WHERE IS THE TABLE?
By Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007-2020, March 19, 2023
Hats off to Steve Golub providing residents and businesses news and information in “Benicia and Beyond”. His first stab at this is a recent interview of Mayor Young.
Council member Tom Campbell has expressed concern about how many years someone needs to live here to fully understand Benicia. He, I believe, is right. For instance, what is the status of the Class I landfill and plume of really bad stuff moving down Paddy Creek? Paddy Creek drains toward Lake Herman watershed. This closed landfill is why in the 80s the City Council adopted a resolution prohibiting residential development on Lake Herman road and East Second street (Seeno). Or what about the 90s when the General Plan was updated and the Benicia Industrial Park Association (BIPA) advocated in large red and black lettering on a poster board “no residential” development – same place. Or in the 2000s when there were two organized groups advocating for denial of Seeno project because there was too much grading, six waterways filled, and traffic was going to be ugly adding to our greenhouse gas emissions. City Council denied the project and then adopted a resolution for specific conditions for any future project.
The Benicia Army’s Arsenal Reservation closure was before there was the federal Base Realignment and Closure Act https://wikipedia.org/wiki/2005. Benicia was on its own. Benicia got zero redevelopment planning help, and there was removal of chemical war weapons and nuclear material, but left unexploded ordinance to be found, lead, tetrachloroethylene, and used infrastructure – in some cases hastily built for the war effort. What part of the Seeno site was used?
Context matters. Historic issues and context is not always easy to find.
The General Plan provides some of this history (at least up to 2000). The General Plan process is explained at the end of the General Plan. We were appointed. We did authentic public engagement. We adopted decisions by consensus. We started with common vision and shared values. We were a committee of citizens representing all sectors of the community (the General Plan Oversight Committee). Until that vision and its goals are changed, it is the law of the land.
And this gets me to the main point which is the following:
At the beginning of this piece I acknowledged Steve Golub’s “Benicia and Beyond”. Steve came to Benicia in 2019 and has the right skills for learning about places and people. His inaugural column addressed questions to Mayor Young, including as follows:
SG: What are your thoughts on whether and how [Seeno property or North Study Area] that should ever be developed for housing? Do you see alternative uses for it.
SY: “I would like to withhold my specific preferences on that in deference to the [North Study] planning/visioning process that is currently underway, and that may eventually come to Council for decision. But I can say, that, as one member of the community, I would hope to see a mixed use development including multifamily and single family housing, in addition to some localized commercial development. Ideally, we would have direct micro transit options to downtown and a few locations in Vallejo. And perhaps some office or R/D uses along the East 2nd St. frontage.”
What is the North Study planning/visioning process? The consultants working for the city and paid for by Seeno conducted an in-person open house at Northgate church and virtual sessions and an online survey. None of these sessions have provided the sixty (60+) relevant goals and policies of the General Plan. Not on a poster board. Not linked to the virtual meetings and nothing in the online survey. Opinions are sought without context or consistency to existing policies in the General Plan.
The 1996 Urban Design Background Report by Mogavero Notestine says this about expanding residential use toward Lake Herman:
- “[There] is a lack of connectivity to the rest of the community. Southampton has a sense of isolation from the older parts of Benicia. The sense of isolation [Lake Herman] would be more substantial.
- In addition, the sense [of isolation nearer Lake Herman Road] would create a substantially higher demand for automobile trips than, for example, infill.
- The present value of the full range of [city] capital and operating public costs created by the development could be $57,000 to $75,000 [adjusted for 2023] per dwelling unit . . .”
World renowned urban economist Joe Minicozzi provided information at the Vets Hall before the Pandemic. We learned that the city would prosper by increasing value of the existing urban footprint. If you are in a hole, stop digging. Benicia is a small town, with limited staff and resources. Smart development avoids a deeper hole– meaning the cost of future maintenance of new infrastructure.
Will the consultants evaluate the economic implications for individual households and broader economic impacts for the community? Computer models should be utilized to comprehensively evaluate the broad fiscal and economic implications of various growth alternatives for the Seeno site, including the impacts for individual households.
The cost to the public depends upon, among other things, the location. Residential infill projects do not require the construction or future maintenance of new infrastructure. It can sometimes provide the resources to repair or replace dilapidated infrastructure. Thus infill provides revenue flow where there was none before without creating new infrastructure cost.
The General Plan goals and policies address the overarching goal of the General Plan. Are you comfortable with the process where staff has the final word on the visioning report that goes to the City Council? Would a seat at the table with stakeholders representing all sectors of Benicia to oversee a report to the City Council be a good idea? Better to be at the table than on the menu, right? Where is the table?
End of Patterson article…
More below provided by the BenIndy and City of Benicia
SEENO stories on the Benicia Independent (36 stories, going back to 2016).
- City of Benicia Open House on Nov 29, 2022 – What’s the Future of Benicia’s North Side?
- Benicia Green Gateway (citizen study of 2008, archive)
CITY OF BENICIA
For current information from the City of Benicia, check out their North Study Area web page, https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/northstudyarea: