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Get ready for same old mush from update on SJ General Plan

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POSTED May 20, 2009 1:41 a.m.
It’s time San Joaquin County stopped lusting for Bay Area paychecks and dropped the same-old, same-old planning for growth that produced predictable template-style policies and zoning.

There was a time it made sense – to a degree - to encourage growth patterns that were essentially turning our towns into bedroom communities. Given what we now know about living high-on-the-hog being the affordable housing answer to the Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, and other Bay Area counties, we need to put in tightly defined growth policies that protect instead of alter the unique San Joaquin County landscape. That includes protecting agriculture, creating ultimate urban growth boundaries and ending the foolish practice of urbanizing rural areas of the county outside of city limits.

Mountain House – the answer supposedly to affordable housing and bedroom communities – started out as anything but affordable despite high promises by county officials. As for its employment center, can anyone say “California City” as in the planned city of 125,000 in the North Mojave Desert from the early 1960s that went bust after roads and other improvements were made because it had neither water nor did it make sense for employers to locate there?

Mountain House was one of the infamous proposed planned communities that included New Jerusalem south of Tracy and others near Riverbank and Linden that were in competition for the Board of Supervisors’ blessing back in the 1990s as the answer to housing and job needs.

It’s time someone realized that paid planners –whether they are on staff or consultants – are much like engineers. They are driven primarily by building template projects and not thinking out of the box.

Of course, one can’t think out of the box if the elected Board of Supervisors and all of the rest of us simply expect things the way they are.

San Joaquin County is in the process of updating its general plan, a 10-year blue print for growth.

It would be nice if some things were included that stopped the madness and the San Jose-ification of San Joaquin County.

Among possible policies that would be nice to include are:

•Creating an effective DMZ to stop urbanization into the fertile farmlands by establishing in impenetrable line a mile maximum to the east and west of all existing city boundaries.

•Allowing the ultimate creation of an urban core from Ripon to Lodi with liberal open space used for farming. It essentially reflects a growth pattern already taking shape by providing urban growth areas plus containing development in one swath.

•Prohibit any reduced zoning other than what is grandfathered in legally on any land that is within county jurisdiction. That means no new cities and no East Modesto-style growth outside cities anywhere in the county.

Such policies would then force the cities to start planning for ultimate limits. The benefits are numerous. You can plan for exactly the type of community you want because the ultimate size would no longer be a moving target. It redirects resources back to the cores of cities because cheap, easy to develop farmland overnight becomes a limited enough resource for future urban uses to increase its value significantly.

Cities would also be forced to develop measureable goals instead of just touchy-feely goals. That is possible to do once you know the perimeters you have to work within. Right now, general plans – regardless of what the bureaucrats and elected leaders say – are essentially loose rules for crap shoots.

In a way you can’t fault local leaders, consultants, and planners. It is all part of a game of charades. State-mandated general plans are just that – general. They often state the obvious, or at least what one would hope is the obvious. They rarely get to the point of redirecting or even containing growth.

Besides, what consulting firm would want to do real work to take in uniquely local parameters instead of just putting together boiler plate pap that is used by no one except lawyers and policy wonk bureaucrats?

It is true that zoning and everything flows from the general plan but you reap what you sow. Put in mush and you get mush.
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