The Future is Now: Central Valley Farmland at the Tipping Point?
Executive Summary
Resumen Ejecutivo
Current Trends
     Population Growth
  Farmland Use and Development
  Quality of Farmland Developed
  Efficiency of Urban Development
  "Ranchettes" & Other Rural Development
  Agricultural Trends
Local Plans & Performance
  Analytical Method
  Sutter County
  Sacramento County
  Yolo County
  San Joaquin County
  Stanislaus County
  Merced County
  Madera County
  Fresno County
  Tulare County
  Kings County
  Kern County
Where is The Valley Heading?
Time for Change
  Ideas for Change
What You Can Do
  Rank Your County
  Local Official Contacts
  Local Organizations
  Support AFT
Methodology & Background Data
About AFT in California

Stanislaus County
Comparison of Plans & Performance

Basic Plan Information Highlights

Stanislaus County General Plan - adopted 1994; Housing Element adopted 2003. [Stanislaus Plan Maps]

City of Modesto General Plan -
adopted 1995
[Modesto Plan Map]

We are sorry that we were not able to provide planning information for every city in the county. If officials or residents of those cities provide us with relevant data and information, we will make every effort to update this web site.

Stanislaus achieved the lowest per capita land consumption of all Valley counties in the 1990s. The county Board of Supervisors and governing bodies of the 9 cities recently agreed to engage in cooperative planning. The Stanislaus County General Plan is one of the few in the Central Valley that includes an Agricultural Element. The City of Modesto plan has a unique Growth Strategy Diagram that clearly shows redevelopment and urban expansion intentions.

[Click for a Table Summarizing County Performance Data and Rank Compared to Other Counties]

Do local plans and their implementation provide certainty by clearly and consistently (without too many changes) indicating where urban development should occur and where agriculture should remain the preferred, long-term use of land?

[Click here for an explanation of this question]

What the Plans Intend

What Is Actually Happening

"Proposed amendments to the General Plan Diagram (map) that would allow the conversion of agricultural land to urban uses shall be approved only if the Board of Supervisors make the following findings: *** No feasible alternative site exists in areas already designated for the proposed uses." SCGP, Ag Element, at 37.

Percentage of urban & built-up land outside city spheres of influence: 15% (Rank 3)

[Click here to see a map of actual development 1990-2000]

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Since 2000, the county has approved 16 general plan amendments that resulted in the conversion of 512 acres of farmland. Most of this was within city spheres of influence. (Stanislaus County Planning Dept.)

The county is considering an expansion of the Salida Community Plan that would convert to urban use 3,290 acres of mostly high quality farmland.

Do local plans and their implementation avoid development of high quality farmland in favor of less productive land?

[Click here for an explanation of this question]

What the Plans Intend

What Is Actually Happening

"While all agricultural land in Stanislaus County cannot be preserved, it is possible to protect our most productive agricultural areas through a combination of agricultural zoning and policies that clearly direct growth to less productive areas.”(Stanislaus County General Plan (SCGP), Ag Element, at 27

"To the greatest extent possible, development shall be directed away from the County's most productive agricultural areas." Policy 2.4, SCGP, Ag Element, at 32

"The County shall discourage the expansion of spheres of influence of cities or community services districts and sanitary districts serving unincorporated communities into its most productive agricultural areas.” Policy 2.11, SCGP, Ag Element, at 38

Proportion of all land developed 1990-2000 that was High Quality Farmland: 81% (Rank 11)

High Quality Farmland as a proportion of all land in county*: 41%

* Note: This includes only the 90% of the county that has been mapped by FMMP, thus excluding undevelopable terrain.

• High Quality Farmland as a proportion of all undeveloped land within city spheres of influence in 2000: 78% (Rank 9)

Land Development Quality Index:  1.98 (Rank 11)

Do local plans and their implementation protect agriculture by limiting and buffering incompatible residential development?

[Click here for an explanation of this issue]

What the Plans Intend

What Is Actually Happening

“Agriculture, as the primary industry of the County, shall be promoted and protected.” Policy 16, SCGP, at 1-9

“Land designated Agriculture shall be restricted to uses that are compatible with agricultural practices, including natural resources management, open space, outdoor recreation with enjoyment of scenic beauty.”SCGP, at 1-2

“Agricultural areas should generally be zoned for 40- to 160-acre minimum parcel sizes. Exceptions include land in a ranchette area so identified because of significant existing parcelization of property, poor soils, location, and other factors which limit the agricultural productivity of the area.” SCGP, at 1-2

R-A Rural Residential zone allows development on 3 acre lots "appropriate in areas beyond the spheres of influence of a city which is a less productive agricultural area." SCGP, Land Use Element, at 1-19

“In designated areas of agricultural land, the County shall encourage clustering, or grouping together, of allowable dwelling units on relatively smaller parcels instead of the dispersal of such dwellilng units on larger parcels.”  SCGP, Ag Element, at 44

“To the greatest extent feasible, the County shall require mitigation of the impacts of farmland conversion.”  Policy 2.13, SCGP, Ag Element, at 41

“The County shall continue to implement its Right-To-Farm Ordinance.” Policy 1.10, SCGP, Ag Element, at 13

“The County shall protect agricultural operations from conflicts with non-agricultural uses by requiring buffers between proposed non-agricultural uses and adjacent agricultural operations.”  Policy 1.11, SCGP, Ag Element, at 13

Setbacks from agricultural areas shall be established to minimize adverse impacts of adjacent uses on agriculture.”  Polcy 1.12, SCGP, Ag Element, at 13

Developed 1.5-10 ac ranchette acreage: 6,317 (Rank 5)

Ranchettes as a percentage of urbanized land: 11% (Rank 5)

[View map of ranchette development in Stanislaus County] PDF

There are approximately 36,000 acres in the unincorporated area of the county where residential development is permitted on lots between 10 and 20 acres, which could accommodate 2,900 residences. According to the county planning department, most of these already appear to have residences on them.

Do local plans and their implementation promote efficient "smart" development that minimizes farmland conversion while making communities more livable and sustainable?

[Click here for an explanation of this issue]

What the Plans Intend

What is Actually Happening

“To reduce development pressures on agricultural lands, higher density development and in-filling shall be encouraged in urban and built-up areas of the County.”  Policy 2.3, SCGP, Ag Element, at 32

"Currently, residential zoning districts have a range of unit density between zero and a number appropriate for the district. ... This program would amend the zoning ordinance to establish minimum densities." SCGP, Housing Element, at 6-128

"There may be opportunities in established central business districts to reorient business-only structures to contain both residential and non-residential uses. This program will identify such potential properties and encourage proprietors to consider mixed-use." SCGP, Housing Element, at 6-129

"In 1990, the Village One project offered the City the first opportunity to explore a relatively new set of urban design principles, collectively known as "Village Planning" or Neotraditional Planning. In 1992, the Local Government Commission published 'Land Use Strategies for More Livable Places,' which presented a number of design concepts which help to define Neotraditional Planning. Primary among these concepts is that all planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, work place, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents." CMGP, at III-9.

"The Modesto Redevelopment Area will be the focal point of community life and the social, cultural, business, governmental and entertainment center of the northern San Joaquin Valley." CMGP, at III-3

People per urbanized acre 2000: 7.4 (Rank 2)

People per urbanized acre, new development 1990-2000: 12.6
(Rank 1)

• Undeveloped land within city spheres of influence: 28,964 acres (Rank 4)
as a percentage of 2020 need at current efficiencies: 177% (Rank 5)

Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Household 2000: 27,180 (Rank 7)
Change from 1990: +7.3% (Rank 9)

Of 1,181 acres available in 2003 for residental development in the unincorporated area of the county, 883 (75%) were zoned for low density residential or agricultural uses. SCGP, Housing Element, Table V-2, at 6-77

The county has yet to implement the minimum density provisions in its general plan, according to the county planning department.

In 1995, the 456 acres of vacant residential land in the City of Modesto were zoned at an average of 8 dwellings (~24 people) per acre. The 40,400 acres within its Urban Reserve were planned for 9,200 dwellings or 4.4 (12.3 people) per acre. CMGP, at IV-20


Note on Ranking: The Central Valley counties included in this report are ranked to enable a comparison of their performance in preserving farmland and encouraging "smart growth." A rank of 1 (among the 11 counties studied) indicates the best relative performance, a rank of 11 indicates the worst relative performance. Rankings are based on percentage change (where it is given), amount of change (where no percentage change is given) or the absolute number (where no change is given).

Land Development Quality Index measures how well the local jurisdictions in a county have avoided the development of High Quality Farmland (HQF) by taking advantage of the available options for encouraging development of lower productivity land. It is the ratio of the percentage of development during 1990-2000 that occurred on HQF to the percentage of all land in the county mapped by FMMP that is HQF. The latter excudes undevelopable areas such as deserts and mountains. An LDQI greater than 1.0 indicates that the county is not taking full advantage of its alternatives.

Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Household is closely correlated with efficient land use patterns that minimize auto trips between home, work, schools and shopping (as well as with levels of air pollution). [Click here for more information]

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