Tag Archives: Benicia General Plan

Meeting tonight – What’s the Future of Benicia’s North Side?

Virtual open house at 7 PM tonight…

City of Benicia email notice, November 29, 2022

This is a reminder that you have been invited to attend a virtual open house tonight, Tuesday, November 29th for the North Study Area visioning process. Click to join or call 1 (669) 444-9171, Passcode: 781797, for the event, which will begin at 7:00 PM. At the open house residents can learn more about the visioning process and share their ideas for the future of the property.

The City of Benicia is leading this visioning process to solicit public input on potential future land use options for a 527-acre vacant property in the northeast corner of the city. The City wants to partner with the community to envision the future of this area, which is the last remaining large tract of privately-owned undeveloped land in Benicia.

For further information visit www.northstudyarea.org. You can also contact the City about this project at northstudyarea@ci.benicia.ca.us or 707-746-4324.


CITIZEN BACKGROUND:

Following below is current information from the City of Benicia website, https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/northstudyarea

North Study Area

The North Study Area visioning project aims to solicit public input on potential future land use options for the North Study Area property. Community input, together with an economic analysis and evaluation of the property conditions, will be used to develop several mixed-use concepts for further public review. Once completed, the landowner may determine whether to move forward with initiating land use applications which must include a “Master Plan” (i.e., Specific Plan) as required by the Benicia General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

The study area is a 527-acre undeveloped property in the northeast corner of the city. The property is within the City’s urban growth boundary and fronts on Lake Herman Road and East Second Street.  Although a number of site development proposals have been considered over the years, most recently in 2016, none have come to fruition. The property is currently zoned Limited Industrial (IL) and General Commercial (CG).

Visioning Process

The City wants to partner with the community to envision the future of this area, which is the last remaining large tract of privately-owned undeveloped land within Benicia.

There will be a variety of opportunities to learn more about this effort and to provide feedback over the coming year. The City will solicit public input through a series of community meetings, public events, and on-line engagement opportunities. To receive the latest updates, you can sign up for project email notifications here.  The City expects to complete the visioning process by late 2023.

The North Study Area Community-Led Visioning Process is divided into the following primary tasks:

  • Existing Conditions Review: Review of background materials and existing conditions information relevant to the visioning process.
  • Economic Analysis: Analysis of real estate market conditions, financial feasibility of land use alternatives, and net annual fiscal impacts of land use alternatives.
  • Issues and Options: Evaluation of key issues and options associated with development options.
  • Mixed-use Concepts: Consideration of alternative land use concepts for the property.
  • Summary Report: Summary of public input received and areas of consensus that emerged from the visioning process.

Advisory Group

The City has formed an advisory group for the North Study Area project to help distribute information about the project, provide feedback on project materials, and to bring together diverse community perspectives. The advisory group consists of one representative selected by each of the following City committee/commissions and community organizations.  Meetings are open to the public.

City Committees/Commissions:

  • City Council Subcommittee for the North Study Area (2 members)
  • Economic Development Board
  • Community Sustainability Commission
  • Committee United for Racial Equity
  • Planning Commission

Community Organizations:

  • Benicia Chamber of Commerce
  • Benicia Industrial Park Association
  • Matthew Turner Elementary Parent Teacher Group
  • Sustainable Solano
  • Benicia Unified School District
  • Housing First Solano

Project Documents

To be added as materials become available.

Advisory Group Meeting 1 (11/9/2022)

Agenda

Memorandum

Presentation

Existing Conditions Maps

Priorities

Background Documents

Adopted City Plans and Policies

Studies and Reports

Moving Solano Forward II – Final Report (2017)

Former Mayor reflects on Benicia’s North Study Area Open House (Seeno property)

What’s wrong with the process – ignoring Benicia’s fundamental constitutional vision

Open space along Lake Herman Road, in Benicia CA

By Elizabeth Patterson, Former Benicia Mayor, November 17, 2022

Last night the city of Benicia began the North Study Area “visioning” process for the 524 acres owned by Seeno.  The North Gate Church setting was a perfect metaphor for what the challenges are for the near-by project site.  Everyone had to drive to the meeting.  And driving is the problem for any residential use of the Seeno property.  But these notes should start at the beginning.  Let me explain.

