Why did this happen? Why did even the near-collapse of the financial system, and its desperate rescue by two reluctant administrations, fail to give the government any real
leverage over the major banks?
By March 2009, the Wall Street banks were not just any interest group. Over the past thirty years, they had become one of the wealthiest industries in the history of the American economy, and one of the most powerful political forces in Washington. Financial sector money poured into the campaign war chests of congressional representatives.
Investment bankers and their allies assumed top positions in the White House and the Treasurey Department. Most important, as banking became more complicated, more prestigious, and more lucrative, the ideology of Wall Street -- that unfettered
innovation and unregulated financial markets were good for America and the world -- became the consensus position in Washingto on both sides of the political aisle. Campaign contributions and the revolving door between the private sector and government service gave Wall Street banks influence in Washington, but their ultimate victory lay in shifting the conventional wisdom in their favor, to the point where their loobyists' talking points seemed self-evident to congressmen and adminstration officials. Of course, when cracks appeared in the consensus, such as in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the banks could still roll out their conventional weaponry -- campaign money and lobbyists; but because of their ideological power, many of their battles werew won in advance. -- Simon Johnson, James Kwak, 13 Bankers: the Wall Street takeover and the next financial meltdown, 2010, pp. 5-6.
"We need jobs in Modesto," said John Eichel, a farmer involved with a project west of
Highway 99, not far from the Modesto Junior College West Campus. "I hope the Farmland Working Group takes into the consideration that people are literally starving because they don't have jobs." -- Modesto Bee, Feb. 1, 2011.
We suppose that what people mean by "ideology" is partisan, special interest propaganda that the partisan special interest begins to believe in rather than to simply use on the rest of us to gain political advantage. The ideology of unregulated, free market
capitalism appears to still be triumphant even though that ideology played a huge part, particularly in California at the local land-use authority level, tocreate the unemployment the farmer/developer above is using as a weapon against the argument that the more sustainable future for Modesto, in fact, most of the San Joaquin Valley, would be in agribusiness, beginning with the protection of farmland to grow the crops for packing and processing.
But the ideology of unregulated, free market capitalism is essentially anti-government, denying government and the people government was intended to represent of any legitimacy:
"There shall be no regulation," sayeth Lord Free Market. So, we arrive at a political point where civil society groups attempt, through the initiative process, to compel government to do its job, which, in the case of natural resources including farmland, is
to be regulation. At least the successful "Stomp out sprawl" initiative in Stanislaus County was honest, modest and limited. It's Merced County version was a scheme to set up mini-motels on small farms in the name of something called "ag tourism." Stanislaus' SOS was so compromised it has had little utility; Merced's "Save farmland" initiative was a hungry wolf in sheep's clothing.
We must find a way in the chambers of local government that is beyond the famous "hard, right way," always espoused by the developers' fixers, the most easily (and frequently the most deceitful) quantifiable analysis -- boiling it all down to "dollars and cents" in the quickest possible time.
The public's environment -- clean air, clean water, and the aesthetic and moral values of natural habitat for other species -- depends totally on government and groups of people who stand for these values and are able to persuade government or compel government in courts of law to protect our environment and our health against the constant onslaught of the mere profit seekers.
Alas, even the grand Gallo Center in downtown Modesto is no aesthetic match for a drive out Claribel Road 30 years ago, watching the pheasants. Today there are virtually no wild pheasants left in the valley and Claribel Road is an urban boulevard.
There is certainly a place for capital investment in every society -- ask "Communist" China. But, to speak strickly in the language of capital, were American investors protected by the unregulated free market when they invested in real estate and exotic securities during the recent boom, followed by the more recent bust. How much history is it really necessary to know without hearing the resonance of the 1920's in that boom/bust -- the first real meltdown since the Pecora Commission and the passage of Glass-Steagall
in the mid-1930's.
Most Modestans today instantly develop a particular, defensive attitude whenever the past leaders of the town are mentioned. Most don't know their names, therefore they don't matter. But, those that do know the names and remember the faces and even some
conversations perhaps, are equally dismissive. "That was then," they say.
