Sunday, June 21, 2009

City Planning Goals and State Mandates

By John Olney, June 21, 2009

Cities and Counties Trying to Satisfy State Mandates

Napa City Passes Housing Plan to Guide Through 2014
But Downtown Specific Plan Still in Development

I have been following the Downtown Napa Redevelopment discussions and City Council actions with much interest. The URL below will take you to the City Web site dealing specifically with this subject.

The site describes the efforts being made as cited below:
“A specific plan is a policy and regulatory tool used by local governments in the State of California as a complement to a General Plan. Specific plans implement a city or county's General Plan through the development of policies,programs and regulations for a localized area and in greater detail.
A Specific Plan must address, at the minimum, land use, transportation and circulation, utilities and infrastructure, public facilities, development standards, and implementation and financing. Once adopted, the Downtown NapaSpecific Plan will guide all new development in the Planning Area both in the public and private realms.”

One of the major points made at the workshops related to the above plan is downtown housing and living in the downtown Napa area. The AMCAN Eagle newspaper, Sunday, June 21, 2001 carried an editorial on state mandated housing:

Napa County is once again grappling with ways to set aside as much land for new homes as the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development requires.

This is a regular task, one that must be completed every seven years. Yet it is a requirement in need of reform if California is maintain the quality of life we have come to cherish.

The way things work is that state officials calculate job growth, population growth and other factors to determine how many new homes may be needed in the state, focusing especially on homes that will be affordable to most families. They then deal out to cities and counties their allotments to be absorbed.

Cities and counties than draw up planning documents saying that so many new homes can go here or there. If they meet the magic number, they are approved. If not, they risk lawsuits and loss of control of their own growth because they are out of compliance with state law.

In her letter dated June 3, 2009 to the members of the select 15-person Downtown Napa Specific Development Plan committee, Mayor Jill Techel said,”…Our intent is provide a community-based, feasible plan!” The Mayor also said in this letter, “You will be helping to shape Downtown’s future over the next 15 years--an effort that will have long lasting benefits for all City residents, businesses, workers and visitors.” On Wednesday, June 17,2009, the City appointed 15-Person Downtown Steering Committee were first introduced to the public by name and face, and held its first of many planned workshops.

On Wednesday, June 9, the City of Napa sponsored the first of two public workshops designed to provide a platform for the residents and business persons of the community to express their concerns about the present and contribute to the rebuilding process of the future of the city. The City’s Web site set up for this work is and as of June 21 continues to indicate that the workshop results will soon be on this site but they are not yet. One component of the Workshop as reported in the “Workshop Summary” which I first saw on the evening of June 17 at the Steering Committee meeting and includes the following statements about downtown housing.

“Promote a mix of housing options to support a lively and vibrant Downtown.
o Plan for a range of family-friendly housing types
o Increase residential densities
o Create more mixed-use developments
o Downtown Napa should have housing for the local resident workforce.”

On Tuesday, June 14, 2009, the Napa City Council adopted a new housing plan to guide the city through 2014. The adopted plan includes the following numbers and I quote from the NVR article dated Saturday, June 20, 2009:

The new housing plan would add 88 units to growth expected by 2020 — 7,928 units instead of 7,840 units, staff said. The environmental effect of 88 units is not significant, they said.

In fact, the city has been growing at a slower rate than the General Plan envisioned. New housing is running 700 fewer units than anticipated, Jean Hasser, the city’s principal planner, said.

These numbers are set for the entire city limits of Napa, not just an allotment for the Downtown Redevelopment sector! Then there were the followings statements in the NVR article:

The city intends to raise densities on eight multi-family housing sites in three parts of town as its primary strategy for bringing down the cost of new housing, Hasser said.

The three areas are the south side of First Street, west of Highway 29; the Byway East-El Centro Avenue area and Soscol Avenue south of Trancas Street.

Please note that none of these density allowances include the Downtown Napa sector. Based on all the differing requirements for “Plans,” and the decision process of the city planners and council, I'm just wondering if the public workshops and Steering Committee workshops are really going to result in any meaningful inputs for changes to the redevelopment of the downtown Napa sector?

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