The Morada Area Association provided 200 chairs for its town-hall meeting on Stockton-area growth issues Tuesday, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Some 350 to 400 people showed up to University Charter School in Morada to hear about issues regarding several large subdivisions planned within the city of Stockton, across Highway 99 from the semi-rural Morada community. People stood along the walls, some sat on the floor in front and others remained in the hallway.
"There were scads of people I'd never seen before," Morada Area Association President Richard Abood said Wednesday. "It just shows how concerned people are."
The purpose of the town-hall meeting was twofold -- to inform residents in Morada and adjoining areas about Stockton's development plans and how they may affect the area and to beef up membership and involvement in the group, which now has 510 dues-paying members.
The town-hall meeting covered issues related to existing and proposed development in Stockton, including traffic, air quality, quality of life, reduction of Morada's small-town atmosphere. But the major issue raised was the affect future development would have on the groundwater table in Morada and other communities in San Joaquin County.
Morris Allen, a consulting civil engineer hired by the Morada Area Association, says that urban uses constitute 27 percent of the groundwater basin overdraft.
"Everyone was very sympathetic to the message that was given to them, that their way of life is being challenged by the rampant growth policies by the city of Stockton," Allen said Wednesday.
But Matt Arnaiz, developer of the Cannery Park subdivision, a 448-acre development across from Morada on the west side of Highway 99, said he heard a lot of misinformation at the Morada meeting.
"I was pretty appalled," Arnaiz said. "They said a lot of stuff to try to excite people."
Contrary to Morada community leaders' claims that Stockton's urban growth plans will seriously reduce the groundwater basin in San Joaquin County, Arnaiz maintains that urban uses contribute only 3 to 4 percent of the groundwater overdraft. The remainder is caused by agriculture, he said.
But Arnaiz said the most disturbing comment was the stereotype that developers are greedy and usually live out of town with no stake in the community.
"We were all born and raised in Stockton," he said. "And my dad (Howard), was a Morada resident for 17 years. He retired and moved to the coast."
Already approved by the city of Stockton, Cannery Park will include more than 1,000 homes and up to 210 multifamily units south of Eight Mile road. About 2.5 million square feet of industrial and commercial development is planned. Arnaiz said he hopes to begin construction this summer.
Not only did Morada residents show up to hear about the potential effect on the area's water supply, traffic and air quality, so did residents of the Waterloo Road area south of Morada and east of Highway 99. Even one Woodbridge resident showed up, hoping to apply Morada's success to a similar development there.
"It was unreal," said Cliff Kerr, a Lodi dentist and Woodbridge resident who has discussed groundwater issues with residents in Woodbridge's Windwood subdivision. "We've started thinking about joining forces with (Morada). They have their act together."
Kerr said he will talk to other Woodbridge residents in the near future about whether they want to join the Morada Area Association in a pair of lawsuits against the city of Stockton.
One lawsuit, filed by the association, former President John Sinclair and board member Bill Fields, alleges that that an Environmental Impact Report on the Cannery Park subdivision is flawed because it doesn't address how traffic, noise, stormwater runoff, groundwater resources, air quality and aesthetics would affect Morada and nearby farmland. Arnaiz's company is also named in the lawsuit.
In the other lawsuit filed against the city of Stockton, the Morada Area Association claims the city plans to extend its sewer line underneath Highway 99 into the southern Morada area, which could lead to development of the 2,000-home Empire Land subdivision east of Highway 99, south of Foppiano Lane.
Abood said that Tuesday's meeting has achieved his goal of getting the Morada Area Association more focused on community issues.
With the recent interest by Linden and Waterloo-area residents over Stockton's growth plans, Abood said he plans to set up a similar town-hall area in either Linden or Waterloo later this year.
"We had momentum several months ago, but then things kind of got set aside," Abood said. "Now I think we're back on track."
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.