But what was "then"?
It is radical and strange to still believe in the virtue of farmwork, simple chores around the ranch, all the things people used to do with a special kind of care and meaning on farmland, which was actually valued in terms of what it produced rather than
how it appreciated in the real estate market. Who remembers the exhaustion of harvests and the good, clean feeling when sweated out at the end of the day that you had carried your load, stood up, been a good member of the crew?
Yet that is what formed our characters, or misformed them depending on your outlook -- this degrading thing, this farm work.
Has the estimable Farmland Working Group, drawing its line in the sand at Kiernan Road in Modesto, to save farmland, asked why its wealthy landowner funders preach saving farmland in Stanislaus County while developing it for urban use in Merced County? Have they any answer to the employment problem, i.e. if you aren't framing houses you are unemployed?
Any answer to the California macro economic theory that growth is one thing alone, population growth requiring more housing?
Why have we forgotten what we once knew how to do so well -- deal pragmatically with our own political economy?
Badlands Journal editorial board
Modesto council in middle of jobs-farms debate…..Ken Carlson
Modesto officials considered a proposal Monday for drawing an urban growth boundary to keep the best farmland from being destroyed.
The growth limits, proposed by the Farmland Working Group, ran into criticism at the City Council's economic development subcommittee meeting, with builders and others charging it could hamstring efforts to bring down the unemployment rate.
The group, led by former Councilman Denny Jackman, wants city leaders to get serious about protecting Stanislaus County's agricultural industry from sprawl.
"In this scenario, the City Council makes the determination of where the boundaries are and then sends it to the voters," Jackman said. "This gives certainty to long-term planning and farmland protection."
Others said the city's biggest priority should be reviving a stagnant economy.
"We need jobs in Modesto," said John Eichel, a farmer involved with a project west of Highway 99, not far from the Modesto Junior College West Campus. "I hope the Farmland Working Group takes into the consideration that people are literally starving because they don't have jobs."
Council members Joe Muratore, Brad Hawn and Stephanie Burnside want to continue a discussion about ways to save farmland while opening more territory for business parks and industries. Muratore said he intended to get county officials involved in the
discussion at the committee's next meeting.
Muratore and Hawn suggested they may be interested in drawing boundary lines in contested areas such as the Kiernan Avenue corridor or north McHenry Avenue area. The city has plotted business parks along Kiernan to remedy an embarrassing scarcity of land designated for new industry, Hawn said.
But farmland advocates don't want the city to spread north of Kiernan. Instead of tearing up farmland for new shopping areas, a Farmland Working Group member said attention should be focused on reusing empty commercial properties on McHenry.
The Farmland Working Group proposal is fairly simple. The City Council would draw a boundary line for growth and then take it to voters for ratification. Development could occur within the designated growth area. But projects or development plans on the other side of the line would require majority approval from city voters.
To protect fertile soils north and west of the city, the group has suggested the council draw the line at Kiernan and use the sphere of influence border on the west side of Modesto.
That would leave poorer soils to the east of Modesto open for developers. Jackman said more than 5,000 acres could still be developed in the city's sphere of influence.
Certain projects would be exempt from the growth limits, such as projects to meet state-mandated regional housing requirements, farmworker housing and expansion of waste-water facilities.
Jackman said he's committed to putting the urban growth limit package on the city ballot in 2013 if the City Council rejects the proposal.
Lea Ann Hoogestraat, a staff member with the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, said that companies often pass on Modesto because of the shortage of appropriate sites with streets and utility hookups.
If a boundary line is fixed, no employer will waste time going through a farmland vote and Modesto's required sewer extension vote to build on protected farmland, said Bill
Zoslocki, a longtime Modesto builder.
"We have serious problems economically," he told the subcommittee.
LAFCo considers its own ag policy…Garth Stapley
Construction may be on a slow drip these days, but visions of future growth are alive and well -- and sometimes fodder for argument.
A hot debate over where to grow and how to avoid gobbling farms recently shifted to an agency that oversees annexations, and that agency is inviting leaders of Stanislaus County and its nine cities to help hash it out.
