Planning Modesto’s Future Today
What will Modesto look like twenty years from today? How about fifty years? A hundred? What will the Valley’s economy be based on a century from now? Finding community-uniting answers to these imponderables has lately become the bread and butter of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s Land Use and Transportation Committee. Committee chair Craig Lewis explains that this project has occupied the 40 working committee members over the last two years through rethinking the City of Modesto’s General Plan and related priorities.
In governmental parlance, a General Plan is a policy adopted at the local level which defines how land is used in an area.This plan guides the growth of the community in the short term in order to reach specific goals—say job creation or reduced pollution—in the long term. So effectively, the General Plan is the roadmap of the community, the document which helps ground everything from how new neighborhoods are established, to where a new business can undertake construction, to where freeways should be located.
The General Plan project started at the Chamber when the long-time committee was reviewing documents in order to get up to speed on the city’s existing Plan. “Over the course of interviews with the City and County Planning Departments, LAFCO, STANCOG and Caltrans, we noticed that there wasn’t a clear long term vision in place driving everyone’s decision making,” said Lewis. “In fact, we discovered that the General Plan had not been redone since 1995 and that the different agencies had different plans in place.We felt that was unwise and as we looked at the vision that was laid out 18 years ago in the City’s General Plan, we felt it was a little narrow in scope, particularly as it relates to jobs.”
Lewis added that as the committee delved further into the existing plan, he and the other committee members believed that it was the right time for the business community to design and deliver an updated—and forward thinking—vision for the community. “We’ve spent the last year and a half going through this process to figure out what we would want this community to look like, not just in 20 years but in 50 to 100 years so that everyone can get excited about what that vision is and can plan accordingly to achieve it. We are sharing that vision with the community at large to find areas of agreement.”
Brad Hawn, chairman of the ad hoc subcommittee on land use and an active committee member, added that establishing effective land use and transportation policies isn’t just tied to the city’s future, it has an impact on its current well-being as well. “As you may know, jobs are 100% related to transportation corridors. So a lot of what we’re talking about is establishing new, and taking advantage of our current, transportation corridors to create jobs now and in the future. What we’ve created here is a long range vision, but built in it are short term projects the community needs to create the jobs now.”
One of the features the Chamber plan forwards as a future solution is developing SR132 from the current two-lane road to a major corridor that will offer a straight-shot from Modesto to the Bay Area for goods movement. Committee-member Tom Nielsen pointed out that the current route between Livermore and Modesto takes drivers through six other communities and their traffic congestion. “If we get 132 expanded and opened up, potential customers will see what a sweet shortcut this has become from Modesto to the Port of Oakland with no traffic jams and interchange congestion to slow down commerce from here to there.”
“A fully developed SR 132 is an economic silver bullet for most of our county,” adds Chris Murphy, chairman of the ad hoc subcommittee on transportation. “It will improve commerce from Ceres and Turlock and will even enhance access to Riverbank and Oakdale. It is a broad economic lifeline from Stanislaus County to world markets.””This is about improving our connection to the rest of the world,” said committee member George Petrulakis, ” and about bettering the community. It’s a large job the Chamber has undertaken to try to build this vision both for the long term and for short term successes. I think the Chamber hopes with this plan to find a broad-based consensus across the Modesto community and ultimately our sister communities throughout Stanislaus County and the region to really achieve this. It will help all of us.”Even after more than a year and a half of work, the Chamber’s General Plan draft is still in its infancy. The long-sighted vision which the committee has put together is next being put before other community groups and city leaders who have started workshops to solicit community suggestions for updates to the 20-year plan.”We’re interjecting this discussion into that and we’re asking for a complete general plan update,” said Hawn; “We need a comprehensive long-term, ‘this-is-where-Modesto’s-going plan’ that people agree on, then we can come back to the 20 year general plan and ensure the visions mesh.”According to Petrulakis, who was involved in the crafting of the city’s current General Plan, the Chamber’s vision for the community corrects some of the failures of the 1995 General Plan.”The 1995 General Plan has been a failure, because it hasn’t created any meaningful jobs. So if the status quo remains, unemployment will remain high; small and family businesses will have an increasingly tough time without customers with enough disposable income to support their businesses; we’ll have more houses with fewer jobs; we won’t only become a bedroom community for the Bay Area, we’ll be a bedroom community for San Joaquin and Merced and other San Joaquin Valley counties.””What the Chamber also attempts is to create the parameters of the ultimate build-out of Modesto,” added Petrulakis, “so that the City of Modesto can actually have more prosperity, more diversity in jobs, while large areas of agricultural soils are maintained the way they are so that our agribusiness industries can survive and thrive. It’s really not even a 50 or 100 year plan, it’s a plan for the ultimate landscape of what Modesto is going to be and what it will look like, and provides the canvas from which the private sector can go to work creating these jobs while not sacrificing our historic agricultural bounty and the jobs it provides.”
“I feel proud to tell people I’m a member of the Chamber because of this effort, because of our involvement,”added Hawn.
The Land Use and Transportation Committee’s draft document, which presents their General Plan proposal, is entitled “The Pathway to Job Growth and Prosperity,” and according to Chamber CEO Cecil Russell, that’s truly what it is. “It’s a pathway, it’s a direction. It’s not something we’ve had before. And it’s a very long-range plan.”
For more information about the proposed General Plan, contact the Modesto Chamber of Commerce at (209) 577-5757.