For many years, Merced County has been in the process of a updating its General Plan. The city of Merced is finalizing an update to its General Plan. General plans are important to have in place because they are the blueprint for growth. Careful, thoughtful and informed planning is needed so we continue to grow population, strengthen our economy and our agricultural bounty for future generations. We are planning for the decades ahead, and we need 21st century policies and technology to be incorporated into the general plans.
While looking ahead we should also be evaluating the past and our current situation:
Have we done a good job in bringing jobs to our community?
Can we meet our infrastructure and safety requirements?
Do we have a handle on what our water and energy demands are or will be?
Where will we grow our food and how does it reach our tables?
What are our educational/training and recreational needs and can they be mutually beneficial?
Do we have an adequate supply of housing choices?
How many lots are already approved in Merced today?
What is our capacity to grow with infill and tighter densities?
We have current population numbers from the census. What is a reasonable population growth rate for the next decades for the cities and county?
Why do our city and county elected officials support the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Policies and Goals at Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG) but do not implement in their general plan policies, or as a benchmark in approving projects?
Are the cities and county working together to use our tax dollars wisely for the benefit of all residents? I wonder, as the supervisors continue the "New Town" concept instead of the "City Centered" choice. The county has enough to manage with the already approved new towns on the Westside — Santa Nella, Villages of Laguna San Luis and the bankrupt Fox Hills eventually housing over 50,000 people. Winton, Delhi and Hilmar have room to add more than 20,000. It's not surprising that Merced is moving forward with a poor plan trying to annex and control almost 9,000 acres to combat the County's "New Town" direction.
And the million-dollar question: how many millions of dollars are owed in property taxes on incomplete housing and commercial developments? Merced had to cancel development agreements and call on bonds to complete infrastructure projects. Not collecting taxes causes deficits and layoffs. The upkeep of bank-owned and abandoned properties are a drain on dwindling city coffers.
We have lived with the results of developer-driven poor planning. We overbuilt and refuse to admit the mistakes made at all levels of government, banking, lending and individual actions. We knew we could not sustain the growth and infrastructure needed. Our property values have plummeted and we continue to struggle with bankruptcy and foreclosures affecting the housing market recovery. Over-reaching will keep our property values depressed. Development must pay its way without affecting existing taxpayers.
The author is land use director of Merced California Women for Agriculture.