City officials today will look at a controversial set of changes to Modesto's growth policies that some say push the city to grow even though voters sent a strong anti-growth message in the fall.
The City Council's Economic Development Committee will review the proposed growth policy changes at its 5:30 p.m. meeting. The committee usually meets in a cramped second floor conference room at City Hall, but this week's session will be held in the City Council chambers to accommodate the public.
The proposed changes would switch how land in seven areas could be developed. For example, in one area, land designated for residential development could be switched to commercial development.
In some areas, the proposed changes could expand the city's sphere of influence, the boundary that defines where the city can grow and where developers can build.
Extending that boundary has slow-growth advocates such as former Modesto City Councilman Denny Jackman alarmed. Jackman says the city has 6,000 acres inside its sphere of influence and adding more during a development downturn doesn't compute.
"We've got so many vacant commercial and residential spaces," Jackman said. "Why isn't the focus internal? Some of us stand at the edge of the city and look inward and say, 'How can we be better?' Others stand at the edge of the city and say, 'How can we be bigger?' "
Critics say the proposed growth policy changes fly in the face of what voters told the city Nov. 3, when five growth-related ballot measures failed. Voters said they didn't want the city to extend sewer service to five areas outside the city, a move that eventually could have led to 3,000 acres of development.
The votes were advisory, meaning that city leaders don't have to heed voters' wishes.
Critics say the proposed growth policy changes will lead to annexing some of those areas into the city, the opposite of what voters said they wanted.
City planning staff say the proposed growth policy changes aren't related to the ballot measures. "We would be doing this even if there weren't ballot measures, and we wanted to do this before we had the ballot measures," said Brent Sinclair, Modesto's Community and Economic Development director.
Some of the proposed policy changes would correct outdated assumptions about how Modesto will develop, city staff say. Other changes are meant to promote economic development and jobs over housing.
The proposed growth policy changes would mean amending Modesto's general plan, the document that guides the city's long-term development. The general plan hasn't been updated since 1995. An update would cost $1 million to $2 million, too much for the cash-strapped city.
The proposed amendments are a way to modernize the general plan without doing a full-scale update, Sinclair said. "We're planning for the future," he said. "That's what our job is."
The Economic Development Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers at 1010 10th St.