Livingston

Livingston City Council approves master plan for aggressive growth

LIVINGSTON -- Livingston's City Council unanimously voted to approve a controversial draft master plan and environmental impact report that projects exponential growth for the North Merced County area, despite public outcry against the plan.

On Tuesday night, the five-member council voted on a resolution that in effect approved the 2025 EIR and general plan update.

Before the vote, Mayor Gurpal Samra said that the process had been been inclusive and that the community's concerns had been listened to. But, he said, after almost four years, a decision had to be made.

"To get a 100 percent consensus -- it's not going to happen," said Samra. "We must speak to the future. Like anything else, things change."

The council faced a chamber filled with many opponents of the plan. Farmers, farmers' lawyers, residents and county officials were among the plan's opponents in the room. Thirteen members of the public spoke to the council on the matter and all but one opposed the plan.

Their concerns ranged from the disappearance of farmland and high growth projections to a flawed process and lack of concern for the public's input.

Livingston resident Erlene Elam told the council that its plan was out of touch with the needs of the city.

"The general plan is not realistic for our community," she said.

Also at the podium in opposition to the plan was the executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo. She read part of a letter addressed to the council.

"Our comments outline multiple violations of existing laws and regulations, which render the 2025 Plan, DEIR, and the entire process fatally flawed," read the beginning of the letter.

The county had also sent a representative.

"The county is not going to be able to support this document," said Bob Smith of the department of public works administration, in repetition of his statements at the city's last council meeting.

The county's master plan did not jive with the city's, said Smith, on several important levels like traffic, roads and farmland designation.

Richard Harriman, representing the Arakelian family, not only voiced his client's concerns about the disappearance of farmland, but also pointed out that the city council members could be legally liable for attorney fees if there is any litigation on the matter.

After the public had spoken, the council members discussed their reasoning for what would be a unanimous vote.

Councilman Frank Vierra said more than a million dollars had already been spent on the plan. Where, he asked, was the city going to get more money to pay for the extensions requested?

He also pointed out that lots of development was going on across the county, but no one seemed concerned over that.

Councilman Roy Soria said that while the council had listened to those concerned about the plan, there were others who wanted more jobs, services and commerce.

Councilman William Ingram, in a nod to the farmers in the room, pointed out that no matter what the plan says, if farmers don't sell their land then farmland can't become houses.

The fallout from this vote may come sooner than the plan's opponents fear. With almost every council member up for reelection in November, they may pay for their decision with their seats.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or at jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.

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