Looking at the Valley today provides insights into what Stanislaus County may look like in 30 years. New technology and unpredictable events may drastically alter the future of the community. However, absent major changes in direction, the future is easy to predict.
In Stanislaus County, the 2015 mantra of politicians and business leaders is to build roads that slice through farm land. Road builders and urban developers make money when freeways are built. Road construction induces urban sprawl.
A freeway will be built along the Kiernan/Claribel corridor. The 132 Freeway will connect Waterford in the east to Interstate 580 in the west. State Route 99 will be widened to four lanes in each direction through Stanislaus County. The south county will have a freeway connecting Patterson to Turlock.
New roads will be built that no one is presently thinking of; State Route 65 freeway for the east side of the Great Valley exists on a planner’s map in Sacramento. A second freeway, Interstate 1580, will be built on the north side of the Altamont pass to connect the sprawling cities of Brentwood, Mountain House, and Byron to the Bay Area. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) will be extended to Tracy, but only if San Joaquin County raises its sales tax to ten percent.
Toll lanes in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, a new source of revenue, will be built in Stanislaus County to accelerate road construction. A new statewide tax on automobiles based on miles driven will also yield more money for roads. Private corporations will build and operate toll roads.
Stanislaus County will build more four lane expressways. Dakota Road between the 132 and 99 Freeways will be four lanes, as will Geer Road between Turlock and Oakdale. Carpenter Road will be four lanes between Maze Blvd and the South County Freeway. Crows Landing Road will become four lanes between Modesto and Crows Landing.
In 2045, the High Speed Rail Project will finally be under construction in Stanislaus County. The route will go through downtown Modesto. The Brendan Theatre will be converted into the railway station. A spur line will have terminated in Merced County in 2025 after the High Speed Rail Authority decides that the Bay Area to Los Angeles route needs to be completed before extension to Sacramento.
Driverless cars will take the fun out of driving. The traditional electric vehicle will be driven by the wealthy few who enjoy driving and can afford tolls. Special lanes on freeways will serve driverless vehicles. Driverless lanes are capable of handling more cars per lane mile than present day cars as less following distance is needed for safety. Cars that are not driverless will pay a special surtax because of the additional lane space needed for safety and accident clean up.
By 2045, Stanislaus County will look a lot like present day San Jose, but without economic prosperity for most citizens. Urban decay will be widespread throughout the County as taking farm land continues to be less expensive than redevelopment of existing urban land. Farm land mitigation fees will not be raised enough to make redevelopment preferable to the taking of virgin land. Declining supplies of inexpensive water due to droughts and takings for urban use will systematically drive agriculture out of business in Stanislaus County, which will become a net food importer by 2029.
As time goes by, Stanislaus County Supervisors will all be replaced by pro-growth politicians. In 2045, no advocates of farmland preservation will hold public office in the county.
In 2015, Modesto passes the Stamp-Out-Sprawl Initiative. The initiative curbs Modesto’s appetite for taking new farm land for urban development. However, sprawl will continue around other Stanislaus County cities.
Salida will incorporate and take over the promotion of sprawl where Modesto left off. By 2045, the Salida Plan will be built out, mostly with residential development, perpetuating the jobs/housing imbalance. Salida will sprawl east to Riverbank, the Stanislaus River on the north, and take all of Wood Colony to the south.
Although the Wood Colony residents of 2015 vow to preserve their community in perpetuity, big money developers will eventually persuade them to sell out as farming becomes unprofitable due to expensive land, high priced irrigation water, urban encroachment and costly regulation.
The town of Riverbank will expand to McHenry Avenue in the west, to Oakdale on the east, to Modesto on the south and meet Escalon at the river. Oakdale will double its land area in only twenty years. It will annex Knight’s Ferry. A mall anchored by a giant Amazon products store opens near Stearns Road before 2030.
The population of Stanislaus County reaches 3 million by 2045, with an official unemployment rate of about nine percent, but a real unemployment rate at 25 percent. The county will continue to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. The poor quality of life compared to other parts of California stifles job growth in the private sector as new business avoids the area.
Despite the dominance of conservative local politics, government becomes the largest employer in Stanislaus County and the primary economic engine. Agriculture will be replaced by government as the number one industry; the number two industry: giant commercial warehouses.
As the long term drought intensifies, the desert in the southern San Joaquin Valley will gradually expand north to Stanislaus County. County leaders will continue to deny the existence of global warming. The new concrete poured within the rapidly expanding urban areas will cause an increase in the average temperature within the region, but few will acknowledge the causes.
The average annual temperature in Stanislaus County will rise a few degrees by 2045. Fog will cease to occur, replaced by dust clouds as the primary hazard to navigation. As winter temperatures no longer get low enough for nut trees, the few remaining farmers will switch to crops that grow well with little water in a hot climate. The orchards and vineyards of old will relocate north to Oregon, where the weather is cooler and water more plentiful. Lack of water will eliminate row crops.
Summer weather will resemble Phoenix, miserably hot and dry. Winters will be warm and mild, with little rain. When rain falls, it comes in torrents; thunder storms will come with high winds. Widespread damage will occur in urban areas annually from wind and flash flooding.
In 2045, Stanislaus County will experience large dust storms due to lack of rain, abandoned farms, and empty lots within urban areas. Dust in the air will cause more emphysema, asthma and Valley Fever.
The Past is Prologue
Since 1980, little has changed in the way business is conducted in Stanislaus County. Short term thinking has usually trumped wise long term planning. As freeways are built and urban sprawl accelerates, the lack of vision will continue to undermine the quality of life in the Great Valley.
The predictions herein need not come to pass. But vested interests are working to make sure that they do. Will visionaries step forward and take us to a brighter future or are we destined for “more of the same”? Visionaries may choose inaction as those who think outside the box are marginalized by moneyed interests.