Benicia’s General Plan

The Benicia General Plan is our “constitution” of land use planning and management. Its goals and policies  guide and implement the overarching goal or “vision” for Benicia planning.  This plan was created by the General Plan Oversight Committee (GPOC), appointed by the then city council representing all sectors of the community.  It adopted consensus decision making procedures and began by identifying shared values.  Once those shared values were agreed to, GPOC began an exhaustive assessment of the city’s pattern of land use (residential, commercial, civic, cultural, recreation, manufacturing), its topography of hills, how cars, bicycles, pedestrian traffic moved, water supply, public safety, economics, environmental quality (air and water) and conservation including open space, habitat, and wetlands.

The overarching goal of the General Plan is sustainable development.  And there are specific policies addressing future development of the Seeno property and adjacent land uses mindful of sustainability.

The “North Study Area” community meeting on Nov 16, 2022

Nowhere in last night’s presentation on stage or at the “open house” of poster boards was there any mention of the General Plan, our constitution of land use planning and management.  Nowhere.

Also, one poster board depicted the “history” of the Seeno site without mentioning an adopted resolution by city council requiring:

    • a specific plan
    • consistency with General Plan overarching goal, supporting goals and policies, and
    • a development agreement.
2008 study: Green Gateway Business Community

Nor was there mention of the hours of public conversations some of which were recorded, nor mention of the facilitated public gathering to gain community agreement on the highest and best use of the Seeno property.  There was nothing said about the citizen study and 51-page report, Green Gateway Business Community. Nothing.

 

The current North Area Study process is not a stand alone project, but a project that must be consistent with the General Plan or recommend amendments to the General Plan.  To do so requires that each mandated and optional element in the General Plan is balanced and consistent.  What this means is that there must be measurable criteria for sustainable development, reduced vehicle miles traveled, public safety (meaning air, water, hazardous exposure, fire and police).  What is different in 2022 that requires General Plan amendments for these elements?

Significant questions and concerns…
  • Can the Seeno property be developed consistent with the existing General Plan?
  • Are there adjustments needed for future development that meet sustainable development?
  • How is the public to know what the decision making process is if they are not informed about these basics?

Alas, North Area Study is not a “visioning” process that is separate from the General Plan vision.  It is a project process.  The city and the City’s consultant need to make that clear, and if necessary, highlight what part of the vision of the General Plan should be changed and how those changes will affect sustainability.

Will the city adopt standards and criteria for sustainability?  If not, why not?

…and we could go on: there is Seeno and associates to consider.

Elizabeth Patterson
Former Mayor, City of Benicia


MORE BACKGROUND:
BENINDY NOTICE – Benicia’s “North Study Area” project (Seeno property)
And here’s current information from the City of Benicia website, https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/northstudyarea:

North Study Area

The North Study Area visioning project aims to solicit public input on potential future land use options for the North Study Area property. Community input, together with an economic analysis and evaluation of the property conditions, will be used to develop several mixed-use concepts for further public review. Once completed, the landowner may determine whether to move forward with initiating land use applications which must include a “Master Plan” (i.e., Specific Plan) as required by the Benicia General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

The study area is a 527-acre undeveloped property in the northeast corner of the city. The property is within the City’s urban growth boundary and fronts on Lake Herman Road and East Second Street.  Although a number of site development proposals have been considered over the years, most recently in 2016, none have come to fruition. The property is currently zoned Limited Industrial (IL) and General Commercial (CG).

Visioning Process

The City wants to partner with the community to envision the future of this area, which is the last remaining large tract of privately-owned undeveloped land within Benicia.

There will be a variety of opportunities to learn more about this effort and to provide feedback over the coming year. The City will solicit public input through a series of community meetings, public events, and on-line engagement opportunities. To receive the latest updates, you can sign up for project email notifications here.  The City expects to complete the visioning process by late 2023.

The North Study Area Community-Led Visioning Process is divided into the following primary tasks:

  • Existing Conditions Review: Review of background materials and existing conditions information relevant to the visioning process.
  • Economic Analysis: Analysis of real estate market conditions, financial feasibility of land use alternatives, and net annual fiscal impacts of land use alternatives.
  • Issues and Options: Evaluation of key issues and options associated with development options.
  • Mixed-use Concepts: Consideration of alternative land use concepts for the property.
  • Summary Report: Summary of public input received and areas of consensus that emerged from the visioning process.

Advisory Group

The City has formed an advisory group for the North Study Area project to help distribute information about the project, provide feedback on project materials, and to bring together diverse community perspectives. The advisory group consists of one representative selected by each of the following City committee/commissions and community organizations.  Meetings are open to the public.

