Wood Colony’s Jake Wenger has joined Denny Jackman and Vance Kennedy in proposing an initiative that would establish firm growth boundaries around the city of Modesto. The proposal may be a sign that Jackman and others have given up on trying to work with the Modesto City Council and Chamber of Commerce on plans to direct growth away from prime farmland.
This won’t be the first time Jackman has put a growth measure before the public. His most recent effort was in 2007-8, when he and Garrad Marsh successfully promoted Measure E, popularly known as “Stamp Out Sprawl.” Measure E requires voter approval when county supervisors attempt to change agricultural zoning to residential. It was approved by 66.93 percent of voters in 2008.
Jackman, Wenger, and Kennedy are targeting the General Election of 2015 for their ballot proposal. Wenger’s participation guarantees that Wood Colony will be a major focus of the initiative. Given almost universal support for protecting Wood Colony, the measure looks at this point like an assured success. Valley citizens shouldn’t forget, however, that developers have often defeated or distorted plans to protect farmland.
Advocates for farmland preservation have long argued there should be no development west of Highway 99 in Stanislaus County. When Stanislaus County supervisors thwarted efforts to protect farmland around Salida with the “Salida Now” plan, even the Modesto Bee wondered whether developers were running the County. Since that time, many voters have lost faith in political leadership altogether, especially on issues involving growth and farmland preservation.
The new proposal would establish both urban and residential limits. Except for a patch of developed land east of Morse Road, Highway 99 would be the western urban limit. Kiernan and Claribel roads would form the northern boundary, running east to Claus Road. The ballot proposal would not apply to land east of Claus Road, most of which features soils of lesser value than the prime farmland north and west of Modesto.
With Wood Colony as a focal point, developers will find it hard to justify extending urban limits westward. But they are very likely to resist attempts to establish boundaries north of Modesto. And they may even try the “Salida Now” tactic of delaying action long enough for a preemptive strike that would approve development plans before the new initiative gets on the ballot. Developers and their supporters spent $400,000 to promote Salida Now, and will almost certainly seek ways to block or delay efforts to make firm boundaries part of Modesto’s General Plan.
Absent urban and residential growth limits, farmland in Stanislaus County is almost certain to go the way of farmland in San Jose and Orange County. Developers and their supporters are already pushing hard for another growth boom. Watch closely as they try to find ways around and through the new proposal for urban boundaries.