Long time followers of this website know that I started Stockton City Limits on a very simple premise: Stockton should curb excessive outward growth and instead prioritize infill development in the city’s existing neighborhoods, with particular attention to Downtown Stockton. This is the guiding principle of pretty much everything I’ve written and what I believe to be the healthiest way our city should grow. I believe in this so much that I’ve dedicated my career to the revitalization of Downtown Stockton through my work with Ten Space. Steering growth to existing neighborhoods creates the most equitable communities, increases our city’s tax base, and makes the most efficient use of existing resources, whereas expanding our city’s foot print strains Stockton’s limited budget while increasing our dependence on cars and pulling our residents further apart.
So it’s with particular importance that I write about a decision that our city council will make in the near future regarding our city’s growth. As you probably know, the City of Stockton is undergoing its General Plan Update—a process that in the end will guide how and where growth will occur in Stockton until 2035. On Tuesday, the city council will hear from staff on their progress and will also give guidance on which growth pattern staff should pursue as part of the General Plan.
To date, the consultants hired to conduct the update have held numerous meetings, workshops, surveys, and tours to hear what the citizens of Stockton want to see in this updated plan. All of that work has led to the recent release of the boring sounding but very crucial “Land Use Alternative Maps.” These maps are essentially scenarios that city leaders will pick from to determine Stockton’s growth.
To be blunt, there is only one scenario that is acceptable for Stockton. See for yourself:
The three scenarios represent vastly different views of what Stockton will become. They are roughly “status quo sprawl,” “some sprawl,” and “no sprawl.” In my opinion, there is only one healthy and sustainable option of the three—Alternative C. This scenario allows for some growth on the periphery, but mainly focuses growth inward into the communities the sorely need it. Alternative C is the best chance for our city to revitalize our neighborhoods, leverage our historic buildings and lower our vehicle miles traveled to create ideal environmental and public health outcomes.
This is why “Alternative C” is the best
Alternative C gives Stockton the best chance to create meaningful infill and equitable communities. According to the consultants, the growth pattern in Alternative C will decrease solo driving trips by 17%, increase transit use by 24%, and increase biking and walking trips by 30%. In addition, Alternative C is also projected to lead to fewer vehicle miles traveled and less congested roadways than either of the other two scenarios.
Alternative C achieves these outcomes by nudging development to parts of the city that already exist. Instead of solely large-lot single family homes—the dominant development pattern of the last 50 years—Alternative C provides the greatest variety of housing options, leaving room for the single family homes, but also encouraging a diversity of housing options such as lofts, townhomes, and urban apartment complexes that today are virtually nonexistent.
If I want to live in a single family home, I have unlimited options in Stockton, but if I have the audacity to want to live downtown or in a more urban style residence, there are virtually no options. Alternative C will go a long ways towards alleviating this gross imbalance.
Moreover, you cannot be for downtown/infill and for excessive sprawl at the same time as too much outward growth undermines efforts to revitalize existing neighborhoods. In city with limited resources like Stockton, we have to make a choice: do we expand our city’s footprint, thereby stretching our limited critical services such as fire and police protection, teachers, sewers, roads, etc, or do we build in areas that are already serviced? Do we allow low density housing that creates relatively little economic return for the city’s general fund, or do we build up our historic communities where we can maximize the financial efficiency of land we already have? To me, the choice is clear.
We already have enough single family homes to meet demand for the foreseeable future
Some might see these three alternatives and make the mistake that we should allow for *some* sprawl because we need to grow somewhat to accommodate future demand. This is a grave error and ignores a very simple fact: Stockton has tens of thousands of single family homes already approved to be built within existing city limits.
Depending on the source, Stockton’s growing population is expected to require between 19,000 to 41,000 new homes by 2035. The reality is probably somewhere in between those numbers, but it’s crucial to point out that the city of Stockton already has about 20,000 homes approved to be built within the current city limits not including any potential infill opportunities. That means that under the most conservative population estimate, Stockton already has enough housing approved to serve our population to 2035, an astounding number that doesn’t even consider the potential for infill development across the city. Given this scenario, it seems appropriate to conclude that there is absolutely no need to expand the city’s current boundaries to accommodate more growth. And in Alternative C, there still is a bit of room to grow north along West Lane below Eight Mile Road. Given the realities of lots that are already entitled and the massive opportunity for infill, Alternative C is by far the best choice.
It’s important to note that the General Plan can be changed in the future. If a big employer drops into our laps in five years and requires 100 acres, or our population booms beyond expectations and creates a housing shortage, the city has the power to amend the General Plan to accommodate this. We do not need to codify excessive growth in our General Plan today in hopes that we *might* need it in the future. What will happen in this instance is the oversaturation of the single family home market, which will drive our already neglected single family home neighborhoods into further decay.
All of this being said, our elected officials will ultimately provide guidance to staff on which alternative (or components of the alternatives) to pursue. This is where the public plays an enormous role in shaping our city’s future. If you believe as I do that Stockton has grown too far for too long, and that we must invest in our existing neighborhoods to ensure the best possible outcomes for our city, now is the time to let your elected officials know how you feel.
To a certain extent, this has already occurred. Information gathered by city staff during the various workshops showed that residents preferred to keep the city’s existing boundaries while prioritizing existing areas, South Stockton and Downtown in particular. The staff presented these results to the Planning Commission last week, here is one slide in particular that underscores that point.
This is a marked shift in public thinking that has occurred in a relatively short time frame. Instead of endless growth, the public understands that Stockton must think holistically when it comes to building capacity for our city. Land is a finite resource, we must treat it as such.
There is still plenty of time to make a strong impact on the outcome of the General Plan. This Tuesday, April 4th, the council will have a “study session” during the council meeting to hear about these alternatives. It’s my hope that residents and organizations with a stake in our city’s future show up to express their desires for a sustainable, inclusive, and smart General Plan Update.