Tag Archives: Elizabeth Patterson

Housing Update should be adopted with “Environmentally Superior Alternative”

[BenIndy Editor: note that the Environmentally Superior Alternative is NOT easy to find in Council’s January 24 packet. Staff analysis of it can be located on numbered pages 93-95 (PDF pages  98-100) in Attachment 1 – Resolution – Statement of Overriding Considerations – Certifying the EIRThe complete DRAFT EIR is not provided in the January 24 agenda. It has a more detailed description on pages 6-53 to 6-25 (PDF pages 519-521.   – R.S.]

Protecting Historic Benicia

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007-2020

This Tuesday (Jan. 24) at 6 p.m. the Benicia City Council will consider adopting the Environmental Impact Report for the mandated update of the Housing Element of the General Plan. You may not realize what this means.

Let me explain.

In the City of Benicia the need for housing is being addressed substantively, urgently and comprehensively pursuant to state law. But it need not be an either-or-choice between protecting historic districts, places and needed housing. In fact, proposed overlay zoning on historic districts and places is deemed an environmentally cultural resource significant impact for the Housing Element.

The proposed overlay zoning is a significant impact on the historic districts listed on the National Register, the highest ranking in the United States.

The Housing Element Update Environmental Impact Report provides a remedy which is to avoid the impacts to cultural resources by adopting the Environmentally Superior Alternative.

2023-2031 Benicia Housing Element – LINK: Environmentally Superior Alternative Analysis

The Environmentally Superior Alternative avoids impacts not just to historic districts and places (city cemetery) but also reduces impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and water quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation when compared to the proposed project (i.e. Housing Element).

There are substantial reasons to adopt the Environmentally Superior Alternative so why wouldn’t the staff and Planning Commission recommend that alternative to the council?

One reason might be because based on recommendations from the Association of Bay Area Governments to meet the State Housing Community and Development guidelines is to have a 15% “buffer” number of rezoned parcels to meet the mandated housing units of 750. It is calculated that removing all the historic districts, the city cemetery and Jefferson Ridge and Park Road projects would still provide 50% percent over the mandate.

Another reason might be that applying the zoning overlay for multifamily/mixed use on Southampton neighborhoods would be a harder local political fight than targeting the historic districts and places.

Another reason might be that by adopting the maximum number well beyond the mandates and buffer, that future development and land uses are cast now beyond the reach of future councils. Once the sites are identified in the housing element this time they are “forever” sites going forward and subject to less public review.

But reasons to adopt the Environmentally Superior Alternative go beyond avoiding significant impacts to historic districts and places and reducing environmental impacts listed including air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. It sends a signal that when the Seeno or so-called Eastern Gateway project is assessed we could count on the council adopting the environmentally superior alternative rather than a Seeno-preferred project.

Or what about a Valero Refinery project? Can we count on the council adopting an environmentally superior alternative?

If not now, when?

Benicia has experience with public participation for the needed future community planning for the proposed infill development. Indeed, the General Plan Oversight Committee in the late 1990s used this approach to find common ground between those who opposed and advocated for affordable housing. The accord reached was to include the neighborhood in the process. Dialogue is better than majority rule because it fosters solution-based conversations and in the end better planning (e.g. East 5th Street process).

More compact infill development in the Housing Element’s Environmentally Superior Alternative reduces the impacts to the climate by reducing vehicle miles traveled because the development is within the city’s core. This is consistent with Benicia’s General Plan, which proudly is based on sustainable development.

We can thoughtfully plan our community based on the Environmentally Superior Alternative — instead of sliding into the “development by right” that enables developers to potentially avoid needed environmental assessment for some areas.

Where we build and what we build is a climate issue.

— Elizabeth Patterson/Benicia Mayor (2007-2020)

Benicia Historical Society joins others in calling for ‘Environmentally Superior Alternative’

Council to pass Housing Element Update on Jan 24 – Protect Historic Benicia!

Where….  City Hall Council Chambers, 250 E L St.
When…….Tuesday, January 24, 2023, 6:00pm

In response to the State requiring designation of sites for new housing, the Benicia City Council will be voting on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and a zoning amendment package which would impact the historic integrity of the :

    • Downtown Historic District
    • Arsenal National Register and City Historic District
    • City Cemetery National Register District

The zoning amendment would allow higher density housing and 3 story buildings up to 35 ft. tall – and on First St up to 40 ft. tall – on selected opportunity sites. These sites are located primarily in and around Downtown and the Arsenal, and include the City Cemetery.

The EIR states that environmental impacts to the Historic Districts can be eliminated by removing the Historic District opportunity sites and is referred to as the “environmentally superior alternative”.  The City would still have more than double the proposed housing required by the State.

Please attend the meeting in person, if at all possible, to show your support for this Environmentally Superior Alternative EIR, rather than the staff recommendation, and removing the City Cemetery site.  Speaking is not necessary.

