Category Archives: Benicia Economic Development

Elizabeth Patterson: Do you support sustainable development?

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007–2020.

By Elizabeth Patterson, first published in the Benicia Herald on May 17, 2024

What is sustainable development?

Sustainable development has become a popular planning expression used abundantly but often not understood. “Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Benicia General Plan, 1999).

Most of us get that we need to reduce greenhouse gases that drive climate change and increase climate instability; in short, stop adding carbon to the atmosphere.  The state has attempted to achieve this by adopting law to reduce vehicle miles traveled.  This makes sense because 40% of carbon is from transportation, and so far there are not enough electric vehicles to drive down the amount of carbon from transportation.

If you support sustainable development, it is helpful to ask questions about the City of Benicia’s projects and processes.  To what extent are the City’s decisions reducing greenhouse gases, or at least not increasing greenhouse gases?  Everything is connected – economics, public works, land use, recreation, culture – like bones in a skeleton – it all has to work together by connecting the dots.

The first dot is, fortunately, defined in the Benicia General Plan.  General Plans are the constitution of land-use planning.  Like the U.S. Constitution, one cannot just have an idea and expect to implement it without an assessment of its consistency with the General Plan and thus its “sustainability.”

It is not advice, it is the law.  Community development and sustainability are at the heart of the goals developed in the Benicia General Plan.  I have heard from time to time that the General Plan is old – it is – and out of date – not really.  Would a new, updated General Plan delete sustainable development?  Anything could happen I suppose – one needs to stay alert.

The second dot is that the Benicia General Plan is the principal policy document for guiding future conservation and development in the city. It reflects the community’s shared values and determination of what Benicia is and should continue to be ­– an uncommonly special place.  Just a quick read of the city-adopted Downtown Conservation Plan reveals how “uncommon” it is:

“The failure of the various attempts in the 19th century to transform Benicia into a major city has resulted in the retention of the scale and character of the historic downtown, which presents a rare view of the evolution of architecture from the mid-19th century to the 20th century in California.”

This means that one should not destroy the “evolution of architecture.”  Goals expressed by city officials at public meetings to be like American Canyon’s “hotel row” is not protecting the gem of the uncommon qualities of Benicia attracting residents, visitors, and businesses.

The third dot to connect is the public process.  You really ought to read about the public process involved developing the General Plan: start at page two here.  People were engaged, met together, received mailed surveys, and we even had help from University of California at Davis for outreach, especially to young people.

Want to know what young people wanted?  Check it out at the link. The General Plan is the outcome of a process which began with the General Plan Oversight Committee (GPOC) and the Work Program (1994–1997). It is a process in which the GPOC held more than one hundred meetings and, with public participation, identified the Goals, Policies, and Programs (GPPs) which are the heart of the General Plan.

The GPOC survey identified the following 10 issues receiving the highest level of support (69% or greater) as being important to the community:

    1. Feeling safe in residential areas at night
    2. Feeling safe Downtown at night [ed: this is before tree lights and mixed-use development in the early 2000s]
    3. Good public schools
    4. Balance growth to ensure maintaining Benicia’s quality of life
    5. Small town atmosphere
    6. Growth should maintain small-town character
    7. Citizens need a voice in growth decisions
    8. Attract businesses that sustain environmental quality
    9. Pedestrian-friendly streets in the Downtown and other commercial areas
    10. Library facilities

The fourth connecting dot is that while the City may decide to amend this plan, the primary position of the City will be to implement it as adopted. This will honor both the principle of stability and the extraordinary degree of community participation that went into the formation of the plan. In short, is the General Plan still in step with community values and conditions, to wit: sustainable development, reducing our carbon footprint for future generations’ quality of life?

The last dot to connect is the so-called Seeno project at Lake Herman Road and East Second.  If we are going to reduce vehicle-miles traveled, do we build the stuff that has been built over decades for car-centric development?  Or do we avoid business as usual and design and build projects that are walkable, clearly reducing the need for increasing vehicle miles travelled?

It is a simple question. Think of roads as bones.  The bones tell us how we move.

Remember Lucy, Australopithecus, discovery by Donald Johanson?  Lucy represents the transition from walking on four feet to walking on two feet by standing up.  Bones tell it all.

Well, the roads of development are exactly the same:  are we going to drive or walk?  The transportation  road design of any project will make that clear. Business as usual or taking the path for future generations to have a livable community and planet?

Here are three planning principles for walkability:

  1. Don’t cluster commercial development in one blob,
  2. Do integrated commercial in workplaces and near residential areas within walking distance, and
  3. Don’t build suburban sprawl.

Watch the decisions about projects and you will learn if we are meeting the vision of sustainable development.  God help us if we are not.

Elizabeth Patterson, MA Urban and Regional Planning
Mayor (2007-2020)

City of San Luis Obispo launches Sustainable SLO initiative (and Benicia could take note)

[Note from BenIndy: There are many paths to a balanced budget in a small town like ours. Paths that emphasize local economic development by enhancing active transportation safety and accessibility, minimizing fossil fuel reliance, and boosting both outdoor and indoor air quality set a course for a San Luis Obispo that is cleaner, healthier, and safer…and yet still financially stable and self-sustaining. San Luis Obispo and Benicia have a lot of common: SLO is another full-service town like Benicia, with a larger population but many of the same values.]

