Tag Archives: Elizabeth Patterson

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

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)




Existing Conditions Maps


Background Documents

Adopted City Plans and Policies

Studies and Reports

Moving Solano Forward II – Final Report (2017)

Elizabeth Patterson: Kari Birdseye is the most qualified candidate for City Council

 I cannot think of anyone more suited to the job.

By Elizabeth Patterson, October 2, 2022

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007-2020

It is with great pleasure and honor that I throw my full political support behind Kari Birdseye – candidate for Benicia city council election this November.

Kari Birdseye is a native Californian who treasures Benicia, the place we call home, for its history and its small town qualities as part of the Bay Area of water, open space, and an unmatched environment. She is a Californian who went east to learn and practice the trade of television news broadcasting. She learned to listen and ask questions and follow up questions. Coming back to California was to further her interest and career in the environment and raise her children in Benicia.

Kari dedicated herself to supporting our schools and set a record for fundraising at Matthew Turner Elementary. She is able to help her parents and grandparents in her busy life of job, children and school interests. She walks Olive her boxer dog and values our trails and open space.

I had the opportunity to appoint her to the Planning Commission where she has served as chair for five years. I like to watch her for pointers on how to engage the commissioners, pursue a line of questioning of staff and shepherd decisions to conclusion.

Her loyalty to her community is unfailing.

Now she wants to serve our fair city as a council member. I for one cannot think of anyone more suited to the job.

Elections are only a month away, and you deserve a say in who runs our city. Voting for Kari Birdseye is a vote for a person who I consider the most qualified candidate to run for city council and I support her with unqualified enthusiasm.

Elizabeth Patterson
Benicia Mayor 2007-2020

More letters, news & links about Kari here on the BenIndy

And best of all – Kari’s website!

President Lincoln’s Historic Benicia Arsenal in Peril – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

[Excellent background here on why oppose current plans for new construction in Benicia’s historic Arsenal District.  To sign a petition in support of a lawsuit to stop the plan, see “Help Us Appeal the City’s Approval of these projects!” on Change.org.  For additional background and photos, see “YES! Benicia Arsenal Park“.   Earlier stories on BenIndy see below– R.S.]

New efforts to save our National Treasure


Benicia, California

August 3, 2022

One woman is responsible for listing most of the historic structures in the Historic Arsenal of Benicia. Ms. Wold, a graduate of University of California at Berkeley (UCB), recognized that the city leaders in 1965 were focused on surviving the Army’s closure of the Arsenal and loss of jobs and business.  Therefore Ms. Wold filled out the forms – around 90 – and got the historic structures listed. State Parks and Recreation was interested in establishing a State Park for the mostly early portion of barracks, garrison, officer quarters, infirmary and enclave of Civil War Era buildings. President Lincoln commissioned the garrison and barracks – about 120 acres – to ensure Union presence to prevent Confederate efforts to make California a slave state. Think about that.

But the city leaders showed little interest in the history and even did a land swap that put many historic structures at risk. Witness the demolition of the 1860s Foundry and Pacific Mail Steamship company office building just three years ago. While Mayor I used my office as a bully pulpit for saving or at least respecting these structures as the last tangible evidence of the first industrial site in California. It was a struggle. At least the city was able to negotiate a settlement price with Amports that will help preserve other historic structures. But none on the list are the first industrial buildings.  Gone. Part of the settlement was to develop a “demolition by neglect ordinance” – an ordinance to prevent intentional or neglect and then seek a demolition permit to tear down. I don’t have the exact numbers but we are talking about more than 20 or so historic structures demolished by this strategy.

The city brushed off the State’s proposal for a State Park and embarked on permitting industrial and commercial development with no master plan, limited infrastructure improvement and legacy problems of pollution that range from monitoring to major cleanup or mitigation – in 2003 dollars about $50 million that ultimately was reimbursed to the developers by the Army. Yep. The United States Army left stuff that could be catastrophic. Some areas can never be safe and that is why we have a few open spaces with trails and not homes.

In the early 2000s there was a “McMansion”* proposal of 16 large, expensive homes for the Historic District C – between the Commanding Officers’ Quarters and Jefferson Mansion and the open space and parade grounds. The city council certified a report that declared there was no environmental impact and approved the project. No impact to the President Lincoln commissioned Arsenal. No impact to the historic parade ground and oak trees planted like sentinel soldiers to guard the Civil War enclave.  A large and passionate group organized, sued the city for failure to asses the impacts and also gathered signatures for a referendum on the city council approval. The applicant and city settled with us and we put the money toward beginning restoration of the Commanding Officers’ Quarters where Arts Benicia is now. 

