Valley citizens were outraged by the proposal of six Stanislaus County mayors to remove Hughson Mayor Matt Beekman from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo). Important but little known (see “The Developers’ Best Kept Secret”), LAFCo regulates annexation of land to cities and allows the taking of farm land for urban development. Control of LAFCo is critical to urban developer interests.
The removal was to be justified on the basis of only one vote. Mayor Beekman voted in favor of raising farm land mitigation fees to a level that would enable more effective farm land preservation. Prior to the raise, the fee did not enable sufficient land to be set aside to offset the taking of farm land for urban use.
The goal previously established by the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors is to permanently protect one acre of farm land for each acre taken for urban use. Mr. Beekman’s vote simply affirmed the necessity of collecting a realistic fee for attaining this goal.
Mayor Beekman sided with County Supervisors Jim DeMartini and Terry Withrow in voting for the raise in fees assessed developers. Six city mayors, led by Mayor O’Brien of Riverbank, claimed that the vote betrayed the marching orders they had given to Mr. Beekman.
In order to properly spin the story, the mayors revised their official position in stating that they had simply wanted the vote delayed so they could have more time to make their case. Delaying a decision is another way of saying, “Allow us to approve as many projects as we can at the old rate before you make the decision to raise the rate.”
The delaying tactic would have been similar to the one that was used to save developers millions of dollars in infrastructure fees in the city of Modesto’s Village One financing debacle. Developer minions on the Modesto City Council refused to establish a building moratorium so that a new fee structure could be established that would enable the original plan to be carried out.
The delay doomed the Village to insufficient funding with a final project substantially inferior to the original concept. The delay also foisted millions of dollars in additional costs onto the backs of taxpayers living outside the area.
Delay of the fee increase would have prevented sufficient farm land mitigation per Stanislaus County policy. Mr. Beekman voted to adhere to existing policy as logic would dictate. He was accused of betraying the cities not because taxpayers would have been harmed, but because developer special interests would have to pay a relatively small increase in fees to move their projects forward if they chose to take farm land. The public outrage was logical.
The May 13 Meeting
On May 13th, the subject of Matt Beekman’s removal came before the mayors of Stanislaus County. A large majority of speakers supported retaining Mr. Beekman on LAFCO. The mayors of Stanislaus County’s two largest cities, Mayor Marsh of Modesto and Mayor Soiseth of Turlock, also supported retention of Mr. Beekman.
Seeing the magnitude of public opposition to removal, the majority of mayors decided to temporarily retain Mayor Beekman on LAFCO. However, they left the door open to his removal at a future meeting in a couple of months. When public anger against removal dies down, Beekman can be removed.
After the meeting, Mayor Beekman seemed surprised that he was not removed. His retention was only temporary. He might as well continue to vote his conscience and not worry about what the other mayors think. The six mayors are determined to remove him when the public is not watching. Public officials who vote their conscience cannot be tolerated.
Postponing a decision is a tried and true method of method of forcing unpopular decisions upon the public. Given the generally short attention span of the citizenry in local politics, most bad decisions eventually come to pass.