Citing that the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) is an unelected and unaccountable body that the council has “abdicated” its powers to, Oakdale resident Charles Shetron and Jan Ethridge of Salida have been vocal and asked the Oakdale City Council to secede from the organization.
Established in 1971 to address regional transportation issues, StanCOG is an advisory council of city and county government elected officials. While its main focus is transportation issues and allocating federal and state funds to implement them, StanCOG is also involved in other issues that affect the entire region such as air quality.
“The creation of these entities transfers policy making from the democratically elected, accountable, transparent local government to an unknown, unelected, unaccountable, non-transparent district regional governance structure controlled by stakeholders largely based in Sacramento and Washington D.C.,” said Shetron.
He said that the members from city governments were elected to serve on the councils of their particular city and were “muscling” their way into other jurisdictions in the area of city planning.
While regional transportation planning is its primary role, StanCOG provides the forum that brings mayors, city council members, and county supervisors together to work on regional issues that cross city and county boundaries in the planning process for the Stanislaus region.
“They were not elected into their offices for the transportation issues of the county or another city,” said Shetron. “The same applies for county supervisors (that serve on StanCOG).”
At the Monday, April 15 city council meeting, Shetron identified a low income housing plan from StanCOG that would mandate building 983 low-income units in Oakdale.
“How is that linked to transportation or the environment?” Shetron asked.
Shetron later said the plan was using data from 2005 and would significantly change the image of Oakdale, putting an unequal drain on city services.
“They’re dangling federal and state money in front of them (cities) and asking for more in return,” Shetron said.
Etheridge was concerned with the power of eminent domain that she said had been relinquished to StanCOG with an amendment to its Joint Powers Agreement.
She points to an amendment that reads, “By law, a Joint Powers Agency shares the same powers as the member agencies. All of the StanCOG member jurisdictions have the power of eminent domain and the proposed amendment merely clarifies StanCOG’s authority.”
“You have given the power of eminent domain to StanCOG,” said Etheridge, “This amendment was requested by the agent, not by the city or county. This seems to indicate that the agent is dictating the parameters of this contract instead of the other way around.”
The U.S. Constitution allows cities to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property, as long as it’s taken for public use and the owner is paid just compensation. Traditionally, eminent domain has been used to build roads, city government buildings, railroads, and other public infrastructures.
Oakdale City Councilman Mike Brennan is the city’s representative on the StanCOG board and said he was unacquainted of some of the mandates Shetron and Etheridge were talking about.
“It’s a policy directive agency.” Brennan said about StanCOG. “As far as having to follow it as mandates, I’m not aware of that.”
Brennan also said he believed the members on the StanCOG board were “indirectly” elected since he was elected to his office and the board is made up of other elected representatives.
Brennan said Etheridge and Shetron should address their concerns at the state legislature.
“We do however need to have the state stop mandating local policy and allow cities to decide,” Brennan agreed. “I would rather have that money go directly to Oakdale rather than through StanCOG or LAFCo (Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission).
Stanislaus LAFCo is responsible for coordinating changes in local governmental boundaries, conducting special studies to reorganize, simplify, and streamline governmental structure and preparing spheres of influence for each city and the county. The commission sees that agricultural and open-space lands are protected.