Stanislaus County’s nine mayors ganged up on Denny Jackman last Sunday. In a classic example of writing by committee, the Modesto Bee OP/ED piece of Sunday, January 8, was full of self-congratulatory pieties and vacuous platitudes but did nothing to address Jackman’s well-founded claims of dereliction of duty in planning for smart growth and farmland protection.
Instead, the mayors decried, “finger pointing” and proudly touted, “a series of maps that help pinpoint the areas of growth for each city.” Trouble is, unless they’ve come up with a better plan than they had last November, the mayors’ maps do nothing at all to identify, “clear boundaries for city growth,” and/or protect, “prime agricultural farmland.”
Yes, Stanislaus County’s mayors would have us believe they’ve been hard at work planning smart growth and farmland protection, but no one with credibility on these issues has anything good to say about their efforts. In fact, the “plan,” as the ever-candid Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini said recently, is a “joke.” Long time farmland conservation advocate Jeanni Ferari echoed DeMartini. Even the Sierra Club’s Brad Barker, who follows growth issues closely, has lamented the lack of planning in Stanislaus County.
The mayors were certainly correct when they wrote, “We need to support the next phase of development by promoting more infill projects to include jobs in a compact development pattern,” but they themselves have done nothing to encourage infill. In fact, their maps feature a formless sprawl of one city into the next, blending to form a megalopolis that obliterates prime farmland from Oakdale to Patterson and points beyond.
In chastising Jackman, the mayors hope to maintain the long local tradition of marginalizing knowledgeable citizens via name-tagging and labeling. The vocabulary involved is simple but effective: Critics of local government are, “uncivil,” or “unreasonable,” or, “negative.” They, “point fingers,” and fail to offer, “constructive solutions.” The truth is that Jackman has a long history of providing constructive solutions for protecting farmland in the form of initiatives that have been hugely successful and resulted in concrete, measureable effects. The mayors? Nothing but talk.
For decades there’s been a gaping disconnect between the will of the people, who repeatedly support smart growth and farmland protection and the actions of their leaders, who routinely carry water for the developers who fund their campaigns. The gap is in large part maintained through stealth government and marginalization of the region’s most knowledgeable citizens. The long American tradition of close scrutiny of government is hereabouts turned upside down with campaigns for “civility” and by Orwellian doublespeak.
Jackman himself has a long history of applying reasoned discourse to issues involving farmland protection and smart growth and has in fact endured criticism over the years for his refusals to be more critical of local leadership. The bottom line is, no one outside government has been more effective in framing farmland issues and putting forward effective plans than Denny Jackman.
What our mayors really want is a citizenry that, when they parade buck naked on paved-over farmland, applauds their gorgeous clothing. But as long people like Denny Jackman keep finding their voices, that’s not going to happen.