The Valley Citizen enthusiastically supported Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh and Councilperson Jenny Kennoyer. Mostly because they favor inclusion of Wood Colony in the City’s General Plan, both have left supporters wondering whether they’ve abandoned the principle planks of their pre-election platforms, which included smart growth and farmland preservation. The wide consensus is both have sold out; we don’t think so, but we do think both are in dire political straits.
Garrad Marsh: One and Done?
Supporters of smart growth and farmland preservation rejoiced when Garrad Marsh became Modesto’s Mayor in 2012. Over his eight years as a City Councilman, Marsh established a solid record as a staunch defender of smart growth and farmland preservation. He and Denny Jackman were the prime movers of the Stamp Out Sprawl initiative, and he was often the only Councilperson willing to stand against developer subsidies from the City.
When Marsh made annexing Salida his first priority as Mayor, many of his supporters were caught by surprise. Though his reasoning was sound—he wanted to replace the likelihood of residential development with commercial and business—he never really succeeded in explaining himself. And he was clearly unprepared for the storm of protest from Salida residents.
Marsh would have been wise to drop the annexation proposal when he saw the backlash, but he didn’t. Instead, he kept it alive long enough for it to become an indelible stigma.
Things got worse when the Mayor supported adding historic Wood Colony to the City’s General Plan. Again, Marsh had good intentions. He hoped that designating most of Wood Colony as agriculture would help protect it when Highway 132 was extended north from its current path.
Unfortunately, he again underestimated the negative political consequences of his actions. People knowledgeable about the planning process immediately realized including Wood Colony in the General Plan was more likely to endanger than protect it. Wood Colony became a cause celebre that would become a featured story by The New York Times. And Garrad Marsh became the villain in what was becoming an all-too-predictable land grab scenario.
At a recent meeting with Wood Colony residents, Marsh said he didn’t expect to be re-elected. He also said that anyone likely to replace him as Mayor of Modesto would be far less likely to protect farmland than he would. By this time, however, Wood Colony residents really didn’t care who was coming after their land. They were more than ready to defend it themselves, without or without the help of Mayor Marsh.
Unless Garrad Marsh can somehow reestablish his credibility as a smart-growth advocate of farmland preservation, his prediction about losing the next election will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many of his supporters still believe in his integrity, but wonder what happened to the man who had once been one the community’s leaders in wise land use.
Marsh’s defeat in the next election would almost certainly be a victory for the Asphalt Empire. His pro-developer opponents can’t help but be ecstatic at the prospect of capitalizing on his political missteps.
Jenny Kenoyer: Not Ready for Prime Time?
Jenny Kenoyer’s upset victory over Stephanie Burnside had to have been a gratifying reward for incredibly hard work. Prior to the election, Kenoyer walked her precinct twice, attended multitudes of neighborhood gatherings, and was a constant presence at City Council meetings.
Flushed with victory and what seemed like a mandate from her constituents, there was no way she could have predicted the outpouring of criticism she received when she followed Garrad Marsh’s lead and supported including Wood Colony in Modesto’s General Plan.
Professional politicians shrug off vitriol and opprobrium like a star athlete ignores boos when on the road, but Jenny Kenoyer is not a professional politician. Like many people with good intentions and clear consciences, she bristles when her motives are questioned. Unfortunately, her angry public outbursts have only fed the fire of her critics.
Today, Kenoyer finds herself in the same tight corner as Garrad Marsh. Having divested themselves of their identities as protectors of farmland, Kenoyer and Marsh have to wonder how they will distinguish themselves from their opponents in the next election, especially if they continue their politically toxic positions on Wood Colony.
Marsh and Kenoyer have time to recover from their missteps, but they may not want to. It’s clear both remain stunned and stubborn about public criticism of their positions on Wood Colony. Unfortunately, their refusal to follow the will of their constituents will very likely open the door for their opponents in the next election.
What’s Next for Marsh and Kenoyer?
In order to recapture their political bases, Garrad Marsh and Jenny Kenoyer will have to listen to the people who put them in office. Marsh is probably right when he says his political opponents are less concerned about farmland preservation than he is, but that’s not the kind of platform to kindle enthusiasm in a traditionally apathetic electorate.
Absent a dramatic turnaround in public sentiment, Marsh and Kenoyer appear ready to hand their offices to an all-too-eager contingent of growth-boomers. That’s bad news for Modesto, and bad news for the region.