Trouble in River City

 

A city’s General Plan serves as a guiding document for its future development.  Vallejo’s plan is decades old, and definitely showing its age.  Back in early 2014 the city made a show of engaging residents to develop an updated vision for the future of our city.  The city characterized the GP update process as ”an opportunity for us to create a vision for the kind of city we want and to take concrete steps toward making it a reality.”

That sense of community empowerment and partnership was encouraged throughout the lengthy and intensive process that followed by city staff and professional planning consultants.  According to the city web site: “A General Plan Working Group, composed of appointees from different segments of the community, represents the people of Vallejo by guiding the planning process and advising the Planning Commission and City Council when there are key decisions that need to be made. This ensures that the General Plan will remain rooted in the vision and values of the community.”

The effort culminated on November 23 of  last year when the General Plan Working Group, the Economic Vitality Commission, and the Planning Commission voted together to approve their agreed upon Preferred Scenario.  The overwhelming favorite among participants was the final Bay and River City scenario, which envisions a connected and accessible  waterfront extending from Brinkman’s boat launch to Sandy Beach Road and allows foot and bike traffic between the Maritime Academy campus and downtown.  

Participants can take pride in the work they have done and the visionary language and documents they have produced in service to those of us who were not involved.  Thank you.  According to the city web site:  “When the community has chosen a preferred scenario, the project team will develop a set of policies, programs, and actions that will help implement that scenario, as well as the overall vision and Guiding Principles of the General Plan.”  All in all this looks like a textbook planning exercise and job well done.  Except for one minor detail.  

It seems that this elaborate planning effort costing the city more than three million dollars somehow missed a fundamental first step, the part where you look at the existing legal land use framework for constraints on the process.  Now that the community has invested so much time and money in the effort to develop an integrated planning vision for the waterfront,  someone on city staff finally decided to check and see if there might be some kind of a conflict.  Well what do you know, Kiewit Corporation has had a long term lease with the city in place since 2012, right smack in the middle of all that envisioned connectivity and access.  

Oh, and there’s this cement plant application pending approval along with a couple other projects in your waterfront planning area.  Too bad, but the beautiful map you labored over and discussed at length showing a bike/walking trail through the Kiewit lease and across the VMT/Orcem site will have to go.  The council could never approve this.  Instead of developing policies, programs. and actions to implement the preferred scenario and vision, participants are now told their vision was never really possible to begin with.  All in all, what looked like a textbook planning story now looks more like an exercise in futility, and an outright sham.

Given the level of involvement by city staff in a parallel clandestine planning process to reestablish heavy industry on the same waterfront, these revelations come suspiciously late.  The consultant hired by the Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District to look at a new outfall location in 2012 had no trouble finding the Kiewit lease and city easement.  Somehow though, all of the city staff and consultants guiding the General Plan Working Group missed it completely.  Instead they allowed participants to envision uses and zoning designations clearly incompatible with the city’s existing lease to a private party or pending applications which require fair unbiased hearings.  

It’s a fair question to ask of all city staff and consultants involved with the GP update process how much they knew about the Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee, and the existing waterfront leases and pending applications.  Why were citizens encouraged to put so much effort into developing a public vision totally at odds with commitments the city had already put in place and the vision being advanced in secret with the active participation of city officials and staff?  Why give residents a voice when you never intended to listen?  They owe the participants and the city an explanation of how things went so very wrong.  Again.