Recent election results will lead to significant turnover of leadership in Stanislaus County. Most cities in Stanislaus County are cash strapped. We are just at the beginning of a pension crisis that will be a financial drain on our cities for the foreseeable future. There is also the reality that we do not and will not have adequate funding to maintain our roads and can’t tax our way out of it.
There is a direct correlation with the fiscal health of a city and land use decisions that are made. Low-density residential development on newly converted farmland does not generate adequate revenue to mitigate its full impact on city services and infrastructure. By comparison, agricultural land, commercial/industrial property, and residential infill that is dense, transit oriented, and utilizes existing infrastructure typically will generate adequate revenue for the corresponding municipal services and infrastructure requirements.
Patterson’s recent move to switch to building housing in an already designated successful industrial area is unfortunate because it will have an adverse impact financially on the City and our County. The lack of transparency and contracted timeline in which the Planning Commission and City Council conducted themselves right before an election is concerning in and of itself; but the lack of acknowledgment of the fiscal impact of their decision will be more consequential.
A recent webinar, “From Wall Street to Main Street” addressed how the pandemic is giving Modesto, and towns throughout Stanislaus County, an opportunity to attract new residents as movement out of more expensive regions accelerates. The article alluded to Bay Area workers who are looking for affordable housing, a rural lifestyle and escape traffic congestion, crime and the high cost of living. For this discussion to be framed only as an “opportunity” gives no consideration to the negative ramifications that come with rapid residential growth.
For decades, many of our elected officials in Stanislaus County have kicked the can down the road regarding protecting our world-class farmland that supports our world-class agricultural economy. San Joaquin County has permanently secured 2,300 acres of productive farmland in conservation easements. Yolo County has permanently secured over 11,000 acres with a 2:1 farmland mitigation policy; it has a thriving economy and viable housing options. Merced County has over 10,000 acres of farm and grazing land in conservation easements. By comparison, Stanislaus County, with some of the world’s best soils and a world-class agricultural infrastructure, has only 300 acres of productive farmland secured.
Our elected officials must place greater emphasis on where we can “infill,” “re-purpose,” and where can we build up, rather than out. Doing so will be a financial benefit to our cities but also result in a better diversity of housing to meet consumer demand while staying in a city’s current footprint.
Modesto’s Downtown Master Plan is an excellent example of infill development that can provide more affordable housing, leverage existing infrastructure, and provide quality of life features like walking paths and proximity to parks and restaurants as well as mass transit. Dense, transit-oriented development is much more likely to generate adequate revenue for the city services and infrastructure that it will require.
As our elected leaders plan for our future, the conversation must also include practical Urban Limit Lines. Twelve counties and forty-eight cities in the Bay Area have Urban Limit Lines to protect farmland and important resources. Stanislaus County has a gross farm income between $3 – 4 billion annually. That doesn’t represent the total economic output, which is over $7 billion annually.
Preserving our farmland preserves our tax base, preserves a world class job generator, preserves a significant economic multiplier, preserves our ability to recharge our aquifers, and preserves our ability to feed our population and much of the nation. Redeveloped, rejuvenated communities existing amidst world-class agricultural land is an achievable goal; our elected officials need to understand that this is fiscally imperative, now and for the future.
Farmland Working Group