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Just say no to traffic signals at Van Allen, FC Road along 120
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It is time to draw the proverbial line in the sand and fill it with concrete.

St. Patrick’s Church is planning a major expansion that will ultimately include a new 20,000-square-foot church plus a kindergarten through eighth grade Catholic school to the north of its existing church and cemetery. No problem there.

The San Joaquin Community Development Department is requiring a traffic signal to be installed – along with turn lanes – at Carrolton Road and East Highway 120 when the second phase is built. Again, no problem there.

The county staff is going a step further, though and is requiring St. Patrick’s Catholic Church to contribute to the future signalization of East Highway 120 intersections at French Camp Road as well as Van Allen Road. Whoa.

The county obviously is laying the groundwork for additional development along the French Camp Road and Van Allen corridors. This is wrong in so many ways.

First and foremost the 20- to 160-acre minimum zoning of farmland should preclude allowing densities high enough – especially on the Van Allen and French Camp corridors – to justify a traffic signal at those two intersections. There should never be anything allowed besides farms – and anyone who can build a home on one of those 20 to 160 acre minimum parcels – from ever building, period.

This is about saving agriculture and not moving vehicles.

The area starting about a half mile east of Austin Road to a point close to Brennan Road by Escalon should be off-limits to anything that is growth inducing along the East Highway 120 corridor. If we’ve learned anything in terms of California growth patterns since the end of World War II it is the placement of development in and around highway intersections tends to spread like cancer.

The San Joaquin County Planning Commission Thursday doesn’t have much of a choice but to approve the church expansion. They already own the land and federal court rulings basically give churches the ability to build and operate in virtually any zoning.

St. Patrick’s is also not an intrusive use in that they don’t generate retail traffic patterns. Yes, a Catholic school would change that but it would be traffic flow at specific times. Traffic signals therefore are justified at Carrolton Road.

Establishing an account for traffic signals at the other two intersections signals a willingness to spur cancerous urbanization in the heart of one of the richest stretches of ag land in this county between Manteca and Escalon.

A prime agricultural zone should be just that, a prime agricultural zone. No deviation of any type should be allowed for the conversion of orchards and crop lands into higher density housing, retail or other uses.

The 20-acre minimum for agriculture should be the Third Rail of Politics in San Joaquin County. That means anything that even remotely looks like it has the ability to erode the zoning should be nipped in the bud.

Supervisors like Leroy Ornellas – who happens to be a farmer – should understand the real danger here. Agriculture is still this county’s No. 1 industry and employer. Solutions for the Delta could seriously jeopardize farming in the western part of the county. That could mean the South County – particularly between Manteca and Escalon – could end up being the only defendable bastion of farming. If you put in “urbanized” uses – or even hint at them by requiring traffic signal fees based on growth – you are opening the door to the demise of agriculture.

Some will say Van Allen School located atop the Van Allen and Highway 120 intersection needs traffic signals. Fine, but pay for them with Measure K money and not with fees assessed to development. Why? Well, to collect fees that way you have to have development that would be required to pay the fee. Farming operations or homes on every 20, 40 or 60 acres aren’t subjected to such fees. High density residential, retail and even non-ag employment centers are.

The same is true of French Camp Road and Highway 120.

A full-scale 120 Bypass of the existing route has been proposed for years. The eastern bypass of Manteca is probably 20 years away if it is that close.

The vision of a completely new highway to the south that would cut through sustainable farming operations is based on development patterns of another era. We can no longer afford to continue the San Joseification of Northern California.

Once the traffic signal funds are established for both Van Allen and French Camp roads, the county planning commission will open the door for the destruction of agriculture in the area.

It is just as mad as earlier proposals to build a new city on the San Joaquin County side of the Stanislaus River at Riverbank or in the fertile lands of New Jerusalem southeast of Tracy.

Once a seed for urbanized uses in farm area is planted it is mighty tough to stop it from growing.