A disappointing Planning Commission staff report made its way to my email inbox the other day. Despite months of public meetings where Stockton residents expressed consistent and overwhelming support for focusing efforts on improving existing neighborhoods within the city, a recently released Planning Commission agenda outlines potential neighborhood centers in parts of the city that aren’t even planned for development. This follows a previous SCL article in which criticism was doled out regarding new neighborhood maps that were put forward after an engaging public meeting. These draft maps included northern areas of the city – noted as “potential” areas for development by planning commissioners – as actual neighborhoods, which ran counter to public opinion expressed at previous meetings. This new document continues that trend.
The report uses the existing draft neighborhood map to propose the exact location of potential neighborhood centers. These centers are intended to act as the main commercial and social hub of each distinct community. Ideally, a neighborhood would be self-sustaining and include all the services one needs in order to live their day-to-day life – a grocer that carries staples, perhaps a small financial institution, adequate transit access, a place or two to eat, some retail, etc. After decades of planning for cars instead of people, sentiment has clearly turned, evident at every public general plan meeting held to date where Stocktonians have voiced their preference for focusing development within existing city limits.
Goals city staff have outlined – reducing vehicle miles traveled and creating more livable communities – will not be reached by continuing to accommodate fringe growth, no matter how it’s dressed up or what language is used to describe it. Expanding city limits poses many potential problems for the city. Who will deliver public services and infrastructure out to these areas? Who will pay for that delivery? What about existing areas like south-side that suffer from decades of disinvestment? Who are we planning for? Residents? Outside developers? Can our existing public transit system even service these areas?
These are real and serious questions. Northward development poses more problems than solutions for Stockton (specifically the North Stockton Annex mentioned in the report along with some sections lumped into the Eight Mile/Bear Creek and Trinity/Northwest Neighborhoods). It also ignores reality. Demographics within the region are changing. Numerous regional plans and statewide legislation is directing growth toward city centers through
infill development. As the younger population waits longer to have children and the other end of the population ages, large single-family homes are falling out of favor. Development in Stockton needs to meet the projected market and northward growth does not address future needs. Wasn’t that the impetus of this general plan update – to move away from this exact type of fringe development and reign in the city’s physical footprint?
These are questions that should be put to each planning commissioner. We should be asking our public officials about the comments we made as citizens at previous meetings and why these northern portions (some not even currently within city limits) are being given equal weighting to what we, as the public, emphasized as our priorities – focusing growth within city limits and expanding services to existing communities. Change is indeed difficult, but our city is on the precipice of a huge opportunity to start developing sustainably and begin attracting real investment. This opportunity will be wasted if we continue to allow room for sprawling, fringe development. Please voice your concerns and thoughts by attending this Thursday’s (Dec. 11) Planning Commission meeting at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 425 N. El Dorado Street.