San Luis Obispo.

PublicCEO, January 29, 2024

San Luis Obispo has set big goals to reduce pollution and adapt to the climate crisis, and we’re making big progress. To highlight this work, the City is adding a new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic on a variety of public facilities and equipment in San Luis Obispo.

“The City of San Luis Obispo is leading on climate action, and we’re excited to tell our story over the next few months,” said Chris Read, the City’s sustainability manager. “Now through Earth Day 2024, we will highlight everything from our new electric buses to our recycling bins and will share resources for how community members can make changes to save money, reduce pollution in their own homes and businesses and help reach communitywide carbon neutrality by 2035.”

Community members may have already seen the new Sustainable SLO mark and illustrated graphic throughout San Luis Obispo and will likely be seeing it more often. Climate action is a major City goal for the City of San Luis Obispo and the City has been working for years from its Climate Action Plan to reduce pollution and make San Luis Obispo more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Sustainable SLO demonstrates how the City is leading by example by phasing out fossil fuels from public facilities and fleet vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from organic waste and restoring the beautiful natural ecosystems that make San Luis Obispo such a wonderful place to live. These efforts include but are not limited to:

  • Installing new bike lanes and using all-electric buses that make it safer and easier to get around,
  • Conserving open space properties throughout the greenbelt to protect natural resources,
  • Transitioning the City’s fleet to electric vehicles to save money and use less fossil fuels,
  • Installing new trash and recycling bins downtown to reduce litter and landfilled waste,
  • Adding more public-facing electric vehicle chargers in SLO so it’s easy to charge on the go,
  • Planting 10,000 new trees in streets, parks and open space areas by 2035,
  • Switching to energy-efficient lighting at City facilities to save money and use less energy, and
  • Installing a large battery at the Water Treatment Plant to save money and create a more resilient facility.

With generous federal, state and regional funding resources, incentives and technical assistance available to support climate action, it’s becoming easier for organizations and individuals to make sustainable choices in SLO. Over the next few months, the City will share more about Sustainable SLO and suggest ways organizations and individuals can take local action on the climate crisis.

“We’ll be telling this story on social media, local news channels and at in-person events,” said Lucia Pohlman, the City’s sustainability and natural resources analyst. “Everyone can find Sustainable SLO ‘in the wild’ to see tangible ways we’re making a difference. Hopefully, this will inspire community members to cut climate pollution and prepare for increasingly hazardous floods and fires. It’s no easy task, but with the community’s help, we can reach our goals and ensure our community thrives into the future.”

Learn more about the City’s Sustainable SLO initiative at and subscribe to email updates at

Elizabeth Patterson: Blaming “stagnant population growth” for our budget crisis is wrong…and risky

Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007–2020.

Stephen Golub submits many interesting and important writings in the BenIndy, the local newspaper, blogs and so forth.  His insights are helpful.

But I am disappointed about his statement about “stagnant population growth” as one of the reasons for the city’s budget woes.

It seems he has unintentionally been captured by the influence of “development machine” (which happens to be the title of a 25-year-old University of California book on developers and their practices).  A casual reference to “stagnant population growth” does not make population growth itself a legitimate path to economic prosperity.  For just a few examples, this EPA report titled “How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places” highlights what small cities can do for economic health with a stable population.

It is true that we need to provide for housing, and I like the idea of tasteful additions of duplexes, ADUs and multifamily units as infill development.  But, of course, it is the developers who build – not the cities – and developers have shown their true intentions when they have the chance to build expensive housing instead of affordable or middle-cost housing.  They go for the higher profit.  We are told they have to do this because of the fees, time to process and so forth.

But a recent incident in San Jose demonstrates that this is false.  In this case, the developers were approved with entitlements for high-density residential and mixed-use.  Perfect.  But when they learned that San Jose may have been late in approving its housing element, what did the developers do?  They resubmitted their plans under the “builders’ remedy” for high-end single family units and condos.  

Anyone read The Ox-Bow Incident?  You should.  It would teach you about what the “market can bear” the intentions of the commercial class – in this case, the railroads.  And yes, we are being railroaded into building anything, anywhere, no matter what.

So, back to Stephen’s piece.  The population growth issue is being used by the city in support of sprawl development out by Lake Herman Road.  Now back up a second and think about population growth and the need to develop outside of the city’s urban footprint.  If it were true that we must have population growth to thrive, when does it stop?  We just keep having population growth to the end of time?  Of course not.  This is a failed concept and people should stop saying that we must approve development inconsistent with the city’s General Plan due to stagnant population growth (General Plans regard the constitution of land use development and fealty to them is the law, not a choice).

