The latest news (below) on the Ferrari Ranch development project near Atwater made us ask once again if this was truly a whole New Day of such blinding light that it should wipe our memory as clean as a virus destroys computer files.
But, not quite ...
Jeani Ferrari is the secretary of the board of directors of Farmland Working Group (1), originally organized in 1995 by former Congressman Gary Condit, D-Ceres. About this time, the beginning of what would be the Great Housing Boom that Produced the Second Great Depression we are now living through, other organizations were also forming with the help of Condit and his staff, the Gallo family and a few other local plutocrats and their clients. The main ones were the Great Valley Center and the Central Valley Farmland Trust (which absorbed local land trusts in Merced, Stanislaus and other counties and now seems to be farmland brokers). (2) The idea behind all these non-profit corporations was something called, in the flak of the day, "smart growth." In fact, these groups of land owners provided political cover and contributions for land-use officials, charged with obeying environmental laws and regulations during the Boom and are now enjoying a real estate boom for farmland and were well compensated in diverse ways for their efforts by various sectors of the command and control of finance, insurance and real estate spectral interests. Some of that compensation, often the most seductive form of payment, was in the form of social acceptance by the plutocrats and upper echelons of their little helpers.
The "management" of this powerful environmental tool, conservation easements, in their hands followed one cardinal rule: No easement shall in any way obstruct development now or in the future.
But landownership does not smart people make. In fact, if anything, it seems to do the opposite. In the case of the Ferraris, the hypocrisy and contradiction between their public mode of "saving the farmland" (you must hear the phrase lisped in a lovely room filled with people whose clothes are as fine as the Chardonnay they sip) -- and the millions that pass into their pockets from the urban development of prime farmland produces complex states of mind, at least among those who try to make sense of their society. Although groups like Ferrari's Farmland Working Group pride themselves on "outreach" to schools, is the message of How to Cover Up Your Greed with Hypocrisy really good for children? Of course, if the kiddies show an aptitude for the lesson, they would be eligible for scholarships at UC Merced and later a career in its administration.
Farmland is good! Farming is a wholesome way of making a living! Farmers are good people, "stewards of the land!" -- just ask them. Unless, of course, like the Ferrari's Merced prime farmland beside Highway 99, it's worth more for development.
But, wait, this is not something you can understand unless you own farmland. The toil. The worry. The paperwork to collect the crop insurance and any other government subsidies your lawyers accountants can find. The constant haggling with your farmworker contractor. Imagine having to actually pay those ragged men and women! Why, some of them, I'm told, don't even speak Spanish! And now the water problem and the expenses of digging new wells. The constant bargaining with the county. The political contributions. The charities. The public events one must attend. On and on it goes.
Oh, the horrors of land ownership in the Central Valley of California just cannot be grasped by a mere urbanite. But it is we who "Feed the World!" And therefore, we can be forgiven some contradiction ...
like selling an orchard to developers and getting politically behind the Merced-Atwater Expressway and the whole Merced loop - road system, that will run through hundreds of acres of farmland, increasing its value for urban development. (3)
Is a loop road "smart growth"? Ask a downtown merchant. We live in an economy of wasted people, places and things.
Now, others involved in the conservation of farmland as habitat for endangered species may or may not own farmland but they are smart enough to realize that making a killing by developing farmland for urban use, in the process encouraging the expansion of a loop expressway through farmland around a city is not just the same thing as preserving farmland.
Some people might just not want to hear all about "saving farmland" from people like that or people like Peter and Rochelle Koch, founders and main funders of the Valley Land Alliance (4) and promoters of the "save our farmland" Measure C, (a misbegotten initiative that would have increased rural housing, which was defeated by the voters, who didn't exactly know what it was about but smelled a con). (5) Peter was a county farm bureau chairman, but after years of "saving Merced County farmland," up and left and took his family and the proceeds from his real estate deal to a small, undiverse town in Oregon, now perhaps receiving a Californication in "saving farmland."
The other quality we admire in the members of the boards of organizations certified to provide conservation easements which compensate farmers and ranchers for keeping land in farming and ranching is that so many of the members of their boards are beneficiaries of easements. The sacrifice of development rights is so noble that the public forgets the landowners were compensated for it.
But we can't understand that because we don't know the horrors of farmland ownership. To us it just looks like self-serving hypocrisy, even though we're told we should be so grateful to these fine people for donating their time and energy to "saving farmland." -- blj
Atwater-Merced Expressway Project moves ahead; opens door for Ferrari Ranch development
BY RAMONA GIWARGIS
The Ferrari Ranch Project, a 3 million square-foot development that includes retail stores, restaurants, a movie theater, hotel and medical center, could be a game changer for Merced County – and especially for Atwater.
It’s expected to bring nearly 7,500 jobs to a region starving for employment and an estimated $3 million a year in revenue. But the development, which would be built on county land between Buhach and Gurr roads off Highway 99, relies heavily on the completion of the Atwater-Merced Expressway Project.
Construction crews are making major progress on the first phase of the $336 million expressway, which replaces the Buhach Road interchange. The expressway eventually will connect to Castle Commerce Center and UC Merced.
The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion in early 2016.
“We’re on schedule. The weather has been pretty good, and we are about 55 percent complete,” said resident engineer Bryan Kroeger on Friday. “The next big step you’ll see is the opening of the new northbound off ramp.”
Work began on the four-phase project in October 2013. Merced County Association of Governments spokeswoman Stacie Dabbs said funding has been secured for only part of the project’s first phase – about $66 million. The remaining phases, which extend access from Highway 99 to Castle and UC Merced, are unfunded.
Completing the first phase with a new Buhach Road interchange would give Highway 99 drivers direct access to the proposed Ferrari Ranch site, making it vital to the development’s success.
“Without the new interchange, it would have been difficult to access,” said Dave Dolter, the project manager for Ferrari Ranch. “It provides access and visibility to the project, and people will be able to see it as they drive up and down (Highway) 99 and get off on the interchange.”
Dolter recently gave the Atwater City Council an update on the project, which has been in the works for six years. An environmental impact report is being completed – paid for by the landowners, the Ferrari family – before the plan goes to Atwater’s Community Development and Resources Commission.
The commission would make a recommendation to the City Council in early fall. The council would also need to adopt a resolution to annex about 330 acres of the land into the city. Tax revenue from the project would be split between Merced County and Atwater, with the county receiving a larger chunk.
Atwater Mayor Jim Price said revenue from Ferrari Ranch is much needed, but he’s more excited about the project’s plans for a new medical center near Atwater.
“We used to have three hospitals when I came to this area and now we’re down to one, and it’s not a trauma center,” Price said, adding that patients are often flown out of Merced County.
Dolter said he’s been in talks for five years with hospitals that have expressed interest in coming here. If the Ferrari Ranch Project comes to fruition, he said, it would attract other businesses to Atwater and the former Air Force base.
Connecting Highway 99 to Castle, the ultimate goal of the Awater-Merced Expressway Project, has always been a significant factor in revitalizing the former air base. County officials say improving transportation to and from Castle would help attract companies that transfer goods.
“If we want to build infrastructure for Castle to move the goods, we have to have that direct route,” said District 3 Supervisor Daron McDaniel, whose district covers Atwater. “When you talk to businesses, one of the first things they ask about is direct access to 99. It’s too much of a liability for trucks to hit red lights, drive by a residence or schools.”
(1) Farmland Working Group
To preserve the agricultural foundation of our region and promote smart growth in our urban communities through education, outreach and action.
In 1995, at the request of Congressman Gary Condit, a large diverse group was asked to attend a meeting regarding the conversion of agricultural lands in our region of the Central Valley of California. The broad range of individuals continued meeting to discuss the important issues of preserving agricultural land.
Over time, a core group from the original meeting identified itself as Farmland Working Group. In 1999, FWG adopted Articles of Incorporation and By-laws and filed as a 501 (c)(3) corporation. With a focus on education, FWG created a video, A Vision and a Legacy, and curriculum appropriate for service organizations, clubs and classrooms. A second video, A Part of the Soil, was produced in 2003.
Since 1999, Farmland Working Group has been a voice for wise land use and the long-term capability for food production in our region – the world’s most productive farmland. With the Central Valley of California projected to be one of the fastest growing regions in the nation, what will become of our prime irrigated farmland – how can we not become another Los Angeles basin?
Farmland Working Group Community Advocates are dedicated to protecting farmland in Stanislaus and Merced Counties. Our advocates are the spokespeople on the front lines of local farmland protection. They work tirelessly to protect our agricultural lands and promote sound urban development, long-range planning and balanced growth.
FWG remains committed to responsible land use. Through effective, organized grassroots activism, we keep a constant watch on local planning commissions, city councils, and boards of supervisors in Stanislaus and Merced Counties. Farmland Working Group works closely with other non-profit organizations whose focus is farmland protection and smart growth.
Jeani Ferrari has lived in the Central Valley her entire life. She and her husband John farm peaches, almonds and walnuts on family farmland in Stanislaus and Merced counties. She served on the Turlock Downtown Revitalization Committee and is currently serving on the Carnegie Arts Center Foundation Endowment Committee. Jeani served on the Yosemite Association Board, as well as the Yosemite Fund Council. Jeani helped launch Turlock's first Certified Farmers' Market, which opened in 2010 in downtown Turlock and continues today. Jeani was a founding member of the Stanislaus Farmland Trust which merged to become Central Valley Farmland Trust. She was one of three members from Stanislaus County serving on the CVFT board. Jeani is on the Advocacy Committee for the Farmland Working Group.