City Committees/Commissions:

  • City Council Subcommittee for the North Study Area (2 members)
  • Economic Development Board
  • Community Sustainability Commission
  • Committee United for Racial Equity
  • Planning Commission

Community Organizations:

  • Benicia Chamber of Commerce
  • Benicia Industrial Park Association
  • Matthew Turner Elementary Parent Teacher Group
  • Sustainable Solano
  • Benicia Unified School District
  • Housing First Solano

Project Documents

To be added as materials become available.

Advisory Group Meeting 1 (11/9/2022)

Agenda

Memorandum

Presentation

Existing Conditions Maps

Priorities

Background Documents

Adopted City Plans and Policies

Studies and Reports

Moving Solano Forward II – Final Report (2017)

SHORT NOTICE! Benicia’s “North Study Area” project (Seeno property)

If you possibly can, be at the meeting tonight:
Community Open House @ Northgate Church
2201 Lake Herman Road
TONIGHT! November 16, 2022 at 7:00 p.m.

With apologies for this terribly short notice (many of us have been really busy with elections) – I call your attention to an important meeting TONIGHT.

Click to go to 2008 citizen study, archived at rogerstraw.com

The City is sponsoring a community Open House to inform the public and get input from us on planning for the future of the Seeno property.  Some of you Benicia Resisters recall the several struggles in recent years to stop the Seeno family from its disastrous development plans. I have heard that City officials are in communication with the Seenos, and that one or more senior Benicia officials believe that development is “inevitable.”

Please study up on this project –

  1. See the City’s current background docs at https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/northstudyarea
  2. AND please review our creative and thorough 2008 citizen study, Green Gateway Business Community, archived at http://www.rogerstraw.com/ggg/ .

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, if you possibly can, be at the meeting tonight:

Community Open House @ Northgate Church
2201 Lake Herman Road
TONIGHT! November 16, 2022 at 7:00 p.m.

MORE BACKGROUND: Here’s current information from the City of Benicia website, https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/northstudyarea:

North Study Area

The North Study Area visioning project aims to solicit public input on potential future land use options for the North Study Area property. Community input, together with an economic analysis and evaluation of the property conditions, will be used to develop several mixed-use concepts for further public review. Once completed, the landowner may determine whether to move forward with initiating land use applications which must include a “Master Plan” (i.e., Specific Plan) as required by the Benicia General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

The study area is a 527-acre undeveloped property in the northeast corner of the city. The property is within the City’s urban growth boundary and fronts on Lake Herman Road and East Second Street.  Although a number of site development proposals have been considered over the years, most recently in 2016, none have come to fruition. The property is currently zoned Limited Industrial (IL) and General Commercial (CG).

Visioning Process

The City wants to partner with the community to envision the future of this area, which is the last remaining large tract of privately-owned undeveloped land within Benicia.

There will be a variety of opportunities to learn more about this effort and to provide feedback over the coming year. The City will solicit public input through a series of community meetings, public events, and on-line engagement opportunities. To receive the latest updates, you can sign up for project email notifications here.  The City expects to complete the visioning process by late 2023.

The North Study Area Community-Led Visioning Process is divided into the following primary tasks:

  • Existing Conditions Review: Review of background materials and existing conditions information relevant to the visioning process.
  • Economic Analysis: Analysis of real estate market conditions, financial feasibility of land use alternatives, and net annual fiscal impacts of land use alternatives.
  • Issues and Options: Evaluation of key issues and options associated with development options.
  • Mixed-use Concepts: Consideration of alternative land use concepts for the property.
  • Summary Report: Summary of public input received and areas of consensus that emerged from the visioning process.

Advisory Group

The City has formed an advisory group for the North Study Area project to help distribute information about the project, provide feedback on project materials, and to bring together diverse community perspectives. The advisory group consists of one representative selected by each of the following City committee/commissions and community organizations.  Meetings are open to the public.

City Committees/Commissions:

  • City Council Subcommittee for the North Study Area (2 members)
  • Economic Development Board
  • Community Sustainability Commission
  • Committee United for Racial Equity
  • Planning Commission

Community Organizations:

  • Benicia Chamber of Commerce
  • Benicia Industrial Park Association
  • Matthew Turner Elementary Parent Teacher Group
  • Sustainable Solano
  • Benicia Unified School District
  • Housing First Solano

Project Documents

To be added as materials become available.

