By Emerson Drake
At Tuesday’s 4/23/13 Modesto City Council meeting regarding Denny Jackman’s Residential Urban Limits or RUL, we
English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was taken by me on January 14, 2010 in Modesto, California I hereby relinquish all rights to this photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
listened to new talking points being aired by the Chamber of Commerce and Building Industry Association through their close friends/mouthpieces on the council.
Denny’s RUL recommends boundaries beyond which no residential development under 10 dwelling units per acre could occur without a majority public vote. A very much similar version of RUL had been presented to the Economic Development Committee last year but was temporarily shelved due to upcoming elections. I believe what Denny expected was a reasoned conversation regarding farmland preservation. Unfortunately Lobbyist Cecil Russell’s response was a personal attack on Mr. Jackman instead of a conversation about RUL.
Council comments were even more interesting. Several members of the public at the meeting pointed to the five Measure “M” votes (the five were about sewer extensions after annexation) as the people having spoken about NOT wanting uncontrolled growth or ”Sprawl.” The public rejected these votes by 60.05, 61.66, 63.66, 64.7, and 69.78 percent. Councilman Dave Lopez decided to try and undermine five Measure “M” votes with spin. He made the claim “voter fatigue set in.” His comment was attempting to invalidate 65,974 votes. The “spin” he was basing his comments on was the fact the voters turned down what he termed “easy money” for the general fund when they could have at least voted for the Hetch/Hetchy Measure “C” which included the car dealerships on North McHenry Avenue. He specifically sited their use of Modesto’s water and sewer.
While he suggests this invalidates the five measures the public voted on, I believe he’s reaching. Doesn’t this match up almost exactly with the Council’s decision to allow Beard Industrial Tract a ”deal” to avoid paying Modesto utility user fees for the very same services (water, sewer, electricity) they wanted to charge the car dealerships? It’s all about the utility tax any business building in the Tract would have been required to pay. This “special arrangement” he wasn’t willing to give the dealerships will cost Modesto Taxpayers MILLIONS of Dollars every… single… year after the businesses move in.
So if the five decisions by the voters area are a case of voter fatigue, was the Beard decision voter fatigue or a payout to special interests by the council ? Charging the car dealerships is good while charging Beard is bad? Councilman Lopez, no matter how hard you try you can’t have it both ways because we’ll call you on it.
Councilwoman Burnside has been on a roll herself. At the March 26th meeting she gave the council the credit for Modesto being one of the “most dense cities in California.” She cited a figure of 8.8 people per acre. While our math suggests the figure is closer to 7.9 per acre, in this case it just doesn’t matter. Her 8.8 puts Modesto somewhere around 108th in density of California cities. We would be 8th in a list of cities starting with the letter “M.” Maybe that’s what she meant.
She also said “it cracks me up when people say” smart growth, your smart and my smart may be completely different” she went on to say, so that’s very subjective. There needs to be responsible growth in the manner in where we are building. As dense as we are I think we can do it through the General Plan, not through Ag Mitigation.”
Ranking at 108 and not being among the most dense, I believe shows many things are subjective and if this is an example of their reasoning we had better utilize Ag Mitigation through the ballot box rather than trust our council to do the right thing.
The good Councilwoman’s other remarks, “I don’t believe in leadership by ballot box. I believe that’s why we were elected.” She also said “I despise the individuals that stand up here and say I represent the people like farmers aren’t people “, and “I’d like to know where all of those lobbyist are, I haven’t seen any.”
Lets look at her first two comments. Her district encompasses about 34,000 people and has about forty farmers. The farmers she’s really discussing are about the 6 who would like to sell their farms to home builders because that’s the only people RUL would affect. What she’s actually saying is she wants to provide taxpayer assistance so a few farmers and her developer friends in the Chamber of Commerce can make lots of money while leaving us taxpayers to pay the bills. Taxpayer assistance? Yes, conservatively speaking for every acre of homes that are built the taxpayer is on the hook for between $3,000 to $5,000 yearly for services. That’s right year after year, after year, $3-5,000 dollars just so her friends can be wealthy. Taxpayer’s paying developers welfare money.
Councilman Cogdill’s comments covered a wide rages of topics. He suggested in the last twenty years councils had planned effectively. He said “Village I was planned responsibly.” I’m not a big proponent of urban limits or ballot box planning.” And “You don’t have to scratch a farmer very deep to find a developer.”
As Mayor Marsh later commented, Village I as originally designed was a marvel but by the time the council back then was on their eight change amendment it was no longer recognizable. It’s also understandable for these politicians to be resentful of ballot box measures. It’s obvious the people of Modesto no longer trust their elected politicians to follow the will of their constituents and because of past and current history who can blame them.
I encourage everyone to go online and listen to the council debates and see for themselves what is going on in the Modesto City Council. Here is the link to the city agenda and meeting archive. Click on the video of the week you want to see and while it’s loading you can choose the agenda item you want to watch discussed by clicking on it. The video will advance to approximate location. http://ci.modesto.ca.us/ccl/agendas/