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".