For several years, Stockton’s economic growth has been measured by how much can be built on the periphery of the city. On Tuesday, the city took its first step towards changing the status quo of unmitigated outward expansion of homes and businesses in favor of a comprehensive plan focusing on existing neighborhoods. By a unanimous vote, the Stockton city council agreed to begin the process of updating the city’s General Plan, while also creating a specific plan for Downtown Stockton.
“We need to plan for the Stockton of today, not the Stockton of yesterday,” said Stockton Director of Community Development Steve Chase, who presented his vision for the city’s General Plan update to the council.
In updating the General Plan, Chase advocated for a neighborhood based approach tailoring policies to fit the unique characteristics of different parts of the city, rather than a “one size fits all” method standard in most updates. Chase also emphasized the importance of more compact development and fewer vehicle miles traveled. And while general plans are usually land-use driven, Chase believes this update should be more about stimulating economic growth and less about where homes and roads will go.
“This plan will be focused on economic oriented development,“ said Chase. “(Economic development) should be the center point and the benchmark for the General Plan as opposed to land use.”
And Chase doesn’t want to wait around for results. Generally, general plan updates can take anywhere from three to five years to complete, but Chase has set an ambitious timeline of 18 to 24 months for Stockton’s update. Chase believes the city can accomplish this by going “lean” to achieve efficiencies. Instead of hiring costly consultants, Chase proposed using mostly in house staff as well as the Planning Commission to develop the plan and its policies, signaling a shift away from costly city-commissioned studies that have become the norm in recent years.
With the vote, the council also approved the development of an expedited Downtown Stockton Plan that would streamline growth in the city’s core by eliminating red tape. By including a separate plan to affect change immediately in downtown, the message is clear: Without a healthy downtown, the rest of the city will continue to languish.
“We want to strip away the standards that get in the way of infill development,” said Chase. “We want to strip away the hurdles.”
Chase also noted that the General Plan update will build off of other regional planning strategies such as the SJCOG’s Sustainable Community Strategy, which will require that transportation dollars be spent on projects promoting fewer car trips and more compact development patterns.
Community members were supportive of an update and the changes proposed by Chase, though some warned that such a shift away from past General Plan trajectories will undoubtedly spark opposition.
“This is a very ambitious project, but we are fully in support of this,” said Mahesh Ranchhod, Chairman of the Downtown Stockton Alliance board. “Legal challenges will be mounted, but you should not be frightened. The council should be steadfast and continue with this process.”
A new Stockton General Plan presents a big opportunity to reset the city’s priorities. The current 2035 plan extends the city nearly as far north as Lodi’s southern border, and allows for an expanding footprint south of the existing city limits. But this plan was crafted at a time when it seemed like single family homes were the path to Stockton’s salvation, a gross miscalculation that eventually lead to bankruptcy when the illusion of wealth created by massive subdivisions crumbled. Today, we have an oversupply of suburban homes and an unmet demand for infill and walkable communities. Stockton’s General Plan should reflect these new realities.