The two best economic indicators last week weren’t in the business section of your daily newspaper. Instead, they came in the form of a political announcement and a little-noticed vote by one of the most obscure committees in county government.
The political announcement was Dave Lopez’s formal declaration he would run for Mayor of Modesto against incumbent Garrad Marsh. Citing his opposition to Marsh’s proposal for an increase in the sales tax, Lopez said he would manage the city more like former Mayor Jim Ridenour.
The vote occurred at the March 25 meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) for Stanislaus County. One of the best kept secrets in the state, LAFCo is charged with “discouraging sprawl” and approving jurisdictional boundaries and spheres of influence for the county’s cities.
In many counties, LAFCo fails to fulfill its function mostly because the public has little awareness of existence. That was the case in Stanislaus County until the election of Supervisor Jim DeMartini. A staunch proponent of farmland preservation, DeMartini became an active member of LAFCo’s governing committee and now serves as chair.
Though DeMartini has provided the energy and oversight to assure that LAFCo serves its mission, there are never-ending attempts to stack the commission with pro-growth members. That’s what happened recently when Brad Hawn and Amy Bublak were appointed.
Last Wednesday, Bublak and Hawn supported a drastic reduction in developers’ fees for farmland mitigation. The proposal to reduce fees lost by one vote; DeMartini and fellow Supervisor Terry Withrow voted to maintain the current fee structure.
So what do the LAFCo vote and Dave Lopez’s announcement have to do with the economy? Both are signs local developers are ramping up for another growth boom.
Garrad Marsh has a stellar record for supporting mitigation for loss of farmland. When the Modesto City Council voted in favor of reducing developers’ fees for mitigation, only Marsh and Councilmember Jenny Kenoyer voted against the reduction. Dave Lopez joined all the other councilmembers in supporting reduced fees.
During recessions, developers show little interest in local politics. When the economy heats up, they try to maximize opportunity and profits by putting their supporters in office.
Dave Lopez hopes to gin up enough anti-tax hysteria to unseat Marsh. He could also siphon votes from Marsh in a crowded race. Crowded races are among developers’ favored strategies for winning local elections because they often result in run-off elections. Run-offs tend to neutralize the incumbent’s advantage.
Developers are already confident they have enough votes on the Modesto City Council. With a replacement for Marsh, they could direct city growth policies for the next eight years. They could also keep putting pressure on LAFCo to become more growth-friendly.
The economy is heating up and developers are moving to spur another growth boom. Voters beware: When the economy improves, the Asphalt Empire rises. The consequences are sprawl, stressed social services and infrastructure, and long recessions.
West Sider says
Great that you posted about the LAFCO meeting. I don’t believe what you posted is accurate though. I don’t believe there was a vote to ” lower fees “. LAFCO’s mitigation policy is a work in process. I believe what happened was LAFCO’s policy did not have a set mitigation figure. Patterson has been toying with an Ag mitigation policy for some time. Not because the city recognizes the importance of preserving ag land. They don’t. They are forced to come up with a plan if they want to annex any land, and that is the only reason they did so. What happened was the BIA came up with a figure of $2,000 an acre for mitigation an city just accepted it. Can you imagine adopting a figure from the BIA? That is the fox guarding the hen house. Not surprising since developers have dictated Patterson’s planning for years. It was Patterson’s ridiculous adoption of the BIA’s suggestion that drove LAFCO to look into the fees. Keep in mind that an ag mitigation fee is not required by LAFCO, It is one of several options cities can use as plan to preserve farmland. Newman did something else. Their plan will be ineffectual, but that is another story
Tom Orvis says
Hughson has a 2:1 policy and Oakdale has a 1:1. I have a long history with this from San Joaquin County where I was involved with the creation of the County’s Ag Mitigation policy and Stockton’s as well. Both values were based on NEXUS studies which no city in Stanislaus County is willing to pay for. Both numbers were in excess of $8,000 per acre. The $2,000 number is coming from the Sierra Club settlement with Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy.
Here’s a link from Eric Parfrey of the Sierra Club Chapter in Stockton synopsizing the San Joaquin policies. Eric coincidentally is the lead planner in Yolo County and the only other county to have the LAFCO determination Stanislaus County has. It’s not a coincidence.
I understand Oakdale & Hughson’s objections. Maybe if the other cities adopted something plausible the County would not react this way. Call this the Patterson Rule. The key was to provide a framework and let the developer (experts in land acquisition) and the landowner make a deal. If not, and at last resort, let the Farmland Trust make an acquisition. They are accredited and experts in doing this – they are also well aware of the price tag it takes to get this done. It sure is not $2000 per acre. If it has water, it is only becoming more valuable.
Just my opinion.
Eric Caine says
Thank you Tom and Westsider. It is a pleasure to have such alert and knowledgeable readers. We started The Valley Citizen in hopes of having readers like you add to our knowledge and understand and we always appreciate when you do. I recently heard of irrigated farmland selling for $27,000 an acre. $2,000 is risible.
west sider says
Under mitigation, they wouldn’t have to actually purchase the land, just the rights to develop it by placing an easement. On the westside in areas where there are good water rights, open land can fetch $30,000 per acre, and more if the land is planted with trees. From what I’ve seen land in the Modesto and Turlock areas are at least that.
west sider says
Interesting from Tom’s email where that $2,000 came from. I believe the BIA provided that figure to the City of Patterson. I have to commend the City of Hughson. They appear to recognize the value of farmland preservation, and was proactive in setting up a plan. Newman’s quickly adopted a plan also, but I believe what they adopted is pretty useless. Patterson doesn’t want to adopt anything that would actually work, they just want rapid growth and urbanization. The developers call the shots there.
Tom Orvis says
And now the Cities want to boot out Beekman and reverse the vote. Well then the people should boot out the public representative – he is controlled by the cities – seems fair to me. I worked with him attempting to get Modesto an ag mitigation program. Adamantly opposed. Up comes the Trojan Horse to go low on fees and send it to Ag education. That’s always the carrot and it does nothing. Just an offramp to nowhere but it looks like they care about the future. They used it in Riverbank too on the Sustainable Ag Solutions Committee they created. It was a Trojan Horse too.
Eric – dig into the connection of the Deputy City Attorney for all six cities and his connections – I think you will appreciate it.
Eric Caine says
Thank you Tom. Hard to figure why these small towns prefer to ditch unique character and local history in favor of housing tracts and strip malls, especially when residential expansion doesn’t pencil out (except for the guys pulling the political strings).
west sider says
“That’s always the carrot and it does nothing. Just an offramp to nowhere but it looks like they care about the future”
Exactly. That is what I’ve always said. These mayors and their developer allies don’t want an ag mitigation program that might actually work. They want to pass something that won’t work so that everyone walks away feeling good but then it is on to business as usual. And yes Mayor Molina, you and the other six mayors are WRONG. What these mayors are seeking by delaying the vote and seeking to comprimise is to water down the policy to make it ineffective. In regards to the Mayors’ attack on Beekman, LAFCO is an independent state created agency, It was created to ensure Ag mitigation resourses are preserved and cities promote orderly growth. LAFCO was ceated because it was recognized that city’s weren’t achieving these goals on there own. if LAFCO bows down to these mayors, it no longer has any independence. Mr Beekman deserves to be commended. And Mayor Molina, your city is the worst offender of them all. They have done just about everything contrary to the goals established by LAFCO.