I note the distinction because the long-range planning function is often overlooked by the general public. If we think of recent North Bay planning controversies, most are about pending applications, not long-range planning issues.I’m not saying that long-range planning never attracts attention. I’ve heard stories about the tension before the 2003 adoption of the Central Petaluma Specific Plan. And the OneBayArea plan has certainly attracted controversy.
But long-range planning hearings are usually attended only by planning junkies and a few folks with specific issues. It’s land-use entitlement hearings that fire up entire neighborhoods and force city halls to accommodate overflow crowds.
And that’s a shame because much of the framework of our communities is set by long-range planning. Land-use applications, even those that a large segment of a community find objectionable, are usually submitted in response to implicit encouragement in a long-range plan.
A Petaluma example illustrates my point. The most cantankerous recent land-use process has been the review of the Draft EIR for the Red Barn project, a proposed single-family project at the western end of D Street. Davidon Homes is the applicant.
Many opponents are infuriated that a developer would propose single-family homes on the site. But only a few folks objected when the Petaluma General Plan was adopted in 2007 with a general plan designation of single-family for the site. It seems a little ridiculous to accuse the developer of subverting the will of the community when the proposed land use was specifically envisioned in the General Plan.
(Those familiar with the Red Barn proposal will note the irony of referring to the 2007-2025 General Plan. The Davidon proposal was deemed complete by the City in 2004 under the General Plan that was adopted in 1987. But the project went quiet during the recession and has now resumed after the adoption of the new General Plan. The question of which General Plan should be applied to the project has become a source of local controversy.
However, City legal staff has noted that it makes little difference as the two General Plans applied virtually the same standards to the Red Barn site. The only difference is in the historic preservation standards.
And even though the Davidon project has been deemed complete, people could have still objected to the general plan designation on the Red Barn site during the General Plan process. Few did so.)
There are numerous reasons why long-range planning usually doesn’t evoke the same level of awareness as entitlement planning. For one, long range planning often sets forth scenarios that never come to fruition. To become invested in the vision of a long-range plan is often to be disappointed.
And then there’s the problem of visualizing the future. How many people can truly believe that a grand vision of the future will actually happen? Fifteen years ago, how many Petalumans would have believed in Theatre Square? Or today, how many believe that the parcels adjoining the SMART station will one day be filled with multi-story mixed-use?
It’s the same reason that flood control planning often occurs with little public notice. On a sunny afternoon in May, it’s hard to conceive of a wintertime flood. Which is why more of us end up filling sand bags than attending flood control hearings.
But the biggest reason that long-range planning is often undervalued is that it looks twenty or more years in the future. Again using Red Barn as an example, the General Plan that set the standards by which the project was configured was adopted 26 years ago. In a world where homeowners move every seven years and renters even more frequently, many of us have a hard time caring about our communities 26 years in the future.
Even mortality has a role. Of the people currently living in a community, what percentage will still be living there 26 years from now? Including relocation and mortality, perhaps 30 percent? Most communities will have largely new populations in 26 years.
But none of those are valid reasons to overlook long-range planning. Even if neither we nor our descendents will be living in our communities in 26 years, we owe it to the folks who will be living there to take long-range planning seriously. To grasp the land-use issues that will define the 21st century and to be a part of creating a good direction.
I know that long-time readers won’t be surprised by these comments. But I’ve recently read a few dismissive comments about planning horizons of twenty years or more. It seemed a good time to offer a reminder about the value of maintaining a long perspective.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (email@example.com)