Last week, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce introduced a recycled economic development plan to the citizens of Modesto and its City Council. The plan is basically a rehash of ideas previously presented to the community in the 1990’s by residential developers.
The Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s plan is called “a vision” for economic development. It will primarily benefit residential development, to the detriment of other stakeholders and members of the chamber.
Half-Cent Sales Tax Increase
One of the key elements of the plan is a half-cent sales tax increase to build new roads. Construction of new roads to the Bay Area would primarily benefit residential developers. Increasing capacity of the roads would enable more people to commute to Bay Area jobs and would not create permanent new jobs locally.
Chris Murphy, who operates a trucking business, gave his support to this aspect of the proposal because he says construction of a 132 freeway will enable trucks to reach the Bay Area more quickly. The flaw in his analysis is that Highway 132 already permits a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour on nearly the entire length of the roadway. A new freeway would not increase the speed limit for his trucks. Therefore, the truck driving time a new freeway would save would be miniscule.
Another flaw in the Murphy analysis is when more commuters use the 132 freeway, the traffic bottleneck will intensify over the Altamont Pass and through Livermore. In the long run, building the 132 freeway will result in a net increase in travel time to the Bay Area as Alameda County will be unable to add roadway capacity for Interstate 580 faster than the growth of the commuter base from Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties.
In fact, a study done in the late 1990’s determined that Interstate 580 will need to be 17 lanes wide to carry projected traffic loads by 2050. Thus, the best efforts should be made to create jobs locally, not encourage more commuter traffic.
What pro-business organization proposes a tax increase that will damage its member businesses? The half-cent sales tax increase will damage the businesses of all local retailers and restaurateurs by increasing the tax burden they will have to pass on to customers.
Annexation of Farm Land from the West Side
Part of the Chamber of Commerce’s proposal is to take thousands of acres of farm land west of Modesto for “industrial use.” How do warehouses produce more wealth than farm land? Farmers delivered $3 billion dollars in product last year. Why would we want to do anything to reduce production?
Modesto has over 5000 acres of urban area in need of redevelopment. Countless empty buildings line streets within the city limits. We can’t even find occupants for the FMC business park. Which businesses needing thousands of acres want to relocate to Modesto?
Wouldn’t we be wiser to clear unused land within the city rather than take farm land that presently produces wealth?
The fact is, there are no businesses interested in relocating to Modesto. The area is out of compliance with federal clean air standards. Any action taken to generate more air pollution will invite tens of millions of dollars in penalties to local business and industry. Some local businesses are looking to relocate outside of the Great Valley due to the problem. Air quality is unhealthful, driving up medical costs for employers and citizens alike. In fact, the cost for medical coverage in the Great Valley under Obamacare will average $100 per month more than the Los Angeles Basin because of the greater need for care by local residents in the unhealthful environment.
The Hidden Agenda
The real goal in the taking of thousands of acres of farm land on the west side of Modesto is the construction of housing. Historically, when businesses could not be attracted, land use changes to residential development were approved within Stanislaus County, with the rationale being that land speculators have to be allowed to develop their land in some way.
This proposal to annex thousands of acres of farm land on the west side was originally proposed in the 1990’s by representatives of the residential development industry. The Chamber of Commerce is being used as a Trojan Horse for home builders.
The lack of clear vision within the Modesto Chamber of Commerce may explain why our local economy is presently stagnant. The Chamber’s proposals are not the cure for our economic suffering. Please refer to previous articles on this web site for the prescription and real cure for Modesto’s economic slump.
Editor’s Note: Bruce Frohman was a Modesto City Councilmember from 1999 to 2003.