When the 2008 stock market crash hit, urban development in Stanislaus County collapsed. New housing construction stopped completely. The area was overcome with foreclosures and financial ruin. Meanwhile, the agriculture industry kept chugging along with year after year of prosperity, generating billions of dollars in economic activity.
While the urban development industry was dormant, the power brokers of the San Joaquin Valley were plotting the next boom. Developer interests continued to stack governing bodies with their minions. They would spring into action at the first sign of recovery.
The economic recovery has been slower than anticipated, giving the power brokers more time to plot and set up the largest taking of farmland in Stanislaus County history. Now that the urban development wheels are fully in motion, the time has come to examine the entire vehicle.
Promotion of Urban Growth by Road Building
A basic principle of urban growth is that road building induces development. Where freeways and expressways are built, houses and businesses follow.
The Manteca Bypass in San Joaquin County is a classic example of farmland conversion to urban sprawl as a result of freeway construction. Before the freeway was built, farm land lined both sides of the roadway. Today, urban development has replaced the farmland.
Since 2008, aided by federal funds, Stanislaus County has embarked on an aggressive road building campaign. State Route 219 is the north county expressway, linking Highway 99 to the housing subdivisions to be built in east Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale. It will also be the primary enabler for the urban sprawl contained in the Salida Plan.
Highway 99 has two major interchanges under construction at Pelandale and Kiernan Roads, improving access for previously built homes and encouraging more growth.
State Route 132 West is a freeway/expressway in the final stages of planning. It will connect downtown Modesto on the east to Interstate 580 on the west, encouraging urban development along the entire corridor.
The South County Expressway, linking Turlock to Patterson, is now in the planning stages. When voters pass a sales tax increase in 2016 to help fund that project, the goal of crisscrossing the county with growth inducing freeways and expressways will be achieved.
All along the major road corridors, urban development is envisioned by those who can only see dollar signs and exploitation of the bucolic countryside. To deny this truth requires wearing blinders.
Promotion of Urban Growth by Land Use Planning
In the last 10 years, the Salida Plan has emerged as a means to promote urban sprawl on the north side of Modesto. The passage of an urban limit line initiative, expected to be on the ballot in 2015, will facilitate the Salida’s urban sprawl as the City of Modesto will be forced to abandon the area within the Salida Plan from its historic sphere of influence. Urban developers will win the battle to take farmland regardless of whether the initiative passes.
The City of Modesto laid claim to the Wood Colony farming district west of the city by announcing plans to add the area to its sphere of influence. This act followed the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s proclamation that thousands of acres are needed for a business park on the west side of town.
If Modesto’s urban limit line initiative passes, urban development in Wood Colony will be decided by the County Board of Supervisors or a future incorporated City of Salida. When large sums of money are offered to Wood Colony landowners for urban development, farmers will sell out of economic necessity.
All of the other cities within Stanislaus County also have grandiose plans for the expansion of their urban areas. Regardless of the wisdom of doing so, cities will grow as much as developers are able to build them before the next recession hits. No effective political force within Stanislaus County exists to stop or even slow the urban growth steam roller.
A Future without Farms
Corporate farms rape the land and water in the drier parts of Stanislaus County. Huge nut orchards been planted that are dependent entirely on ground water. When the ground water runs out, the farms will be abandoned and the land will become desert. Meanwhile, the areas around the cities will be converted to urban sprawl at an ever increasing rate. In forty years or so, Stanislaus County will not have a viable agricultural industry.
As happened in the Santa Clara Valley, farming in Stanislaus County will be reduced to insignificance, ruined by the shortsighted greed of those who have no regard for the wellbeing of future generations. Large areas of urban blight will dominate cities that lack good paying jobs.
The urbanization trend has been proceeding at ever increasing rates decade after decade. The only way to stop it is to establish urban limit lines throughout Stanislaus County. Since there is no profit for developers in urban limit lines, advocates are difficult to find.