Ever since Stanislaus County Supervisors rammed through the “Salida Now” proposal in 2007, local citizens with good memories have feared the prime farmland around Salida will be lost either to commercial/industrial development or to housing, or both. “Salida Now” is a primary reason some citizens are reluctant to support incorporation for Salida. For those unfamiliar with the details, a good description of “Salida Now” is here. Below, Bruce Frohman provides an up-to-date context on the ongoing controversy surrounding Salida annexation and incorporation proposals.
When Stanislaus County allowed development of Salida, it created an urban area incapable of financial self- sufficiency. The cost for the County to provide public service to the area has exceeded tax revenues received for many years. The annual subsidy is in the millions of dollars. Stanislaus County would like the Salida to incorporate or be annexed by Modesto so that the subsidies can be ended.
The Salida Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) was created to give citizens a voice in determining community needs. Ms. Katherine Borges is a member of the MAC and provided me with some of the information used in this article via casual discussions that took place shortly after Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh announced Modesto’s intention to annex Salida.
Opposition to Annexation
While I served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003, an update of the General Plan was one of the major projects. During the update, I asked some residents of Salida whether they wanted to be annexed to the City of Modesto.
None of the Salidans I spoke with wanted to annex. They all thought annexation would cause their taxes to rise sharply.
I asked Modesto’s Department of Finance how much annexation would cost each Salida resident. The reply I received was surprising: nothing. Salidans pay the same taxes as Modestans. If Salida annexes, Modesto gets some of the tax revenue instead of the County.
When I mentioned what I was told by the Department of Finance, Salidans didn’t believe me. I was told that Modesto can’t be trusted, but no concrete reason was provided. These days, Salidans cite the negative stories appearing in the local newspaper as evidence that Modesto is a bad actor.
In reality, had Modesto annexed Salida, the additional tax revenue would not have covered the cost to provide services. This is because most of Salida is housing.
It wasn’t until the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors learned that new housing doesn’t generate enough tax revenue to pay for services that it adopted a policy of directing housing developments to the cities. This is why Salida hasn’t had much new home construction in more than a decade.
Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest
When Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh proposed annexing Salida, he had no idea that the proposal would generate so much hostility. County Supervisor Terry Withrow, who was not familiar with Salidans’ opinion on the subject, originally backed Marsh’s proposal because it would enable the County to get rid of the financial burden of providing services to the urban area. He quickly backtracked when he realized that the proposal wouldn’t fly. Garrad Marsh thought that he was only hearing from a vocal minority and didn’t give up the idea until after a study confirmed widespread opposition.
What Salidans Really Want
Ask a resident of Salida what he wants from his government and the standard reply is to be left alone and no new taxes. Many Salidans don’t want to incorporate because they fear that another layer of government will result in higher taxes. They are content with leaving their community as it is, with Stanislaus County subsidizing their services.
When it comes to self-governance, opinions vary. No one in Salida wants to join behemoth Modesto. Salidans fear a decline in quality of life and higher taxes. The risks of annexation are greater than any potential gain. Modesto is cash strapped and cutting services, so where’s the benefit?
Many are content with the present set up with MAC and the County working together to provide an adequate quality of life within the community. There is a group of unknown size that wants to incorporate Salida so that Modesto will never be able to annex it.
The Pro-Incorporation Faction
Before Mayor Marsh gave up the push to annex Salida, I had a couple of telephone conversations with Ms. Borges about the Mayor’s efforts, and the pros and cons of annexation vs. incorporation.
During our conversation, Ms. Borges told me that she preferred incorporation and I encouraged her to seek it. Since some of the taxes I pay for Stanislaus County services go to subsidize Salida, I thought that incorporation would be a win-win. She could pay higher taxes to operate her own community in a manner she desires and the taxes I currently pay would be used more equitably throughout the county.
Ms. Borges told me that she was told by Stanislaus County that Salida can’t incorporate because it doesn’t have the tax base to maintain the current level of services. I understood her to say that Salida would need to build a large industrial park in order to raise enough taxes to fund services for an incorporated city and that she fully supports the Salida Plan.
Because the Salida Plan requires the taking of prime agricultural land, this solution does not seem reasonable to those who believe that preservation of farm land is the highest and best use of land surrounding Salida. I would rather see her services continue to be subsidized than allow the taking.
Saving Wood Colony
In addition to her duties on the Salida MAC, Ms. Borges has been a leader in the fight to protect Wood Colony from Modesto’s overtures. Given her stance on incorporation, I have wondered whether she is fighting to keep Wood Colony in agriculture or to keep out Modesto in order to save it for urban expansion by an incorporated Salida. As preposterous as this possibility may seem, absent limit lines for every urban area in Stanislaus County, anything is possible.
Assuming Ms. Borges is fighting for Wood Colony out of genuine altruism, there is no guarantee that someone else in Salida’s future won’t try to annex Wood Colony or parts of it. Some land speculators in Wood Colony are reportedly eager to cash out.
Stamp Out Sprawl: The Remedy for Keeping Salida’s Taxes Low?
In Part Two of this report, I explained how Stamp Out Sprawl (SOS) would make it easier for Salida to sprawl into a large urban area by taking farm land currently in Modesto’s sphere of influence. The sprawl would be a mega “Zoning for Dollars” scheme with the express purpose of enabling present Salida residents to keep their services without paying more taxes. The subsidy would be shifted from Stanislaus County to businesses that a newly incorporated Salida expects to attract.
If SOS is going to be used by developers to promote urban sprawl, then I don’t want any part of it. Some readers are saying to themselves that the scenario I have outlined would never happen. If you had told me that thousands of acres of nut trees would be planted during a drought, I would have said that would never happen. In Stanislaus County, ridiculous decisions are made with surprising frequency for short term financial gain and without thinking about long term consequences.