Central Valley Farmland Trust President Denny Jackman was mugged, mauled, and kicked in the teeth at Wednesday night’s Economic Development Committee meeting in Modesto.
The issue was Jackman’s Residential Urban Limit (RUL) proposal. Word was even the Chamber of Commerce was going to endorse it. Those who thought such a notion too good to be true were soon confirmed in their skepticism.
When Committee Chair Dave Cogdill called for comment in support of the proposal, several citizens voiced approval of the measure. Then came the Chamber of Commerce’s Craig Lewis. After apologizing for an angry outburst a previous meeting, Lewis said, “We are in complete harmony and agreement” with the RUL proposal. Then he slipped on the brass knuckles.
“We would like to have Measure A and Measure M done away with with this proposal,” he said. “I have just spoken with someone from the BIA (Building Industry Association) and he assured me if elimination of these measures is included in the proposal, they too will support it.”
Those not in on the Chamber’s game were stunned. Even Committee Chair Dave Cogdill seemed taken aback, saying that including these conditions was likely to confuse the public.
He might have added that those who favor smart growth and farmland preservation would emphatically oppose the proposal. In fact, given such conditions, even Denny Jackman would be against the RUL measure. Measures A and M give the public the authority to advise their representatives on how and where the city will grow. They are widely popular and represent milestones in Modesto’s progress toward smart growth.
As Lewis went on, it became clear that the Chamber was playing an ugly and duplicitous game. The outward show of support for the measure was in fact an attempt to kill it.
By the time land use attorney George Petrulakis spoke, Jackman had been completely blindsided and was already in shock. It didn’t help that committee member Stephanie Burnside had greeted Lewis’s proposal with obvious enthusiasm and clearly wanted to eliminate Measures A and M in any way possible.
Petrulakis then began piling on. He argued that Measures A and M should be included in the RUL proposal. He said that “Modesto can draw all the lines it wants to, unless the County agrees, it does not matter.” He then said the County was where all the harmful growth happened.
In an obvious appeal to fear of neighboring competition, he said, “Turlock has a 2600 acre business park on prime farmland in a water district.” He didn’t add that despite the so-called advantages of business parks, Turlock lacks enough revenue for street maintenance, just like Modesto. He also seemed more than willing to ignore the inclusion of commercial and industrial development in Jackman’s proposal.
It’s clear the Chamber and its allies prefer to cloud the clarity with which Jackman has designed his plan. In essence, he’s called the Chamber’s bluff by saying if you truly want land for commercial and industrial development, you can have it: Here’s a proposal that permits commercial and industrial development on prime farmland.
Petrulakis tried to characterize the Chamber’s position as a reasonable compromise. He ignored the fact that Jackman had already compromised, not only by agreeing to permit commercial and industrial development on prime farmland, but also by agreeing to extend the boundary line from Pelandale Avenue north to Kiernan.
As former Stancog (Stanislaus Council of Governments) member Scott Calkins said earlier in the meeting, “Many of us don’t want any development on prime farmland.” In fact, that sentiment probably represents a majority view.
Denny Jackman has offered a sincere proposal and compromised again and again. Wednesday night, he was the victim of a cynical and underhanded ploy to camouflage the Chamber’s opposition to that proposal.
In order to circumvent the Chamber and its minions on the City Council, Valley citizens should be prepared to participate in the initiative process, and they should realize there is no sense in trying to compromise with people who want it all. The Chamber wants the Beckwith triangle, the land north of Pelandale Avenue and Kiernan, and it wants Salida. And it doesn’t want any restrictions on housing. It’s that simple.