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DeMartini: City effort to save farming a joke
Supervisor Jim DeMartini issued a rebuke of Ceres and eight other Stanislaus County cities for attempting to protect agriculture by means of establishing over-reaching urban development boundaries.

DeMartini, also a west Ceres farmer, prompted a discussion last year about preserving farmland from expanding cities. DeMartini asked the Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to look into what other counties are doing to protect farm lands from the urbanization.

His request prompted Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueno in July to offer a draft map that outlines a long-term growth envelope. Under the plan, each city will draw a limit line to which it will limit growth until the year 2050. The Agricultural Plan Map 2050 would then be put to a county vote.

DeMartini said he supports the concept but blasted the way cities were drawing large loops around their cities, some being six to eight times the size of their present size and much farther beyond their spheres of influence.

"This is not an agricultural preservation plan at all," DeMartini told the Ceres council last week. "You shouldn't call it that at all. This is an insult to planning. This is a massive expansion of city limits... This preserves nothing. This is going to be the same growth and no agricultural land preserved because you'll never get out to these boundaries."

The Ceres Planning Commission voted 4-1 on Oct. 3 to set a boundary that calls for Ceres to draw a line at Carpenter Road to the west, to Keyes Road to the south (west of Highway 99) and to within a quarter-mile of Washington Road on the east.

The boundary scenario only would result in a 1.75-mile ag buffer zone between Ceres and Hughson, which is mulling a far reaching western boundary line.

DeMartini criticized the size of the Ceres boundary line, calling it a "massive expansion of the city although not as bad as some I've seen." Currently Ceres city limits occupy 5,000 acres of city limits and the new boundaries encompass 13,300 acres.

"This is so big," he told councilmembers, "that you've actually jumped outside of your general plan area. Now it's taken Ceres a hundred years to get to this point. How are you, in 38 years, going to jump three times the size you are now?

Mayor Chris Vierra asked DeMartini if he is supportive the concept of boundaries being drawn. "I am if they're reasonable," replied DeMartini. He said the concept should be to constrict the size of cities to encourage higher density developments and minimize urban sprawl onto farm land.

"When you put your city limit sign 10 miles outside of town and say 'well that's growth limit there, that's ag preservation,' that is not. You have to restrict the cities and start having compact growth and more infill. The developers are pushing this thing. They don't want see any kind of limits at all of cities. That's why the expansion is as large as it is."

Vierra later suggested Ceres differs from other cities in that the last general plan update was done in 1997.

The Turlock Planning Commission rejected the proposal, taking the same views as DeMartini. Some cities, like Oakdale, have treated the process as a land grab, Turlock 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 Jeani Ferrari, a founding member of the Stanislaus Farmland Trust, and board member 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."

DeMartini has been a strong proponent of agriculture on the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. He said growing conditions allow the county to grow crops not grown anywhere else in the world.

"For the last 100 years we're treated it like an endless resource... but that's really not so."

Ceres resident Len Shepherd asked the council to consider a 20-year growth moratorium, saying there's no need to discuss growth until the stock of foreclosed homes in Ceres is sold off. Shepherd said a moratorium would give Ceres time to catch up with infrastructure needs.

"There's nothing wrong saying no to expanding," said Shepherd, who feels more consideration needs to be given to refrain from paving over good farmland.

The council said it wasn't prepared to make a decision on the matter and set the matter for a 5:30 p.m. study session on Nov. 28.

"I don't think it's a five-minute discussion," said Vierra.