Mayors are expected to join Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission members next month to launch work on a countywide farmland preservation policy, a process that could take much of the year.
"We want to do what's best for everyone in the county instead of LAFCo mandating something," said Bill O'Brien, a county supervisor and LAFCo member.
Collaborative growth policies have proved elusive, though.
Leaders have wrangled formally and otherwise, in venues ranging from countywide "visioning" to Gov. Schwarzenegger's Partnership with the San Joaquin Valley to the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint process, with varying and limited success.
Keeping up with other LAFCo members -- elected city and county officials -- learned at an October statewide conference that other LAFCos have updated farmland preservation policies, said Marjorie Blom, the local agency's executive director. Local representatives decided to pursue one here, she said.
Some county representatives suggested LAFCo simply adopt the county's policy, requiring that farmland equal to acreage needed for new subdivisions be permanently preserved.
But that policy is in the middle of a lawsuit that could be heading to the California Supreme Court, closely watched by builders, farm organizations, environmentalists and local governments throughout the state.
And some LAFCo commissioners aren't sold on the disputed rule.
"I don't think it does the proper things to protect prime ag land and put development where it needs to be," said Waterford Mayor Charlie Goeken. "It's not a real comprehensive policy. It's just saying, 'If you bring something to us, you have to mitigate somewhere else.' "
Although the county's policy generally is hailed as a nod to protect farms, activists note that a strict interpretation could sacrifice half of the county to development.
So LAFCo agreed to hold a public workshop and invite all mayors to discuss regional growth, said Dean Wright, deputy county counsel. The nine mayors are used to dealing with each other, meeting informally on a monthly basis.
O'Brien, one of two county supervisors who voted against the county's controversial policy, said, "Let's come up with a program that can save 80 percent of the farmland -- 'Here's where we can build and here's where we're not going to go.' "
Denny Jackman, a former Modesto councilman and longtime farmland advocate, noted that frustrated voters increasingly have rejected pro-growth ballot measures while embracing more controls.
"It takes a long time for the message to be picked up, but I think there is some genuine belief that improvements will take place," Jackman said.
The Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission and mayors are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. March 23 in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Encourage our local leaders to address land-use issues...Denny Jackman. Jackman, a former Modesto City Council member, is chairman of the Farmland Working Group, which promotes protection of farmland.
It is important for us to recognize the increased awareness of local leaders regarding land-use issues. Not only has our building sector been slam-dunked by a worldwide recession, we have at times led the nation in home foreclosures andunaffordability. The
flip side of all that doom and gloom is that our base economy, agriculture, is strong and one of the few sectors that the banks are lending to.
Despite the contrasts between our urban and ag sectors, local leaders have grown a new level of respect for both sectors, one feeding the other, growing together as we work out of this lousy economy.
Leaders who witnessed the booms and busts of our housing markets for more than three decades are keenly aware of other great agricultural areas that reduced themselves to bedroom communities.
We have opportunities now that were not taken by many cities that are wall-to-wall with identities lacking variety and distinction. When Bay Area and Los Angeles farmlands ceased to produce, there was always the great valley, the great Central Valley of
Times change. Leaders change. Communities learn and representatives that promote our uniqueness and powerful ag-urban identity serve us well. As a massive food producing area — the San Joaquin Valley has seven of the top 10 ag producing counties in the United States — we also process food products for the world. World competitive companies hold huge investments and hire thousands of citizens who are supported by a network of stores, banks, hospitals, schools, etc.
Nowhere on Earth is there a more productive set of integrated services than here, our home. We have the land, water, farmers, industries, weather and people to get the job done. Our leaders get that. They are working to support our heritage and create a legacy
of action to demonstrate how powerful futures are created.
Urban growth boundaries are under discussion by local leaders. The city of Modesto is working to get a form of an urban growth boundary to its citizens, perhaps for the 2011
Other leaders are talking about and considering how to promote strong economies while avoiding elimination of our best farmland. It will not be easy for them, and they deserve your support.
Encourage them. They will represent us well.