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Citizen vows to watch planning panel
Len Shepherd derides way government burdens private developers
Leonard Shepherd

Leonard Shepherd, a fixture at meetings of the Ceres City Council for nearly two decades, vowed last week that he will be faithfully attending Ceres Planning Commission meetings too.

Shepherd told the commission that he's been reading about decisions made by the planning bodies with regard to private development "that have restricted rights ... on their own property."

"I really don't like that because we are supposed to have personal property rights to be able to do things that we want on our own property," said Shepherd.

He cited the example of how city staff and council made one developer of a professional business complex on Mitchell Road switch out specific sconces already approved by the Planning Commission.

Shepherd also opposed the city making a Blaker Road resident tear down a wall he installed because it was taller than city code allowed.

"They made him take it down," said Shepherd. "It was on his property but it didn't match what people thought it should be - because of aesthetics, I guess - but you are not aesthetics cop. That's what the courts are for."

He also offered his disapproval of how the city dictated that a Service Road car wash had to integrate foam pop-outs into building design.

The Constitution guarantees rights to citizens but Shepherd said few stand guard to make sure rights are being given. He chided citizens for not sitting in on local meetings.

"We're supposed to keep you guys, the government, in line. Well, I'll be here every meeting unless I am sick or out of town. I made that promise to the City Council. I've kept it since 1997. Okay, here it is Jan. 4, I'm making you that promise ... because that's my job as a citizen."

Shepherd also advised the commission to "keep in mind that we are an agricultural community. We were based on agriculture when we started and we're surrounded by agriculture now." He suggested that Ceres resist the temptation to add more houses as the Ceres General Plan is being updated, calling every house an added drain on services.

"Don't be a Modesto who wants to usurp things like Wood Colony."

More industry is needed in Ceres, he opined.

"We need to grow in Walmart on Service and Mitchell," he said.

The city approved the 26-acre Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center in 2011 but the project was interrupted immediately by a lawsuit by an opposition group naming themselves Citizens for Ceres which challenged the validity of the environmental studies. Shepherd publicly called the group "Citizens that Hate Walmart."

Commission chairman Bob Kachel welcomed Shepherd and asked him to get involved in the general plan update.

"That process might help you find answers to some of the questions that you raised tonight about who can do what and those sorts of things," said Kachel. "It's not as simple as it might seem."

The Ceres General Plan, crafted in 1997, is outdated and is undergoing a rewrite. Once produced and adopted, the Ceres General Plan will set policies and directions of how Ceres will grow into the year 2035. To help the city through the process the Ceres City Council awarded a $938,912 contract with Dyett & Bhatia, the firm that produced a General Plan for the city of Turlock.