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.
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.
[Note from BenIndy Contributor Elizabeth Patterson: I appreciate and support the need for tax increases as Benicia council wrings its hands over the budget. The long, long staff letter and follow-up postcard is all about cutting and traditional development of the 20th century. Without a vision of hope, why would anyone have confidence that the future is bright for our historic city with treasures and character unlike any other city? And, the Industrial Park was a brilliant idea until it wasn’t (meaning the dependence on fossil fuel refining). Over the years some people in Benicia have offered a vision of being a green gateway into Solano County. What has been done to realize that? Reading this interview of a Mayor in Sheffield, England illustrates how a city with inspired leadership for the 21st century can attract new manufacturing and industrial activity that meet the needs of this century. Investing in getting battery manufacturing established in Benicia as one of the few large industrial and manufacturing places in the Bay Area should be embraced with a little risk taking. Where is the vision for prosperity? Why are development decisions that increase the city’s operating and maintenance needs the only option presented by staff? Where is the citizen’s academy or blue-ribbon task force of 50 or so people who are demographically representative of the whole region, who together will help gather information to understand what trade-offs could or should look like and how we can all benefit from embracing the future. As the Sheffield Mayor said, ” I’m determined to make sure that we’re doing this with our community, not to our community.”]
To replace decaying 19th century industries, the region around Sheffield lures high-tech manufacturing from McLaren supercars to Boeing airplane parts.
The steel that fed England’s industrial revolution and powered its rise to a global empire came from a region in its northern hills, where iron and abundant coal deposits combined with sweeping rivers to create an ideal environment for steelmaking. That region, anchored by the city of Sheffield, is now looking to create a new industrial revolution.
Sheffield is known as “Steel City” thanks to those historical roots. It’s the largest city in a region known as South Yorkshire, but the days of industrial dominance are long gone. Today, the region is grappling with the impacts of deindustrialization that have plagued parts of developed economies around the world. Now, its 42-year-old mayor wants to revive the region’s past by attracting business and making South Yorkshire the epicenter of advanced manufacturing.
Oliver Coppard took office in 2022, becoming the second mayor of the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (its first was elected in 2018), which includes the cities of Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley, sitting some 170 miles north of London. The authority was created with a goal of developing and growing the regional economy, while giving the cities a coordinated platform from which to lobby higher levels of government.
His goal is to leverage the region’s industrial roots and connect it with next-generation manufacturing companies, while ensuring it is not left behind again as the world shifts away from fossil fuels.
It’s already attracting investments. In March, Ultimate Battery Co., which makes batteries out of sustainable materials, announced plans to place its headquarters and 500 new jobs in the region. Then, in July, South Yorkshire was named the UK’s first investment zone for advanced manufacturing. An initial £80 million ($101 million) has been promised for skills training, infrastructure and tax relief in an attempt to attract £1.2 billion in private investment and 8,000 jobs. That announcement coincided with a commitment from Boeing Co. to conduct sustainable, lightweight aircraft research in the region. McLaren Automotive also moved some manufacturing for its carbon fiber supercars from Austria to Sheffield.
Coppard grew up in South Yorkshire during the 1980s, giving him a first-hand view of the region’s industrial decline. Just a decade earlier, in the early 1970s, nearly half of the region’s employment was in manufacturing. But by 2011, employment in manufacturing jobs had shrunk to 11%. Replacing those jobs with well-paying alternatives has been a struggle. The unemployment rate in the region is higher than the national average, while wages are £80 a week less.
Boeing’s first European factory opened in Sheffield in 2018, representing the next-era industries the region seeks to attract.Photographer: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg
The challenge for Coppard will be ensuring the promised investments actually materialize and provide benefits for local residents. Bloomberg CityLab spoke to Coppard about his vision for the future of South Yorkshire. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
South Yorkshire is going through a period of transition. Can you talk about the challenges facing the region?
South Yorkshire was the home of the industrial revolution. We had a huge steel industry, coal mining industry, right through until the 1980s. And then there was a huge amount of industrial decline. Since then we’ve been recovering.
It’s’s fair to say we are now on the cusp of something pretty special. We’re dealing with issues around transport, health, economy and particularly the economic growth of South Yorkshire. My job is essentially growth.
What’s that growth strategy looked like?
We’re trying to create a regional industrial strategy for South Yorkshire. That essentially means figuring out what we’re good at, and then trying to do more of it. Things like advanced manufacturing, which we are world leading at. We were the first place to mass produce steel, we were the first place to be an advanced manufacturing innovation district and now we’re the UK’s first investment zone.
The investment zone status allows us to focus on that expertise and those recent strengths. We’re trying to lead the world when it comes to advanced manufacturing to the extent that now, if you’re in the advanced manufacturing space globally, and you’re not in South Yorkshire, it’s more of a problem for you than it is for me.
How are you thinking about the future, how do you make sure South Yorkshire isn’t left behind a second time?
The transition to net zero is an opportunity to do that. We know what it’s like to go through an energy transition and when we went through the last one, we didn’t do so well.
So we’re running a citizens’ assembly in South Yorkshire, which is essentially 100 people who are demographically representative of the whole region, who will now work with us to understand what trade-offs could or should look like and how we can all benefit from that transition. I’m determined to make sure that we’re doing this with our community, not to our community.
