Now that the California economy is improving, urban land developers are once again pushing to enhance the available supply of land to build on. The goal is to always keep a large amount of cheap land available so that property can be acquired and highly profitable projects can be built.
In Stanislaus County, urban developers are looking for opportunities in and around every community in an endless effort to incrementally convert farm land into sprawl.
Urban developers shun land use planning in favor of building on whatever land someone is willing to sell cheap enough.
First It’s Patterson
This past week, the Stanislaus County Lafco approved converting 1000+ acres of farm land along Interstate 5 near Patterson into an enormous industrial park that will deliver 10,000 jobs, according to the promises made by the developer. It doesn’t matter that the land doesn’t have infrastructure to serve it or that the proposed industrial park is nowhere near the County’s largest population center. It doesn’t matter whether enough water is available to serve it. It doesn’t matter whether adequate developer infrastructure fees are in place to build a successful project. Those problems can be dealt with later.
Based on past practices, the cost of the infrastructure will be paid via government subsidies. The city will either use taxpayer funds or the city will borrow to build infrastructure and leave its citizens with a big debt to repay out of future tax collections that would have gone to provide services. Eventually, existing services to the citizens will be cut to repay the debt.
Patterson has already disbanded its police force and is using taxpayer money to subsidize urban growth. The subsidies provide direct benefit to developers by enhancing the profitability of their projects.
Now It’s Modesto
Not to be outdone, Modesto is joining the stampede to acquire buildable land using prime farm land. First, the city tried to take over the Salida planning area. Rejected by the citizens of Salida, the goal of the Modesto City Council has shifted to the Wood Colony Area.
As in Patterson, approval of the proposal doesn’t hinge on what citizens of the community think. It doesn’t matter whether a majority of property owners in the affected area is in favor of the expansion of Modesto’s development map. The only property owners who matter are the land speculators who bought when the land was cheap and who now want to sell out for top dollar when the map is changed. And of course, the urban developers matter because they fund political campaigns. Zoning for dollars has a greater priority than quality of life and the security of food production.
It doesn’t matter that Modesto is so heavily in debt and with tax revenue so low that the city cannot hire even half the number of officers as other communities of comparable size. It doesn’t matter that Modesto can’t afford to sweep its streets more than once a month or trim trees as needed. Modesto wants to add growth that it won’t be able to serve.
As the community has grown, Modesto’s problems have grown proportionally. What benefit will be derived from more sprawl?
How bad can the corruption of local government become before the state legislature takes action to curb it?
S. Hansen says
Mr. Frohman I agree local cities should not be lowering developer fee’s and subsidizing the cost of infrastructure through taxpayer funds or borrowed money.
Another issue of concern is the fact that Modesto California has around 16 unincorporated fringe and island communities, many disadvantaged, that it has refused to annex for political, racial & economic reasons.
It is appalling that Modesto would initiate a hostile takeover of Salida and surrounding prime farmland overlooking the long neglected disadvantaged unincorporated fringe and island communities (many of whom have been neglected for well over 50 years). This is a prime example of municipal underbounding… Modesto California’s “dirty little secret”…
“Municipal underbounding,” a term coined by urban geographers, has been used to describe annexation policies and practices in which municipalities grow around low-income minority communities, leaving them outside the reach of city voting rights and municipal services.”
I also agree state and even federal legislature will eventually need to step in to rectify the problem at hand.
S. Hansen says
In Modesto California City boundaries are being selectively drawn to include new, wealthier subdivisions (“cherry picking”) while keeping older, minority, and lower-income communities outside the boundaries. In this way, the governments are seeking to build a tax base at the expense of building a community. This practice creates minority “islands,” surrounded by town but excluded from participation.
S. Hansen says
“… first case study of municipal discrimination, passed an Infrastructure Information Security Policy shortly after the study was published; the policy limited infrastructure data access to qualified engineering firms and town agencies. The city of Modesto, Calif., locked in a legal underbounding battle, pulled its infrastructure data off the Internet after the lawsuit was filed, citing national security grounds. “There’s no conceivable national security interest in where the traffic lights are in Modesto,” scoffs Ben Marsh, the institute’s chief mapmaker.
Bruce Frohman says
S Hansen, your comment about Modesto not wanting to annex urban pockets of low income neighborhoods is not exactly accurate. The City of Modesto has an agreement with Stanislaus County to annex all the pockets you mentioned. However, the deal requires the County to upgrade the infrastructure in those pockets before annexation can take place. This is because the County allowed substandard development years ago and the city does not want to be stuck with the tab of upgrading the pockets. Citizens of those pockets are either unwilling or unable to afford the needed upgrades, so the agreement was made as the ultimate solution to a longstanding problem.
Eric Caine says
We received this comment from “Patterson West Sider” via email. He had trouble posting. If you ever have trouble posting, let us know via our email address. Here is the comment from “Patterson West Sider.” Worth a read for sure:
Great article Eric. It should be also be noted that Patterson relies 100% on groundwater for its water supply. Unlike Modesto, it has no surface water source. Patterson was told years ago by consultants that it should obtain a surface water source before allowing additional growth. Unfortunately, Patterson’s planning has been heavily influenced over the years by real estate interests. The project just approved by LAFCO will consume Patterson’s remaining water supply capacity. Some believe it will deplete the groundwater supply and compromise the surrounding water table. The project’s original EIR called for agricultural mitigation. The Planning Commission and City Council decided to remove agriculture mitigation from the project EIR. They didn’t feel farmland preservation was necessary. Prior to approving an agriculture mitigation ordinance only because of LAFCO, Patterson’s agricultural policy consisted of meaningless and unenforceable policy goals listed in its general plan that no one ever pays attention to. Also, keep in mind the Planning Commission Chair is a former planner for Kaufman & Brood Homes. He currently has his own planning business helping landowners or developers navigate through the entitlement process for development. He has spoken at LAFCO meetings and wrote letters opposing farmland mitigation measures anywhere in the County.
LAFCO staff deserves praise for the staff report it prepared on the project. Staff thoroughly studied and addressed the issues in accordance with LAFCO’s goals and purpose. Unfortunately, LAFCO commissioners dismissed the report. The commissioners forgot they were sitting as members of LAFCO and not as Councilpersons or County Board Members. The role of LAFCO is not to promote economic development or weigh the economic or other perceived benefits of a project. That is what City Councils do. The role of LAFCO is to prevent sprawl and preserve agricultural land and to ensure cities have the ability to provide adequate services to a proposed project. In terms of preserving farmland, LAFCO ‘s goal is to find that a project does not result in a premature conversion of farmland and that growth is orderly and boundaries logical. Also, that large projects that consume prime farmland offset that loss by preserving land elsewhere from development. LAFCO found this project failed to meet these requirements.
Eric Caine says
Just a quick note: The “great article” is by the “great” Bruce Frohman.”