A countywide initiative intended to preserve agricultural land, driven by local mayors, was shot down by the Turlock Planning Commission on Thursday for sidestepping existing planning efforts and failing to truly protect farmland.
The initiative, known as the Agricultural Preservation Plan Map 2050, asks cities to clearly define their borders as of the year 2050. By doing so, the areas outside of the 2050 boundaries would be preserved for agriculture.
The plan is expected to go before county voters in 2012, but the Turlock Planning Commission took issue with the nature of a plan deemed “regional,” but which places no limits on the amount of land cities claim and offers no incentive to stay small, or grow on less productive farmland.
Some cities, like Oakdale, have treated the process as a land grab, commissioners alleged, in hopes of avoiding being hemmed in by the map in 40 years time. Oakdale’s growth proposal sees the city claim nearly 25 percent of the county, stretching south and east to triple the size of Oakdale.
Making matters worse, said Turlocker Jeani Ferrari, who was a founding member of the Stanislaus Farmland Trust, and serves on the board of the Farmland Working Group, soils maps, water recharge maps, and irrigation maps have not played into the boundary drawing process.
“What the mayors are doing is just a joke,” Ferrari said. “What the Planning Commission has to do, and I hope our council listens, is we need to do what we’ve always done and grow on poorer soils and not look at a map from outer space.”
Like all cities, Turlock plans its specific growth through a General Plan process. Every 20 years, the city carefully updates that General Plan with the aid of consultants and public input to allow for new growth.
Historically, Turlock has worked to move growth away from prime farmland west of Highway 99, and onto less productive lands to the South and East of Turlock.
“We have a pretty good idea of where we’re going to be and where ag will be,” said Planning Commissioner Elvis Dias.
The addition of this new process, outside of the General Plan, stretching further into the future than Turlock has studied and planned for, struck Planning Commission Chair Mike Brem as “esoteric” and “arbitrary.”
“We have a good General Plan process, and we’re happy with that process, and we don’t want to do anything different,” Brem said, explaining the commission’s view.
Turlock isn’t the only city to take issue with the plan. The Patterson City Council declined to even refer the matter to its own planning commission.
The Turlock Planning Commission’s direction to not participate in the process, instead retaining Turlock’s current General Planning process, will be sent to the Turlock City Council for discussion. The council will have the final say on the matter.
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