In hopes of preserving agricultural land – and Turlock’s ability to grow – the Turlock City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a map which would limit Turlock’s size and shape through the year 2050.
The move comes as part of a countywide effort, known as the Agricultural Preservation Plan 2050, driven by the Stanislaus County Mayors’ Group. By having each city approve a growth envelope, all land outside those boundaries could be preserved as farmland.
“I think it’s a holistic approach to an ever growing problem in our county,” said Turlock Mayor John Lazar. “... This more or less allows Turlock to take control of those lands, whether or not we want to grow them in the future.”
The map contains a swath of land including the extent of Turlock’s planning boundary, Denair, Keyes, and unincorporated surrounding land.
The effort traces back to December 2010, when the Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission set out to review agricultural preservation strategies. LAFCO sent a letter to the Mayors Group for comment on their long in-development growth management plan, and on July 27 the mayors unveiled a preliminary ag preservation map. The Mayors Group expects to report back to LAFCO in early December.
The mayors’ efforts to approve the map, in large part, hinge on a desire to avoid costly ag mitigation measures – which usually require an acre of farmland be purchased and preserved for each acre developed. Currently, two ballot measures are under development to force ag mitigation rather than ag preservation, Lazar said.
“It's kind of a premeditated effort to take control of the issue and to engage that group in a discussion rather than let them go off on their own,” Lazar said.
Though mayors say the preservation map will conserve more land than mitigation and be less costly for developers, some, including representatives from the Farmland Working Group, have termed the effort a land grab.
The varying city boundaries caused the Turlock Planning Commission to take issue with the map at their Oct. 6 meeting, arguing that Turlock's existing General Plan process was superior to protect agricultural land. But Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden argued that, though Turlock has always preserved ag land, some neighbor cities have been more concerned with development.
“Wisdom and foresight are no good if other cities grow right up to our boundaries,” Wasden said.
The “land grab” notion comes as some cities seemed to claim far more land than they would use for growth – like Oakdale, which could triple in size per the plan. But, as Oakdale is surrounded by relatively poor soil classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as grazing land, others say Oakdale’s growth is actually justified under the plan.
“We have some of the best ag land in the world bordering our city,” said Turlocker Milt Treweiler, who advocated for a smaller Turlock growth envelope. “Oakdale has some lousy land around their city.
“We’re not Oakdale. We’re Turlock. We need to be the leaders.”
Some council members agreed with Treweiler, including Councilwoman Mary Jackson who termed the boundary as “a little large.” Jackson and Councilman Forrest White both voiced an interest in hearing more about a plan which could combine the ag preservation map with ag mitigation – perhaps requiring more land be mitigated for development on primer soils, White said.
Currently, the plan remains in development. As each city approves its respective growth envelope, details of the map will be refined to earn agreement from LAFCO and Stanislaus County.
“It’s not a done deal,” Lazar said of the map. “It’s a proposal to negotiate with the county.”
Eventually, the map is expected to go before voters for final approval.
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