The surest signs of another growth boom binge are recent maneuvers by the Asphalt Empire. All the evidence suggests we’re in for another round of runaway growth followed by all the ugly consequences.
First, there was the announcement that Bill Zoslocki was running for the Modesto City Council. Zoslocki, a prime mover in the Village I debacle, is also a former president of the Building Industry Association. As a candidate during the last mayor’s race, he made no secret of his opposition to growth limits of any kind. Rumors have it that Zoslocki will use a position on the Council as a stepping stone to another run for mayor.
Next was the Chamber of Commerce’s, “plan for prosperity,” which involves expanding Highway 132 and covering some of the finest farmland in the world with asphalt and concrete. To further the proposal, the Chamber is advocating a road tax.
Then came the Chamber’s disingenuous support for Denny Jackman’s Residential Urban Limit proposal. The Chamber endorsed the plan, provided it included elimination of Measures A and M, both of which enable Modesto residents a measure of control over how the city grows. Including the elimination of A and M is either intended to kill Jackman’s measure altogether or give developers a blank check on Modesto’s future.
The Chamber is obviously counting on the “jobs, jobs, jobs,” mantra to work its ritual magic as we struggle with high unemployment figures. Valley citizens tend to forget that even when the northern San Joaquin Valley grew faster than almost any region in the nation, we contended with high unemployment, crime, poverty, and low educational levels. The jobs never materialized because the growth was always in the form of residents who worked elsewhere.
The Chamber’s “build it and they will come” scenario ignores several inconvenient truths. Our workforce is poorly educated. Many can’t pass drug tests. We have a high crime rate. Even with added freeways and roads, we’re still not as close to major population centers as other places with plenty of room for industry. None of these realities is enticing to business.
Even the City Council’s Joe Muratore said recently he didn’t foresee an uptick in commercial and industrial development, “during this cycle.” That’s because the demand is for locations in the “Tracy Triangle,” along Highway 5, and north of Manteca and Stockton.
Nonetheless, the local growth boosters persist in promoting the notion that eliminating productive farmland in favor of speculative commercial ventures or revenue-draining housing is somehow beneficial to Valley citizens. They can count on plenty of support from the Modesto Bee, itself a revenue-desperate organization hoping growth will help reverse its ongoing economic free fall.
Bee management will call Chamber proposals “reasonable” and applaud short-sighted “plans for prosperity” as “compromises” rather than citizen-subsidized sops to local movers and shakers. Instead of addressing the problems that have kept us in a retrograde motion for decades, we’ll continue to chase mirages composed of equal parts denial and wishful thinking.
The good news is that after the Modesto Irrigation District water sale debacle, many citizens began realizing the folly of bargaining away the region’s precious resources. Those citizens are all that stands in the way of another growth boom binge followed by the inevitable agonizing hangover.