Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Assets of Exits

The "Yes" is same font as the Scottish campaign
for independence in 2014
When I first read of the growing movement for California to secede from the United States, known as Calexit, I was incredulous and I must admit, a bit fearful. Understandably so because the last time that a state seceded from the union, it resulted in full scale civil war and the seceding states lost. My great-grandparents in South Carolina lived through those hellacious times. Born in the mid-1850's, my great-grandparents were children during the Civil War and both of their fathers fought for the Confederacy. One great-great-grandfather sold salt to his neighbors when the Union embargoed salt to the South. His estate was valued in the 1860 U.S. Census at $10,000 and then after the war in 1870, at $1,000. The other great-great-grandfather was a doctor and later became a South Carolina state legislator. Family stories say he was so traumatized from what he saw during the war, that he quit practicing medicine once the war was over. Did they have any inkling of the misery and suffering that was coming? Would they have left the South if they knew? In looking at the lessons of the Civil War, and if Calexit is approved, should we Californians plan to leave before a similar fate arrives for us?

Because if there's one thing I understand and empathize with, it's many of the Calexit reasons for leaving because much it of also applies to our little Salida. One of the primary reasons cited is that California pays more in federal taxes than it gets back and the same is true for Salida. Salida and Denair (and possibly Knights Ferry) are the only unincorporated communities in Stanislaus County that do not have a "disadvantaged" status. Very little of the property and sales taxes generated in Salida goes back into benefiting our community. Oftentimes, when I ask for something to improve Salida, I'm told by the County reps, "If we do it for you, we'll have to do it for everyone". Take speed bumps for example. Many Salidans have asked for speed bumps to be installed in areas where cars are speeding, especially near schools. In response to this, Stanislaus County Public Works created a policy that if a community wants a speed bump, we'll have to pay $4,000 for each bump out of our own pockets. Why can't some of the estimated $5 million generated in taxes by Salida pay for that?

Which brings up another similar issue between California and Salida - taxation without representation. Now before you go and point out how many U.S. House of Representatives California has - two words for you - Electoral College. We pay a disproportionate amount of taxes as compared to the amount of representation we have in the Electoral College. For example, a single vote in Wyoming is worth 3.5 times more than a Californian's.

Salida has a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), which as it states in the name - is "advisory". No binding powers can be made on behalf of the community by the MAC council. The only one that can make binding decisions on Salida's behalf is our County Supervisor. But unfortunately for Salida, we are a minority population in the district. The City of Modesto has the majority population so when Modesto wanted to annex Salida in 2012, our supervisor supported annexation up until several contentious MAC meetings in 2013. Salida shouldn't have to march out an army of angry residents every time one person makes a decision we don't agree with. Salida should be represented by Salida and for Salida.

But perhaps the most significant commonality between the State of California and Salida is we both have assets that our governments won't want to lose, and that's why I think they will fight any attempts to self-govern. Look at how much of the west coast is within California's boundaries. And how many federal military bases are along that coast. The ports and the commerce that goes in and out of those ports. How about Silicon Valley? What about food? There are active silver and diamond mines in California. There's oil. There's natural gas. And there's even salt. There's not much the U.S. could do to California to hurt us in the way of embargo; they will more likely suffer with the loss of our assets. Which is why they won't let us go quietly into the night based on a majority vote. I think history will repeat itself and they will fight to keep us in the Union just as they did with the South.

If Stanislaus County wanted to, they could incorporate Salida into a city with just a piece of paper called a resolution. But they won't. 
Our county supervisor gave perhaps the most telling quote that the county won't help Salida incorporate when he said in 2011, "Moreover, we would avoid the expensive and inefficient duplication of services from adding a 10th city to our county, with another expensive city manager and layer of bureaucracy that we cannot afford."  Just who is the "we" in that "cannot afford"? He
Salida sits over the highest area of aquifer
recharge in Stanislaus County.
represents the county so assuming "we" is the county, is he saying the county cannot afford to lose the property and sales taxes generated by Salida?  Not only that, but how willing do you think the
 county would be to relinquish control of Salida's assets? We have two major transportation arteries that go through Salida: Highway 99 and Union Pacific Railroad. As he mentioned in his opinion piece, Salida also has several hundred acres of open farmland that the county could develop and receive 100% of the taxes from. Full build out of this land was estimated to generate $22.8 million in a 2011 consulting study. But the asset that is worth more than gold is water. Salida is poised over the highest area of aquifer recharge in the county and our northern border is on the Stanislaus River. 

Salida may mean "exit" in Spanish, but like our state, our assets will complicate any exit to future self governance.