Advisory Group Meeting 1 (11/9/2022)

Agenda

Memorandum

Presentation

Existing Conditions Maps

Priorities

Background Documents

Adopted City Plans and Policies

Studies and Reports

Moving Solano Forward II – Final Report (2017)

Seeno in Benicia – here we go again…

Warning and good advice by architect of Benicia’s General Plan, former mayor Elizabeth Patterson

EL PAT’S FORUM

by ELIZABETH PATTERSON
Benicia, California

May 26, 2022

Tail wagging the dog – a Benicia story

Many moons ago – before the red moon and blue moon – city leaders began the planning process for developing Sky Valley (1990s). Imagine suburban development like what is happening on Columbus Parkway along Lake Herman Road. More streets, water lines for more water and more traffic with more carbon emissions.

The first tail wagging.  Sky Valley planning process was the  tail wagging the dog. Why? Because the then General Plan was old and did not anticipate that kind of growth. The city council decision makers balked at paying for a general plan update. A group of organized citizens proposed to the council that the council establish a task force to determine wither the General Plan should be updated. The task force with a consultant was approved, and reported to the city council the need for an update.  Council adopted a resolution establishing a commission which was charged with leading the community discussion. The Council resolution included substantial city funds for the commission and future consultants including an economic assessment.

Take note that there are details to this story which I have provided in earlier postings such as a citizen collecting signatures in opposition to Sky Valley development and a vote by council to not move forward. This was after the respected city manager at the time initiated a specific plan process. The public was treated like most of these processes — being fed information in meetings and not being part of the ownership of the decision. Indeed one of the finest consultants in California known for her public participation process quit because of this flawed process. But I digress.

What a community-led process is. The General Plan update process was led by the General Plan Oversight Committee (GPOC – pronounced gee pock). There were panels of experts on property rights, geologic issues, affordable housing, open space and conservation and economics. By consensus – not brute power – GPOC found common ground in a shared vision for Benicia. And that shared and adopted vision is our current General Plan.

But that dog’s tail is wagging again. And this story follows a red moon. [This has nothing to do with the story but it does add color].

The second tail wagging. Coincidentally at the May 17th council meetings  two tails were on the agenda. Let me explain: as a result of the community led GPOC, the consensus was that in keeping with the vision for Benicia as a small town, smart growth and sustainable development, an urban growth boundary line (UGBL) would be established along Lake Herman Road excluding urban development requiring municipal services. This is another story I’ve written about and to keep this posting shorter I will just say that because of council wavering on the UGBL, citizens ran an initiative in 2003 to establish the UGBL by a vote that cannot be undone by Council. That initiative must be renewed after twenty years. The council voted to place the renewal of that initiative on the ballot this coming November.

Seeno Again. And at this same May 17 council meeting – coincidentally – council approved a planning process for what is called the Seeno property, establishing a “community-led” process to recommend a “vision” for the Seeno property. The property owner goes by another name now WCHB. But it is Seeno. So who is Seeno and where is the property?

Google Seeno and you will find stories of blatant destruction of wetlands and millions of fines paid – the price of doing business. You will find law suits against communities such as Brentwood for denying one of their projects. You will find in the 1980s about how Seeno built a commercial building in Concord that exceeded the Concord Airport safe aviation height. You will find articles about how the federal government and over 20 agencies “raided” the corporate offices in Concord. It had something to do with politics in Nevada and death threats on both sides. Seeno. They even filed a lawsuit against the City of Benicia for its planning efforts for creating walkable and bikable streets in the Industrial Park. They were not successful. And that family-owned business has owned over 530 acres here in Benicia west of East 2nd and along Lake Herman Road for over 35 years.

The current General Plan is the vision for Benicia. To change that vision requires a public process and an amendment . . .  and CEQA. The overarching goal of the General Plan is sustainable development. There are a multitude of goals and policies about land use, walkability, water, traffic and economic goals and policies. All of these are the guiding principles for development. It’s the constitution for land use. It’s the law.

At the May meeting Council adopted resolutions and approved consultants to determine a “vision” for the Seeno property. The “community-led” process is similar to the failed process in the Sky Valley experience. The planning consultant will meet with the council subcommittee of two (Young and Macenski) and then meet with the “community-led” public meeting.

Community-led process. So what is the community-led process? Three or so public meetings where you can show up and listen and comment. No formal commission. No stakeholder process. No ownership. Will this meeting process review the General Plan especially for the overarching goal of sustainability and more specific considerations of topography, view sheds, and other quality of life and city policies?

