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August 1, 2006 > Editorial: Recess, a good time to investigate the General Plan

Editorial: Recess, a good time to investigate the General Plan

Most of us associate the word "recess" with a certain amount of relief. After all, early years were spent at school when the impact of a break from classroom endeavors needed no lengthy explanation, it was simply time to think and act outside the confines of a small room, without strict supervision. The month of August is, for many city governments, a time of recess as well. Although the staff continues its work, councils take time off from meetings and defer pending major decisions. It makes sense to reflect a bit at this point - to consider progress made so far this year and examine issues waiting in the wings.

Just as the searing heat wave of a week ago has come and gone, to revisit again before the fall, so will some recurring themes resurface in the near future. The impact of population growth is a factor that will not bypass many communities. Transportation, housing, employment, education and recreation are basic questions that continually tug at the cape of even the mightiest and best run cities of our area. We will continue to face the question of how to retain a quality lifestyle with greater housing density. Living together in close quarters has never been the strong suit of a western lifestyle and yet, as the greater Tri-City area morphs from suburban to urban we will face all the joys and ills of larger cities.

At the root of a city is its General Plan. This is the blueprint of a community's vision and promise to its citizens.  Some of our cities are approaching the time when this master plan will be fully examined and rewritten. When we squint into the future - many General Plans profess to gaze ahead 20 years - the scene is hazy and based on assumptions that are problematic at best. Even with continual alterations throughout the life of these plans, they soon begin to resemble a patchwork quilt that has been heavily used for years, torn, then mended with materials that make sense at the moment but stray from the original design. While the intent and practical value of the quilt may remain, at some point, its structure may become too fragile and outdated to serve adequately. Such is the fate of General Plans.

As our cities age, determining how to maintain an excellent quality of life may change, but not why we want it. After all, we all want to live in a safe and comfortable environment. In order to make sure the focus to achieve this goal is where you, the citizens, want it to be, it is important to understand what assumptions are guiding city government actions. While some of the verbiage in official documents can be a bit daunting, statements of purpose and land use are not too difficult. Have you ever looked at the General Plan for your city? Do you know whether it has been revised to reflect the reality of today's issues? How will you take part when the General Plan is rewritten? When these documents are rewritten, citizen involvement is a critical element.

Look for your city's General Plan at the city website and, if it is unavailable, ask where you can look at it. As an example, the city of Fremont adopted its last General Plan in 1990 - 16 years ago. Think of the changes that have taken place during the intervening years and the amendments necessary to keep up with those changes. City planners are often asked to provide exceptions or revisions due to significant changes in land use. While taken as individual cases, these may appear minor, but as they multiply, city character can change considerably. Pressure from the state and transportation issues encourage high density development of both infill and current open space. Although in Fremont, the hillside issue has been codified, there is still much to be resolved including apartment conversions to condominiums, the Patterson Ranch open space and commercial redevelopment to residential units. In this changing landscape, it is up to every citizen to understand at least the basic provisions of their city's General Plan.

 
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