Should City Council carve out growth North of Eight Mile in General Plan?

Last April, the Stockton City Council appeared to take a bold step, breaking with decades of precedence to approve a General Plan landuse map that eliminated the expansion of existing limits in favor of infill and neighborhood revitalization. But as the council prepared to make their monumental vote on the city’s growth, a last second amendment was brought forth by Councilman Elbert Holman to carve out an exception for north Stockton in the event that a “catalytic” jobs producer materialized. The amendment seemed harmless enough—who could argue against a Tesla or CSU Stockton, if they needed that much space? The council agreed, and the suggestion was incorporated into the council’s ultimate motion to move forward with Landuse Alternative C, with much fanfare.

Tuesday night, the council reconvenes to provide final guidance to city staff on the matter, and their decision could have very serious impacts on whether or not the city expands north of Eight Mile Road. The majority of the General Plan boasts a strong emphasis on infill and a limitation on sprawl, but several groups have noted that this exception for Eight Mile Road must be well thought out to ensure that the smart growth components of the General Plan are not compromised by future council’s poor planning decisions.

While the amendment by Councilman Holman is certainly well-intentioned, our council must demand very strong language and policy to ensure that only a truly catalytic employer locating in Stockton (that cannot be accommodated elsewhere in the city) will trigger development north of Eight Mile. This means a significant number of high-paying jobs from an entity that will bring a net benefit to the city as a whole, even if they are located on the outskirts. There should be no exception to this rule.

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The Council tonight will decide on direction for allowing growth north of Eight Mile Road

During that council meeting in April, all council members agreed that we should only grow our city limits to accommodate real, quality job creators. Of course, no one is quite sure what exactly constitutes “quality jobs.” This concept is difficult to quantify and is exactly why many are concerned. While today’s council is very thoughtful, there is no guarantee that future councils will be as principled. As such, a strong policy with strong metrics must be adopted today to ensure that future councils don’t somehow confuse a strip mall or auto dealership as “catalytic,” opening the door for the kind of sprawling development everyone so strongly opposed during the March council meeting. In fact, campaign for Common Ground—a group I work with on a regular basis—has dubbed the potential for this scenario to occur as the “Spanos Surprise.”

Of course, the council is focused on providing jobs in Stockton, but I do not agree that this special carve out will somehow make us more attractive to a majory high-quality employer. I have heard arguments that the General Plan should adopt lax language and minimal barriers for this area north of Eight Mile so that we can be “shovel ready” when a big employment opportunity presents itself. While this seems reasonable on its face, this position is actually quite irrational and should be avoided by elected officials. Any employers—whether it’s a CSU Stockton, a hospital, or a Tesla—would need several different approvals to establish themselves north of Eight Mile, and this carve out does not circumvent any of them. For example, a full Environmental Impact Report would be required by the developer, which can take well over a year to perform. This includes very detailed analyses on things such as traffic, noise, pollution, utilities, historic resources, and much more. Not to mention, the land still would need to be annexed into city limits, which requires council approval. Clearly, no General Plan “carve out” for any city limit expansion is the magical missing piece to entice a major employer.

Ultimately, this General Plan update will be light years better than what we have today, and I believe it will help guide our continued resurgence in downtown and other existing neighborhoods. However, this special north Stockton carve out is a reminder that the status quo isn’t easily overcome, and the people of Stockton must always stay vigilant for giveaways such as these to entrenched interests.

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Categories: Community Commentary, Smart Growth

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia founded SCL in March of 2012. He holds degrees from UCLA as well as Johns Hopkins University and currently works as the Chief Operating Officer at Ten Space in Downtown Stockton, and previously worked as a researcher/analyst for a congressional agency in Washington DC. The views expressed here are solely of the author.

5 Comments on “Should City Council carve out growth North of Eight Mile in General Plan?”

  1. Jesus Terrazas
    July 24, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    I don’t think it is a good idea for the city of Stockton to expand beyond it’s current city limits if it is having trouble maintaining it’s downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. There are many parts that don’t even have sidewalks in fact some parts are straight up blighted. Either way I think there is still plenty of space to develop within these neighborhoods. For example taking all the vacant plots of land and parking lots in downtown area and all the arterial roads streets and thoroughfares and then develop them with mixed use buildings to increase housing supply, decrease car usage while increasing the amount of trips walking. The city should put more and safer bike lanes to encourage people to use bikes. Because if Stockton just keeps expanding without thinking first, it will eventually merge with Manteca, Lathrop, and Lodi to become a very car dependent traffic congested sprawled out mess.

  2. Jon Seisa
    July 26, 2017 at 7:32 pm #

    One foresightful strategic option that may accommodate the GP “catalytic” amendment quite complimentary is to reserve and designate the north sector green belt as a future development called “THE STOCKTON SILICON BELT” in anticipation for Silicon Valley high-tech spillover migration into the Central Valley that will help lure and secure satellite tenancy from the big 20 high-tech developers. This plan will certainly facilitate economic growth and jobs of a high-intensity nature, the higher caliber jobs that justify using and building on the north green belt sector. Secondary wave tech/electronic firms and tretiary smaller independent high-tech vendors and sub-developers will most likely dovetail and piggyback off the primary movers-and-shakers, gravitating into the mix even more stellar tenants and job creation.
    The aim would foremost emphasize and integrate a plan appealing to them and the demographic profile of their employees, the Civic-Millennials. Featured might be eco-friendly green sustainable design and Smart Growth, and elements appealing to this savvy and highly educated high-tech workforce might include a park/campus environment and preservation of public open spaces and natural elements. Public transit to minimize vehicles and parking lots may be cleverly innovated. The vast area might feature nature trails and/or horse riding trails, grasslands, creeks, maybe even forested and ponds created. Or, semi-developed sectors featured and integrated with major public access space with parks, biking and jogging trails, gardens, public facilities, public recreation facilities, botanical gardens, aviary, and public institutions with vast open spaces between high-tech clusters and/or residential mid-rise to high-rise structures that do not have large expansive foundational footprints so that the entire community may benefit from the land use, or a combination plan integrating a menu of these design options. If something like this were ambitiously pursued that demonstrated a serious will to transform Stockton’s future in a positive way, then the potential high-tech tenants will stand up and take notice. Additionally, once established (in phases), this would generate and increase more disposable municipal revenue to fund the execution of infrastructural, street, sidewalk, drainage, sewage and utility upgrades earmarked for Stockton’s grayfield districts’ redevelopment plans, making redevelopment in those vicinities more appealing to urban developers.
    But I also agree with Jesus Terraza, let’s avoid traditional greenfield development for this northern swath since there is tremendous neglect in the vast grayfield sectors already within the city limits that are desperately begging to be developed. What use is it to develop the remote outer edges of the city while the central core and its immediate periphery continue to radiate outwardly with aging decay and deterioration into non-use, practically earning Stockton the epithet “OFFICIAL GHETTO CITY OF CALIFORNIA”? This needs to be reversed. Once all the other inner districts, like the Wilson Way Corridor, or South Stockton, are gleaming urban developments with new sidewalks, plazas, public squares, street-scaping, stunning structures, public art, and bustling with mixed-use dense housing, retail shops, cafes, entertainment, cultural arts activities, museums, galleries and lifestyle vibrancy, then pragmatic development of Stockton’s metro periphery can be reconsidered. Development in Stockton needs to turn inward, not outward, unless it is to improve primary approaches into the city, the city gateways, to make Stockton more welcoming and hospitable to visitors, tourists and newcomers, or the ambitious “The Stockton Silicon Belt” mentioned above, or something of this visionary high caliber and nature, like a regional biomedical or agri-tech research nucleus.

  3. July 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    HELL NO!!!

  4. Jon Seisa
    July 29, 2017 at 2:54 am #

    Another comprehensive option of high intensity may be to do what Orange County did with the massive 4,682-acre El Toro Marine Corp Air Base off the I-5 after it was decommissioned by President Clinton in 1999 and eventually transformed into the “Orange County Great Park” (master planned 1,300 acres divided into various purposed areas) in the city of Irvine. Here is the site link: http://www.cityofirvine.org/orange-county-great-park
    Hence, earmark and designate the huge swath of land north of 8 Mile Road as a major regional “SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY ECO-HAVEN” (SJCEH), designed and developed in phases over a 50-year strategy, and according to an established master plan integrated with community input that includes their wish-list desires. The proposed land periphery boundaries recommended might be as follows: SOUTH BORDER – Eight Mile Road; NORTH BORDER – Armstrong Road; WEST BORDER – I-5 West Side Freeway; and EAST BORDER – 99 Golden State Highway. Establish something like a SJCEH Authority to develop a land rights use acquisition plan for current landholders to remain until they wish to opt out and sell to the SJCEH Authority to circumvent property sale to greenfield developers. Such an authority would most likely pursue and access grants from an assortment of various federal agencies for funding the Eco-Haven development on tiered financing levels.
    The Eco-Haven might feature: 1) natural elements and ecological environs, like nature corridors with a nature center/natural history museum, nature trails, creeks with bike/jogging and horse trails, equestrian center and stables, ponds, grasslands and wooded groves with picnic facilities, RV parks, camping grounds, and an educational/conference center for schools, groups, clubs and businesses; and 2) as well as integrated eco-friendly and green sustainable design features of various community accessible functions and venues, perhaps emphasizing augmented solar energy use, say for buildings and street lights. Included might be a world class earthen concert amphitheater, cultural arts campus with museums (The John Muir Environmental Museum) and sculptural gardens, theater pavilion, puppet theater in the park, aquatic and ice skating sports complex, world class aviary, botanical gardens with vista towers, tranquility garden, recreational leisure parks, pro-golf course, dog parks, regional sports complex, world competition skateboard park, restaurant cyber village, a state-of-the art library with reading gardens, chalk art plaza with fountains, giant chess game courtyard, children’s exploratrium, and so on.
    Strategically, great impetus and remarkably high intensity may be generated for this idea if it were named the “JOHN MUIR ECO-HAVEN”, after California’s celebrated naturalist-environmentalist, John Muir. Something of this nature could possibly become a crown jewel attraction for Stockton due to its great tourism appeal and potential, but it needs to be first rate.
    Just my 2 cents… Enjoy!

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  1. Today’s Headlines – Streetsblog California - July 26, 2017

    […] Stockton wants to limit sprawl, but ponders exceptions (Stockton City Limits) […]

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