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.