverside County between 2008 to 2011. The new city's incorporation took place just two days after SB 89 eliminated vehicle license fee revenues which had been allocated for newly incorporated cities. This stroke of fate put Jurupa Valley at risk for disincorporation.

We learned from Mr. Lauritzen that Riverside legislators were working on a bill to restore that funding source to the four new cities. Several Salida residents wrote letters in support of the legislation which passed in the state legislature but ended up being vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. Several similar bills have since been introduced and all have failed to be enacted. The latest bill is SB 25 - VEHICLE LICENSE FEE ADJUSTMENT FOR CITY INCORPORATIONS authored by Senator Richard Roth.

Public comment on SB 25 with  Michael Kusiak.
A public hearing for the bill was held on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 9:30 am before the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance at the California State Capitol building in Sacramento. I was invited to attend the hearing by Michael Kusiak and Michael Baldwin of Castro Valley. Michael Kusiak was the first public member to make a comment, and he was very eloquent. I hadn't planned to speak, but ended up jotting down a brief public comment on the back of the agenda copy. Following is a summary of my comments (not verbatim, but close):
"My name is Katherine Borges and I am the chair of the Salida Municipal Advisory Council in the beautiful agricultural county of Stanislaus. Salida is the largest unincorporated community in Stanislaus County with a population of nearly 14,000. It was founded the same year as the City of Modesto in 1870 by the railroad. Since Modesto has grown and sprawled to our borders, we have been under the threat of annexation by Modesto which the majority of Salida residents are against. We are hoping to incorporate the community as a city which would be greatly assisted and may even depend on the reinstatement of VLF fees. We ask for support of SB 25 to help Jurupa Valley and the other cities, and any future bills that help to reinstate VLF fees."
At the close of the hearing, we exited room 112 and Senator Richard Roth made a point of seeking us out to shake our hands and thank us for our comments. 

It's important to help other communities and newly incorporated cities in their self-governance efforts. Helping them can help Salida.