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)