Has there been opposition to these changes?
The UK is in the middle of quite a difficult political climate. The UK government has been saying for a while that they’re going to level up our country, which meant they were going to put investment into the north of the country just as much as the south (where London is). I don’t think we’ve necessarily come to fruition. That’s a real problem.
We are determined to make sure that we get just as much in investment and support, but some of that we’re going to have to do ourselves. We’re going to make sure that we push forward with our economic growth, with our plans, with our projects in South Yorkshire, with or without the support of the UK government.
Any lessons you’ve taken from other cities or regions?
The work we’re doing with St. Louis — they’re building their advanced manufacturing innovation center on the model that South Yorkshire developed. We’ll work with anybody globally to make sure they’re learning the lessons we have to share, particularly our friends in the United States.
We’ll also listen to the people who are doing things in a different way from us to see if there are lessons there too. This has to be a collaboration, it has to be a sector where we’re learning from people as much as we’re sharing our learning with others too. I’m determined we’ll be global leaders, but global leaders also have to listen.
This story is part of a Bloomberg CityLab series of conversations with mayors about how they’re making their cities more livable.
Visit BelieveInBenicia.org to learn more about Benicia’s Resiliency Plan, sign up for updates from Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani, and join the effort to help shape Benicia’s future. Add your voice.
January 15-26 – link coming soon
In Person Workshops
January 18 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Public Library
January 25 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Community Center
Virtual Workshopsvia Zoom (links coming soon)
January 17 • 6pm
January 24 • 6pm
[BenIndy will post links to these meetings when they become available. Meanwhile, save the dates!]
[Note from BenIndy: Respected environmental consulting firm LSA has generated a fascinating but lengthy memorandum regarding California Forever’s proposed new city’s impact on conservation and mitigation in the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). While the whole memorandum offers a clear case for concern as well as an excellent blueprint of the various federal and state hurdles California Forever will have to overcome, those who don’t have time to dive into a 23-page document will certainly benefit from former Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s excellent summary of the document, available below.]
By Elizabeth Patterson, November 8, 2023
The Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a federal program that allows projects that impact ecosystems (generally species-specific) to mitigate the impacts by acquiring habitat and conserving it in perpetuity. In this case the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) is a contractor with the federal government for the operation and management of the Monticello dam and Putah South Canal (that is the canal that conveys Benicia’s water) and other components to the dam system. As part of the contract renewal twenty-odd years ago, SCWA has been required to mitigate the impacts associated with this project. The water agency has worked with Solano County and cities to identify habitat conservation areas that meet the requirements. The cities would benefit by being able to have the developer buy into the conservation areas. In other words, cities designated as the places to grow urban development would be able to have the developer pay their fair share for habitat conservation. Generally, such arrangements are hard to do one project at a time, and thus the overall plan of the HCP makes these mitigation plans more efficient and effective.
This HCP also allows contiguous conservation areas targeting specific species and ecosystems. When the large grassland areas are broken up, the result is a kind of a ‘museum’ of separate habitat areas lacking connectivity, and thus they do not represent not a sustainable habitat. After all, we can’t and don’t know all there is about habitats and how they work. The best we can do is to preserve these areas with corridors for migrating species and diversity of plants and other considerations. The viability of HCPs are based on these factors.
According to LSA’s memorandum, what the Flannery group’s proposed new city will do is impact, extirpate and lead to extinction of flora and fauna due to the land-use conversion from grasslands and riparian habitats. Because the price paid for the land is 200% greater than what the market had been, the Solano County Water Agency can’t easily buy land for habitat conservation plan, which is part of their responsibility as a federal water project operator. The HCP is also needed for projects already entitled or within the planning future for the cities. They were relying on the HCP to mitigate their projects.
The maps in the document clearly demonstrate the massive impact of a new city (or any creeping into habitat by existing cities). The SCWA and future urban developers in existing cities will be stuck with a very high and costly mitigation for meeting the HCP.
The appointment was made by the seven Mayors in Solano County. The seat was vacated when the current representative, Suisun City Mayor Lori Wilson, was elected to the State Assembly and resigned her position as Mayor.
Said Mayor Young “I want to thank my fellow Mayors for their support in making this appointment to the BAAQMD Board. As the only City in Solano County with an oil refinery, it is past time that the City was represented on this important regional board.”
Asked to confirm that Benicia has never had a mayoral seat on the BAAQMD Board, former Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson recalled that some years ago, she was “appointed to the Air District Board but on a technical mistake, and had to turn badge and binder back.” She explained that “the district had miscalculated the population numbers to qualify the county for a city representative.” Later when Solano County qualified, Patterson received “a commitment from Mayor Price of Fairfield, but Solano Supervisor Jim Spering helped Price renege on his commitment, and Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis was appointed.” Patterson’s recollection is that Davis’ attendance on the Board was minimal. More recently, Patterson sought to be appointed again, but Mayor Lori Wilson of Suisun City was appointed.
Solano County currently has two of the 23 seats on the BAAQMD Board. Solano’s mayoral representative is chosen by the seven mayors in the county. The Solano County Board of Supervisors has its own representative, currently Supervisor Erin Hannigan of Vallejo District 1.
Young’s appointment will be official when sworn in by the Board at their next meeting on April 6.
Mayor Young will also be taking a seat on the Executive Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments (MTC/ABAG).