Stockton’s planning department recently released a draft General Plan neighborhood map, supposedly created with feedback from the department’s July General Plan workshop where city residents provided personalized input on where they thought neighborhood boundaries should fall (You can view the staff report here and accompanying map here). Interestingly enough, the new draft General Plan map includes the controversial Bear Creek East development as a potential “expansion area” despite a widely publicized denial of Bear Creek East in February by the city’s planning commission and subsequent denouncement from city council. Call me crazy, but I was under the impression Stockton was moving into a “new era of normal,” at least according to Community Development Director Steve Chase. Looking at this map, I’d say this is more of a “business as usual” rendering.
Overall, thirteen neighborhoods were proposed, along with three potential expansion areas. The map lists the neighborhoods numerically starting in Downtown and moving outward. Many of the proposed neighborhoods mirror those already existing – Neighborhood 2—“Uptown”– encompasses the Miracle Mile, University of the Pacific and Victory Park neighborhoods. Neighborhood 7—“Lincoln/Pacific”– contains Lincoln Center and most of the surrounding residential area from I-5 to Davis Road. These designations make sense as most draft neighborhoods contain a relative variety of uses ranging from residential to commercial while also including fairly distinct characters.
Others, like southernmost Neighborhood 9: Industrial Annex – cited as the neighborhood holding the, “greatest opportunity for economic development and job growth,” – don’t make as much sense. Industrial jobs will likely remain a part of Stockton’s economy for years to come. But, if the city is really as interested in revitalizing its economy as staff have been touting, then they need to start focusing on other industries that attract high-scale investment into areas like downtown instead of continuing to develop large warehouses and factories on the urban fringe.
More importantly, the draft General Plan “expansion areas” don’t make much sense as they’re all located outside existing city limits. Expansion Area B proves to be a good example. This is where the highly divisive Bear Creek East project would be located. The decision by the Planning Commission to deny the project earlier this year was hailed as proof that times were changing in terms of growth. City staff and council members proudly lauding the decision as proof that Stockton’s urban interests were no longer in the pockets of suburban developers. So, if Planning Commission rejection of the project was seen as a landmark decision foreshadowing a change in development trends, it begs the question of why this area was still included on the proposed neighborhood map and why it’s described so favorably in the staff report; “Future planned growth in this area may create opportunities for a more complete community with job production, service/retail provision and similar variety.”
Broadly speaking, why are any of the expansion areas included in the General Plan at all? Wasn’t it loudly and clearly touted that there are still around 30,000 entitled homes not even built? Wasn’t it said the city would be focusing on these already entitled lots as well as reigning in growth? Maybe I heard wrong, but read the following description of northernmost Expansion Area A, north of Eight Mile Road: “… this neighborhood is located entirely outside of the City limits. A project described as The Preserve has been proposed at this site, though no formal application has been submitted.”
Besides the clear irony of the proposed development’s name, this is exactly the type of development that city leaders have been promising to move away from. This developer hasn’t even applied and yet we’re going to accommodate this potential growth outside of city limits? Sorry, everyone, I’ve got to call this one out. Folks who turned out in July for the initial General Plan neighborhood workshop didn’t do so for nothing and I didn’t move to this town because I was excited about additional sprawl.
It’s also too bad that, while the initial public workshop was widely publicized, this subsequent follow up Planning Commission meeting was not – unfortunate, since this is where the public’s recommendations were consolidated and the physical draft map presented. Those who had attended the July meeting could have seen the fruits or their labor. Community input shouldn’t be a one-time opportunity, but a fluid process where input evolves over time. Hopefully, when the maps are presented for adoption, both the meeting information and maps will be again widely circulated so that the residents living within these suggested neighborhoods have adequate time to review and submit their comments and questions about how they want their community to grow. And, hopefully, we’ll be looking at a map that actually reflects promises made by department heads and not one that makes us look as though we’ve learned nothing.