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Tech-spurred growth need not destroy farming in Northern San Joaquin Valley
PERPSECTIVE
sprawl
Is the South County going the way of San Jose?

Manteca is perhaps two years or so away from 95,047 residents.

Why that matters is simple.

Manteca — and arguably the rest of the Northern San Joaquin Valley — is nearing a crossroads.

The population of San Jose in 1950 was 95,047.

It would be years before the moniker “Silicon Valley” would be slapped on the Santa Clara Valley.

Back then, the Santa Clara Valley was known as “The Valley of the Heart’s Delight.”

It was “the” largest fruit growing region in the world.

Back in the 1950s, orchard after orchard separated cities and towns.

They were Los Gatos with 6,545 residents, Santa Clara with 11,668 residents, Mountain View with 6,548 residents, Sunnyvale with 9,849 residents, Palo Alto with 25,124 residents, Gilroy with 4,953, residents, and Morgan Hill with 1,615 residents.

Even as late as 1960 when San Jose had more than doubled to 204,196, the Santa Clara Valley was still the No.1 fruit growing region.

In 1960, there were 39 canneries and dozens upon dozens of packing sheds in the 90-mile long valley guarded by the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west and the Diablo Range on the east that converge just south of Hollister.

Today, the canneries are all gone.

Save for Gilroy and Morgan Hill, all of the previously mentioned cities and towns are one continuous blob.

Agricultural production in Santa Clara County was at $358 million in 2022, a mere whisper of what it was in constant dollars in the 1950s.

Almonds grown in San Joaquin County alone in 2022 surpassed all of Santa Clara County’s farm production of the same year coming in at $393 million.

Almonds in 2022 was the largest crop in San Joaquin County that had overall farm production of $2.563 billion.

The loss of fertile farmland in the Santa Clara Valley that is now buried beneath tract homes, employment centers, and shopping centers to the growth needed to support the explosive tech industry was staggering.

But it is nothing compared to what the Silicon Valley is chewing upon today in terms of its de facto affordable housing solution for tech jobs that are bringing in less than $200,000 a year.

San Jose, and much of the rest of the Santa Clara Valley, has a jobs/housing imbalance that is the opposite of the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

They are generating more jobs than the housing needed to shelter their workforce.

What housing is available is not affordable to households that would be considered flush in terms of annual income on this side of the Altamont Pass.

And let’s not kid ourselves.

Manteca, Lathrop (including River Islands), Ripon, Tracy, and Mountain House are the affordable housing solution for Bay Area cities.

You can count Modesto and Stockton in the mix, although they are  not as big a draw as South San Joaquin County cities.

The Great Central Valley is not the Santa Clara Valley in terms of size or production.

Thanks to the State Water Project working in concert with the Central Valley Project, reliable water supplies has made the almost 400-mile long and up to 45-mile wide Central Valley is the most productive agricultural region on the planet.

It is one of seven areas in the world that has the right combination of fertile soil and Mediterranean climate coupled with water supplies that can produce 350 different crops as well as be farmed year round.

The day is approaching — sooner than later — when the Northern San Joaquin Valley will pass the point of no return.

And even if you understand and embrace the value of growth, is repeating the same mistake that Santa Clara Valley did necessary or even something you’d want?

Growth does not need to stop.

Instead, what is needed is growth that will ultimately be contained in such a manner that the vitality of agriculture is assured and it avoids the cities of Tracy, Mountain House, Lathrop, Manteca, Stockton, Ripon, and Modesto fusing together in one homogenous blob where you could not tell where one starts and the other ends without city limit signs.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Nor does growth need to stop.

What is needed is the establishment of set boundaries.

Cities can grow to those boundaries and then up.

Such an approach also makes it easier to right size community facilities and such.

The approach?

Urban limits.

The concept is not radical.

It is actually the embodiment of smart growth.

Everyone knows the score.

Landowners know the map to the future.

So do developers and cities.

But that is what general plans are for, right?

Wrong.

They are the framework on how a community grows.

The boundaries of that growth are constantly moved and tweaked.

Urban limits establish the end game of how much land a city will ultimately urbanize.

They do not stop growth.

Instead, one works with the forces of growth within in a confided area.

Voters in Sonoma, Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore, Sunol, Castro Valley, and Rohnert Park have established urban limits for their respective communities.

In Manteca’s case, such boundaries wouldn’t be that hard to draw in terms of making sure no reasonable expectations of property use delineated in existing plans or implied by growth patterns are trampled.

Clearly, stopping the 13,000 housing units now in the development pipeline is a legal land mine with the state holding the biggest trigger with its laws designed to ease the housing crunch.

Based on the general plan update that is still in limbo thanks to actions by Delicato Vineyards, there is room on current anticipated land uses to accommodate a projected population of 211,003.

That could easily be 240,000 when areas designated that are “reserves” are ultimately granted a specific development zoning.

And there is nothing stopping the city ultimately increasing density on vacant or developed land.

The current general plan boundaries — generally French Camp Road in the north, the City of Lathrop and the San Joaquin River in the west, the area outside of flood protection and the City of Ripon sphere of influence in the south, and Prescott Road in the east — allow plenty of growth.

Casting those lines — that are moveable given enough development pressure applied — in concrete by adopting them as urban limits is the right thing to do.

It creates an absolute certainty of how far urbanization will go.

As such, it allows steps to be taken to protect agricultural.

Do not be mistaken.

This is not simply a local issue.

A tremendous amount of resources have been invested over the past 90 plus years to benefit all of California and provide essential food production by putting in place massive water systems in the Central Valley while at the same time putting in safeguards for the environment.

California doesn’t need another San Jose.

And it can ill afford to lose the one-of-a-kind prime agricultural region that is the Central Valley.

 

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.