Calling it a vote that could kill the city's greenbelt plans, Lodi City Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock blasted her fellow council members Wednesday night for their approval of an environmental review contract for a proposed Harney Lane medical and retail complex.
Hitchcock, who has long and forcefully campaigned for a community separator between Lodi and Stockton, said just before the 4-1 vote that she has lost faith in the rest of the council to limit growth south of the city.
"If this community wants to remain smaller … and have distinct communities … some of you better get off your butts and run for a council seat because what you have up here is a pro-growth Elk Grove-style council," Hitchcock told a crowd of roughly two dozen people, winning applause from a few.
The project in question is a 30-acre development that would be anchored by a Sutter Gould medical office. It would sit just south of the current city limits, at the southwest corner of Harney and West Lanes.
That land is technically not in the city's proposed greenbelt, a point the project's developer, Mike Carouba, and several council members made.
It's about a quarter-mile north of the boundary.
Still, Hitchcock argued, giving the green light to a major project like Carouba's - before the city has decided definitively what kind of projects and zoning should be established south of Harney Lane - will lead to a flood of high-density growth throughout the area.
In other actionWith a 5-0 vote and the slicing of a faux credit card, the Lodi City Council sent a message Wednesday night to the state Legislature: Don't balance the state budget with city funds.
State lawmakers are still searching for ways to fill a $15.2 million budget shortfall. City officials across California fear the state will take local property tax and transportation dollars to balance its budget.
Lodi could lose $1.4 million under one possible scenario, said Richard Oakley, Lodi's interim deputy city manager. Another scenario would take $320,000 in statewide sales tax money from Lodi, revenue that funds local law enforcement.
"I'd just like to say, 'Forget it!'" Lodi Mayor JoAnne Mounce said, seconds before cutting up a "Bank of Local Government" credit card. "You can't have any more of our funds."
Oakley said he's hopeful that if enough cities sign symbolic resolutions, the Legislature will listen.
He added that the city is "looking at all options" in preparation of state borrowing.
He declined to elaborate on what some of those might be, though City Councilman Larry Hansen said last week that service and personnel cuts may have to be made.
"We're just thinking about (how to prepare)," Oakley added. "Until we know what the state's going to do, we don't know."
- News-Sentinel staff
The $362,000 contract allows consultants to start reviewing how the project will affect the surrounding environment. The city will spend staff time on it but be reimbursed for the monetary cost.
Carouba, a local commercial real estate broker, disagreed with Hitchcock's assessment.
"I don't think it's fair to say we're jeopardizing a greenbelt that we're not even in," he said. "It's a quarter-mile away."
"It's so far," Hitchcock responded sarcastically.
"Well, it is what it is," Carouba replied.
Mayor JoAnne Mounce, who along with Councilman Bob Johnson is running for re-election this fall, took exception to Hitchcock urging residents to run against her.
She noted that she has met recently with property owners in the proposed greenbelt area and hopes the city can reach a compromise with them about zoning plans.
Property owners have championed a new AL-5 zone for the area. That would allow limited development but still ensure a majority of the area remains open space, proponents say. The greenbelt/community separator area is bounded by Highway 99 and Interstate 5, roughly a half-mile north and south of Armstrong Road.
Mounce said she would like the city to incorporate the AL-5 zone into Lodi's General Plan update, a process that should be complete next year. She said that zone could provide a fair compromise for farmers and give city residents the community buffer they've longed for.