The scope of work for the two consultants – planner and economist – make no mention that the General Plan is the first step for considering the use of the Seeno property. Opportunities and constraints are fundamental planning approaches. I wrote a white paper on this very topic in anticipation of development of the Seeno site. The General Plan goals and policies are where one starts for “opportunities and constraints”. If the current planning process anticipates changing the land use, start with the existing framework. By the way, in the 1990s the Benicia Industrial Park Association conducted a robust campaign against housing/mixed use for the whole area including Seeno.

Best planning tool is not being used. Secondly and for a technical reason, a review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is not going to be done. The technical reason reminds me of the expression of “do what you want and ask for forgiveness later”. Why? Because CEQA is the best planning tool we have in California.  CEQA is intended to inform government decision makers and the public about the potential environmental effects of proposed activities and to prevent significant, avoidable environmental damage. It asks nearly all the questions one would want to ask about development. Think about it. Would we have built an asphalt plant near residential development if CEQA had existed? When will the carbon footprint be assessed? What are the potential off-setting strategies for the carbon footprint?

Water. Water supply. The cost of water treatment. When will these issues be addressed and what will be recommended and how much will it cost?

Not doing a CEQA-like process means that is less likely a proposed development will avoid impacts. What is more commonly done is mitigation for impacts. Meaning instead of avoiding potential water supply issues, CEQA could address with rain water capture, industrial above the ground cisterns. Avoiding storm water pollution and flooding would be designed up front in the potential future project feasibility. But waiting until an impact is formally identified, the typical mitigation would be water supply and storm water treatment. Such mitigation approach is expensive and not sustainable.

Carbon Footprint. How will there be an assessment for avoiding adding to our carbon footprint? Better yet, will there be a benefit of reducing our carbon footprint? Or are we going along in willful ignorance? Without some kind of CEQA assessment the answer is disturbing.

Economics. Speaking of economics, the second consultant is the economist. And the consultant is the same firm that did the 1999 General Plan economic study and EIR assessment. Their scope of work has nothing in it to assess development for consistency with the General Plan goal of sustainability. Nor does it lay out a decision making process for life cycle cost analysis. This means the real cost of maintenance and operations for roads, water lines, water supply, waste water treatment, and other municipal services. For instance, residential development property taxes don’t keep up with the cost of things and therefore some municipal services such as roads are not maintained as good as they should be. Or there may be a need for higher sales tax to cover these. Or… there could be other strategies so the city does not dig its financial hole deeper with added cost of residential development or any development.

What Kind of Retail Matters. The economic scope of work will assess retail. Retail that provides services within commercial and light industrial development (the current general plan designation) is sustainable and should reduce driving because these services are within walking distance. But. Large scale retail – including a movie complex or chain retail – will wreck downtown. Just look around and see: Pleasanton, Fairfield, Vallejo. Where is the analysis for this effect?

We as a city have had the best planning processes in the past as described earlier for GPOC. We had internationally regarded planners conduct meetings, seminars and charrettes. We had a nationally recognized economist detail what cities need to think about when doing development. At one time we were leaders in reducing our carbon footprint. Best of all we have a specific plan for the Seeno site based on the opportunities and constraints of the land and policies and a graphic supporting the specific plan.  This was the product of a citizen-led effort.  Have we learned from our past efforts?

Oh, and did I mention that Seeno is paying for this work?

My recommendations are for the council to

  • Establish a formal task force perhaps along the lines of the Waterfront Park process (done by the same firm that the current planning consultant worked for). This would be a community-led process.
  • Ask how can we add value to what we have and avoid failed business as usual development.
  • Adopt a CEQA approach that is not an actual legal CEQA but uses the tools and approaches for assessment of development choices.
  • Ensure by council resolution that any agreement for potential future specific plan includes a development agreement.
  • Adopt a resolution affirming the General Plan goal for sustainable development and no net increase in our carbon footprint. Climate crises is real. Business as usual is unforgivable. I expect nothing less from our council.

    Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 – 2020
    Elizabeth Patterson After three terms as Mayor of Benicia CA, Elizabeth retired from Benicia’s city council in 2020. She is vice-chair of the Delta National Heritage Area Advisory Committee; serves on the North Bay Watershed Association representing Solano County Water Agency; is policy chair for AAUW; is a lecturer for a grant funded semester course at Sonoma State on land use planning and management and water.  She loves to walk and hike with Alex, her 18 month-old puppy.