Historically, the City of Modesto has updated its general plan about every 10 years. If the plan is revised again soon, what benefit will be derived from the $1.1 million cost to do it? Who wants the plan updated?
During the Dick Lang era, the updated general plan lowered the cost of development for residential builders. Building standards were lowered and infrastructure fees were set at levels requiring massive subsidies from city funds.
Another purpose of any general plan update is to add more farm land for future expansion of the city. Which land speculators will see their property added to the plan in the next update?
Given the short period of time since Mayor Ted Brandvold has assumed office, plus his pattern of emulating Dick Lang, updating the general plan with the same goals as the former mayor should be expected.
Expanding the City Limits to Wood Colony and Salida
Former Mayor Garrad Marsh started the discussion about expanding the city limits. He proposed creating a business park on the west side of Modesto in Wood Colony. He also started a dialogue on annexing Salida. After spending $200,000 on an unpopular economic study, Marsh backed off when the residents of both areas vehemently opposed the proposals.
Will Mayor Brandvold revive Mayor Marsh’s proposals? In updating the Modesto General Plan, he could add both areas. The citizens in the subject areas could protest inclusion in the General Plan, but could be overruled by a majority of the city council no matter how many citizens show up at public meetings.
After adding the areas to the General Plan, the city could then develop and annex. With the right combination of elected officials and developer land acquisitions, development could be forcibly imposed. The same technique has been used countless times statewide; many projects have been approved over the objections of nearby residents.
If the General Plan is not updated, residents of Salida and Wood Colony who are outside the current planning area have fewer worries about urban development; not at least, until the next General Plan update.
Absent urban limit lines, such as those proposed in the failed Measure I initiative of the last Modesto election, Wood Colony will always face the potential of urban development; Salida may receive future overtures for annexation into Modesto.
Expansion of Urban Limits Elsewhere
Another option for expansion is north and east into farming areas outside those claimed by the city of Riverbank. Vance Kennedy, who lives just north of Kiernan Avenue, recently observed city officials scoping his neighborhood for land to be included in a future annexation.
Rather than risk another confrontation with Wood Colony and Salida, Mr. Brandvold and his developer friends may decide to shift the expansion to a less controversial location. Or, he could decide to push for a super large planning area that would include all of the land that speculators have managed to acquire since the last General Plan update.
If no General Plan update occurs, there can be no taking of any farmland beyond what the present General Plan has already claimed. Keep in mind, however, that Mr. Brandvold was not given campaign money by residential developers to do nothing for them.
What Would Dick Lang Do?
Former Mayor Dick Lang would update the General Plan. If the General Fund did not have sufficient funds to pay for the update, he would borrow the money. If the General Fund had money to subsidize residential developers, Mr. Lang would use it. The extent of the subsidies became evident when the Village One development was audited after he left office. When Mr. Lang left office, the city had more debt than when he was originally elected.
When he ran for Mayor, Ted Brandvold called himself a fiscal conservative. A fiscal conservative would not spend $1.1 million dollars to update a General Plan that currently serves the city well, especially when the police department is critically understaffed. Campaign rhetoric is usually hollow; does anyone doubt what is going to happen next?
As Mayor Brandvold continues to follow a pattern of activity similar to former Mayor Lang, expect him to proceed with a General Plan update. Mr. Brandvold has some of the same advisors that Mayor Lang used when he served in office.
The main difference in Branvold’s fiscal options versus Lang’s is the smaller slush fund presently available for residential subsidies; Proposition 13 and the recent deep recession have kept budgets tight. Also, the current Mayor cannot legally tap into the big water fund that Mr. Lang raided.
Mr. Brandvold appears to be under pressure from urban developers to update the General Plan. The fact that he has started the process so early in his term indicates that the action item is high on his agenda.
In the good old days of Dick Lang, every well connected cat in the development game got fat, often at taxpayers’ expense. Lang was ousted when Carmen Sabatino campaigned and won on a platform that promised fiscal responsibility and transparency. If Modesto’s fiscal matters are not handled properly, a similar voter revolt may visit the next election.