To be clear, Stephen does not say he supports sprawl development.  He doesn’t.  In fact, he supports the East Fifth Gateway mixed-use plan. It’s a good plan and needs city initiatives to encourage development. But he does use the “stagnant population” theme, which is troubling.

I suggest that we dig deeper into this concept of population growth and connect the dots of congested roads, long lines at National Parks, food shortages and pollution.  There is a connection.  It is not likely that we will solve problems like these by having more people.

And lastly, population growth is projected to begin to decline near the end of the century.  This is certainly true in the US and California.  We could wind up with lots of empty residential development just like we are seeing with the over-built, retail commercial development that we were warned about years ago.

What then, is the answer?

Consider economic development with the increasing need for manufacturing that is green, more local shopping at smaller, more community-based stores, not to mention the arts and entertainment. Our aging population  will need services and housing accommodations over the next 25 years.

Thoughtful development with these needs in mind will create a place that people want to visit, shop in and work in.  This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it does take hard work and we, the people, need to do our part and help with city revenues for our infrastructure.  And maybe with less stress the city council and staff can focus on the future so clearly described in the General Plan.

Elizabeth Patterson

Ashton Lyle: In Benicia, city-wide events rekindle community connections even amidst digital division

But they won’t survive without your attendance and support

By Ashton Lyle, July 31, 2023

Portrait of Ashton Lyle
Ashton Lyle, BenIndy contributor.

Benicia’s annual 3rd of July parade is a treasured tradition for my family and many others in town. I remember fondly the many times I walked in the parade (beginning as a seven-year-old with the Benicia Stingrays), and later, the occasions I wandered main street festivities with friends. This year I again found myself strolling First Street, but for the first time, instead of watching the participants, I was concentrated on the sizable crowd gathered downtown and reveling in the beauty of Benicia’s community.

This is an increasingly rare opportunity for me, and not just because, like many others my age, I am increasingly separated from the town’s physical community. Alarmingly, this separation from one’s community is systemic, driven by a decline in community events like our cherished parade. The digital world has continued to encompass more of our lives and America’s towns have necessarily mirrored the expanding proportion of time we live and socialize online. The togetherness of community-wide events has begun to fade from contemporary life, and, in turn, our public interactions have naturally evolved to fit the controversy-focused digital medium they take place on.

Perhaps this explains how much of our relations with other Americans are characterized by discontent. As Americans have grown to become increasingly disconnected from the physicality of the humanity which surrounds us, we’ve grown increasingly polarized in our social and political worldviews. Add to this the public nature of digital communication, and it’s no surprise that acrimonious interactions have become a more visible part of daily life.

The injection of hostility into our relationships with our neighbors is an especially concerning development for the suburbs, where the nature of demarcated living only amplifies the human tendency to show elevated aggression towards strangers. Privacy and the near-total sanctity of one’s home, once reserved for the rural few, have become the standard of American life. Whereas multi-unit housing and city life, broadly constructed, requires constant concessions to the humanity of those around us, in the form of noises, smells, or even time (for example, spent waiting for a shared laundry machine to open), the suburban homeowner is the de-facto ruler of their private domain.

The shift towards understanding the ideal life as an increasingly individualized and private, separated from communal living, is now a cultural norm reflected in our public lives. While it forms a core tenant of the imagined “American Dream,” the perception of self-reliance is disconnected from the reality of living in a community, as each facet of suburban life, from its roads to its schools, is determined through collaborative community (i.e., political) processes. Even as our entertainment media and political discourse highlight independence and self-sufficiency as a value of the highest order, the reality of any number of anti-social tendencies in our society, from polarized discourse to indiscriminate violence, is indicative of the need to reconnect with those with whom we are building a shared future.

The need for community returns me to the 3rd of July parade. The parade, and events like it, are a beautiful reminder that the bitterness and alienation present in the online nature of contemporary life don’t need to transfer into real-life interactions. I’m heartened by the reminder that the discourse of Twitter, CNN, and even blockbuster films is still distinct from how Americans actually interact with each other and how Benicia residents can come together.

During such a controversial age, fostering a growing sense of community in Benicia is essential. I have written in previous columns about the material changes which could keep people in town, namely more housing and social opportunities to keep the existing community together while allowing for new, sustainable growth. But there is, of course, more to be done.

Community-wide events can only thrive with the broad support of residents and are therefore constantly under threat of disappearance. As the City of Benicia struggles to balance its budget, citizens now more than ever must manifest the necessity of city-wide events through their attendance. We can take our friends and families to one of the notable events hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department, for example, Movies Under the Stars. Shared community spaces, like the garden downtown, could be expanded to include new locations in other neighborhoods and the block parties I remember from years past, organized by good-hearted neighbors, can be resurrected. We can support the events of Benicia Main Street, such as the weekly Farmer’s Markets and the recent Waterfront Festival.

All these events work to bring the Benicia community into more frequent contact with each other, allaying the worst aspects of our increasingly digital existence. In a country increasingly defined by its discontent towards one another, pulling our community together, with space for difference and new voices, is a stand against the forces of division.


For safe and healthy communities…