The Secretary of the Interior and the State Office of Historic Preservation have written in the past that too many new structures will impact the historic integrity of the district. It may be removed from the National Register.  President Lincoln’s commissioned Arsenal – removed from the National listing because the city leaders acquiesce to misguided state legislation that the city interprets in a manner that favors the applicants.

Here are the links to the appeals filed by Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force and Benicia Arsenal Defense.

*In suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative term for a large “mass-produced” dwelling marketed to the upper middle class.

P.S The first link is one appeal and the second link is the other appeal – just can’t make a link work for two documents. I hope you read them. They are short.

See earlier on BenIndy:

Housing in Benicia – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

[Editor: Benicia’s housing needs, California regulatory requirements and regulations, and potential locations for new housing in Benicia are now being debated among residents and at our Planning Commission and City Council.  The issues are complex and opinion is divided among friends and colleagues. See also perspective by current Benicia Mayor Steve Young. – R.S.]

The Mayor and Council can do better than this


Benicia, California

July 25, 2022

The Mayor and Council can do better than this. “This” is the draft Housing Element.

Their sworn duty is to make decisions based on public health safety and welfare. They are to uphold the laws of the city including the general plan.

The draft housing element is part of the state mandated seven elements plus optional elements of the general plan. One optional element of the general plan is economic development. The highest and best use of the historic districts is to foster and support economic activities such as historic museums, parks and commercial uses. The draft housing element proposes to have multifamily housing in historic districts on the National Register – that is a big deal. The reason Jefferson Ridge (Park Road and Jefferson Street) is on this prestigious list is because it is the only presidio commissioned by President Lincoln to establish a union Army presence in California to prevent the pro slavery counties and confederates from pushing California into a slave holding state. That too is a big deal. The only one in California. The only one by President Lincoln. The only one in the West that is intact and complete. The only one.

On its own this treasure should be protected, championed, and developed for visitors to marvel at this one-of-a-kind Civil War Era enclave protecting California from becoming a slave state.

But there is more. Not only is this site of such rare qualities it is also smack dab in the vicinity (less than a thousand feet) of oil pipelines and a full port of shipping fossil fuel oil and products. These things can blow up. They also catch on fire. We just had one. A prudent Mayor and council would NOT put people – mothers, fathers, children – to live so close to such places. How will they shelter in place? How will they evacuate? How will they have less polluted air than is currently in that area? How will children not venture into these wonderfully complex and dangerous places for the excitement of risk?

And then there is the doctrine “when in a hole, stop digging”. The city can’t maintain the roads, sidewalks, trees, water lines, parks without more revenue. This council wants us to vote on another general sales tax to help pay for these things. The use of the historic districts that are far from walkable distance and little to zero services will require all that new and improved infrastructure to be maintained. But property taxes only go up 2% a year versus the cost of everything else which is at least 3% and right now at 9%. Don’t keep digging.

And we all agree that we need affordable housing – although the proposed Arsenal projects are only providing 10% of all the units– a shamefully low percentage. And the reason that housing is not affordable in most communities is the cost of land. And the cost of land is driven by investors who want the low capital gains tax at 14% to make their profits. The cost of land is disconnected from the marketplace. The only market for land is with the investors and developers. Wages have not kept pace with the inflationary value of investor-owned land. You can’t solve problems if you don’t focus on the root of the problem.

Nonetheless the state in service to the land investors and the good intention of others is mandating that California cities and counties provide for more new development. It seems regardless of the other state mandates to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce vehicle miles traveled and achieve clean air and save 20% on water use – just “build baby build”.

Can we meet the state mandate to provide opportunities for housing based on the state’s standards – Regional Housing Needs Assessment? Yes. The city staff and consultants have identified more than enough without residential in the Arsenal historic district. The Mayor and council can have their good intentions for housing AND protect the Arsenal. Will they? Tune in or show up this Tuesday the 26th at 6:00 PM at city hall. Share your thoughts and recommendations.

Attached is a comment letter for the July 26, 2022 City Council/Planning Commission joint study session on the Public Review Draft Housing Element. Please forward it to City Council members and Planning Commissioners. Continue reading Housing in Benicia – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson