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Friday, February 06, 2009

General Plan Updating Process Begins

On Tuesday night, the Davis City Council will start take steps towards developing a plan of attack for the next General Plan Update. According to the staff report:
A General Plan update would potentially address all of the Council goal categories of: Infrastructure; Fiscal stability; Downtown Davis; Housing; Sustainability; Safety and Health; Organizational Strength; Civic Engagement; and Long-Term Visioning.

In particular, a General Plan update would address the Long-Term Visioning goal: “Prepare for the lasting success and well-being of the Davis community by engaging in long-term visioning.”
The city is looking at a process that would initiate an update through 2035 but could include a long range vision for Davis perhaps up until 2050. The recent housing element process has focused on housing strategies in isolation from other long range community issues.

Other issues that city staff wants to address include:
• Sustainability and AB 32 requirements.
• Economic and business related sustainability.
• Community and resident health.
• A general study of senior needs including housing, transportation, recreation and
social services.
• Ultimate urban growth and ag preservation boundaries.
• Open space / greenways system.
• Growth and balance of housing, employment, retail and services.
• Vision for the downtown and its development intensity.
• Multi-property planning on the edges of the City where coordinated planning would better address issues that may cross parcel boundaries.
• Fiscal impacts of alternatives.
• Planning for the January 2012 – June 2019 Housing Element planning period and
• Explore possible new locations for city and DJUSD corporation yards and the PG&E service center.
One of the challenges the city faces right now is the cost to the project including EIR costs. According to the staff report, costs range from $1 million to $4 million with a typical cost from between $1.5 million to $2.5 million. With a time frame ranging from two years to upwards of five years.
"Staff recommends that the Council determine what kind of a General Plan update is wanted / needed while being sensitive to the difficult budget conditions the City faces, as well as other priorities. After a “first cut” at deciding what kind of General Plan update, staff can return with more information and options for funding the update.

Concerns with City fiscal and budget conditions have evolved since the original Steering Committee recommendation and the Council direction to initiate a “truly comprehensive General Plan update…to address a long range community vision to year 2040 or 2050…with a broad community engagement program”."
The report also accesses the strengths and weaknesses of the current general plan.

The strengths include the fact that it is comprehensive, addresses and contains "smart growth principles," and was citizen based.

However, it also criticizes the previous report as long and unfocused.
"The lengthy document of almost 400 pages and 1,000 goals, policies and standards is difficult to use and focus on overall themes, key issues and trade-offs. The connections between the plan’s general visions and principles and more specific implementing actions are not always clear. Policies related to sustainability are not well coordinated."
"Not clear in its guidance of how the community should evolve in the long term, particularly in terms of residential and non-residential growth."
In particular,
"The 1% growth cap resolution is a helpful tool through January 2010, but does not a provide a quantitative basis for 20 to 25 years because the resolution was based on a housing needs analysis through year 2015 only. The plan provides the framework for promoting infill but does not address appropriate sites and the land use map..."
"Does not provide for reliable projections for financial and infrastructure planning."
There are three other criticisms. First:
"Individual development proposals and policy. Preferably, individual projects would not drive policy.
"Coordination with UC Davis plans. The City and UC Davis continue to be challenged to proactively address short and long term mutual interests and needs."
"New State requirements for general plans. New legislative requirements in general plans for the topics of climate impacts, water supply, environmental justice, and tribal contacts should be checked and incorporated as necessary."
The staff report then elicits a number of comments from council in terms of goals, what the updated plan should contain, what the process should look like.

On thing that might be interesting is for citizens to use the comment section of this article to express some of their goals and concerns about what they would like to see included in the next general plan. Issues such as sustainability, climate change, senior needs, urban growth boundaries, and sustainable economy ought to be considered. One of the main issues that needs to be address is what this community should look like in 2035. How do you want to see Davis change? What would you like to see remain the same?

Finally there is the issue with Measure J. The council had deferred discussion of Measure J until after the election. However, it still really has not addressed it. Are there three votes to keep the measure as it is currently written when it goes before the voters? When will that be addressed?

The staff report contains some other thoughts on Measure J. For instance, whether the General Plan update to go to a Measure J vote if it involves Measure J sites. Whether the entire General Plan package should go to a Measure J vote.
"One option for the Measure J renewal is to do a limited extension until the update is ready for a Measure J vote, and amend Measure J so that if an urban land use is approved by the voters then a second Measure J vote is not necessary."
That would seem to be a rather dangerous proposition for both sides. On the one hand, it might make it difficult to pass the general plan if there are controversial projects contained within it. On the other hand, it might make it easier to pass controversial projects. And once the Measure J vote is passed for the general plan, what safeguards the project to ensure that it does not get altered significantly from passage as part of the general plan. I certain do not believe I would support such a provision.

What other issues need to be addressed here? This is the beginning of the general plan process, the citizens need to take a very proactive role in insuring that their needs, values, and goals are addressed within the framework of the general plan updating process.

---David M. Greenwald reporting