What’s wrong with the process – ignoring Benicia’s fundamental constitutional vision
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.
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.
Former Mayor, City of Benicia
BENINDY NOTICE – Benicia’s “North Study Area” project (Seeno property) November 16, 2022
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).
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.
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 Council Subcommittee for the North Study Area (2 members)
- Economic Development Board
- Community Sustainability Commission
- Committee United for Racial Equity
- Planning Commission
- Benicia Chamber of Commerce
- Benicia Industrial Park Association
- Matthew Turner Elementary Parent Teacher Group
- Sustainable Solano
- Benicia Unified School District
- Housing First Solano
To be added as materials become available.
Advisory Group Meeting 1 (11/9/2022)
Adopted City Plans and Policies
- Benicia General Plan
- Climate Action Plan
- Business Development Action Plan (2012)
- Benicia Industrial Park Transportation and Employment Center Plan (2017)
- Benicia Industrial Design Guidelines (1989)
- Economic Development Strategy (2007)
Studies and Reports
- Benicia Industrial Park Market Study (2014)
- Northern Gateway Proposal Market and Feasibility Evaluation (2016)
- Moving Solano Forward: Solano County Economic Diversification Study (2014)