For additional information, see https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/housingelement.

Protect our historic districts and places on the National Register – the highest level recognition of historic significance

By Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Goetz, January 19, 2023

Please attend the City Council public hearing on the Housing Element scheduled for 6:00 pm on January 24, in-person or via Zoom.  You don’t have to say anything, just show your support for those who do say something

  • Adopt the Environmentally Superior alternative project
  • By adopting the Environmentally Superior Alternative (ESA), the historic districts and places are removed thus no significant impact to cultural resources
  • Housing Element with this ESA still has more than 15% buffer as “insurance” for parcels that may not be developed at designated densities and affordability
  • Remove Park Rd and Jefferson Ridge as “opportunity sites” because city has already approved development
  • Reduce impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and quarter quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation by adopting the ESA.
  • Avoid potential threats to the viability of our heavy industry while also avoiding threatening public health and safety.
  • After adoption of Environmentally Superior alternative initiate planning for community goals for East side where most of the high density and affordability parcels are identified.
  • After adoption consider planning tools to achieve density and affordability, e.g. minimum affordability requirement range between 20 and 25%; required density for designated parcels.
  • Avoid losing additional land use control in the next update of the housing element (2031) through “by right development” if city does not adopt planning measures to meet state housing requirements

The following letter is from Steve Goetz

(Click image to see the 1999 General Plan)

Next Tuesday (January 24) the City Council will consider changing the Benicia General Plan to accommodate over 250% of Benicia’s share of the region’s housing need. Specifically, the Council will consider adopting a Housing Element to the General Plan that will accommodate 1,174 units above the 750 units mandated by the state for Benicia by 2031.

Click image for DRAFT 2023-2021 Housing Element

We need housing so why would providing more housing than what the state requires be a problem?  A review of the information developed for the Housing Element shows this level of rezoning will significantly damage the character of Benicia’s two historic districts and historic cemetery disproportionately burden the East Side compared to other areas of the city, and concentrate new lower-income housing next to heavy industry.  In other words, the City is proposing an effort in gross excess of what is required or suitable for the intended purpose, meeting the definition of the word “overkill”.

(Click image to see the Housing Element Draft EIR)

The City’s own Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Housing Element says that the close proximity of the proposed housing sites to historic buildings will substantially damage the significance of these historic districts.   The EIR says we can protect these historic districts and meet Benicia’s share of the regional housing need by removing the 17 housing sites proposed in these historic districts.

The EIR concluded that the project alternative to remove proposed housing from the historic districts is “environmentally superior”, meaning it not only eliminates damage to Benicia’s historic districts, it also reduces impacts to aesthetic resources, energy, geology and soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous material, hydrology and quarter quality, public services, population and housing, and transportation when compared to the proposed project (i.e. Housing Element).  Most importantly, the EIR finds that this environmentally superior alternative would accommodate Benicia’s share of the regional housing need.

The second problem with proposing an excessive amount of housing is that over 70% of the total amount of housing proposed in the lower income categories is located in the East Side.  This proposal is clearly against the General Plan policy that requires dispersal of this housing across the city.

Finally, this Housing Element shows that this concentration of lower income housing is in the most environmentally challenged area of Benicia. There is a reason why there are some undeveloped sites in the East Side.  These sites happen to be near heavy industry. We have located heavy industry away from housing so it can contribute to our economy without being a nuisance and without endangering public health.  This Housing Element threatens the viability of our heavy industry while also threatening public health and safety.

Last week’s staff report to the Planning Commission on the Housing Element explained that these disproportionate impacts to the East Side are a result of the City Council’s direction.  In other words, the City Council is choosing to propose 2.5 times the amount of housing needed for the region to the detriment of our historic districts, the East Side, our heavy industry, and public health and safety.

One commenter at last week’s Planning Commission hearing on the Housing Element said most public comments were only looking at how the Housing Element was affecting them and not how it could benefit those who need housing and want to live in Benicia.  The comments in support of our historic districts, heavy industry, and public health were not generated by concern about how the Housing Element would affect them, but how it would affect Benicia’s future and the type of community we hand down to future generations.

We look to our City Council to address city needs in a way that balances benefits of a proposed action against the disadvantages and how it supports the city’s overall goals.  The Housing Element is not balanced, but is overkill, representing new housing any cost.  A balanced approach to meeting our state obligation for new housing is the EIR’s environmentally superior alternative, which satisfies our housing priorities while also serving other city priorities.

>> Please attend the City Council public hearing on the Housing Element scheduled for 6:00 pm on January 24, in-person or via Zoom.  You don’t have to say anything, just show your support for those who do say something.  You can also call your City Council at 707-746-4213 now and leave a message. Write to our Council members:

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)

For safe and healthy communities…