Stockton planners used to have two bosses: developers and cars. Neither calls the shots in Envision Stockton 2040 General Plan, the blueprint for the city’s future.

This draft plan is far better than the old developer-driven sprawl or the hurtling Autopia that relinquished the city to cars. It’s smart and progressive. With, sorry to say, two exceptions.

“This general plan is like night and day compared to the last one,” Eric Parfrey said.

That’s saying a lot, because Parfrey is the Sierra Club leader who sued to kill Stockton’s previous general plan. The city’s settlement with Parfrey entailed a new planning direction.

Hats off to city planners. This crew seems free of tired but tenacious concepts. Its modern, sensible ideas include higher density/smaller footprint, Complete Streets, “road diets,” bike trails, a healthier urban forest, fiscally responsible growth, environmental justice, historic preservation and more.

Planners went at the process a better way. Holding workshops and public forums all over town, they listened to the public’s priorities. Their plan reflects it.

Nobody called for sprawl. Citizens want the existing city fixed.

They want a better life here, a future for their kids here. With increased public safety, jobs, affordable housing and stronger community bonds.

The plan delivers, sort of.

It says, “Development and redevelopment of vacant, underutilized, and blighted areas will be prioritized over development that extends into agricultural areas, strengthening the city’s core and preserving the open space that surrounds it.”

The new general plan calls for 18,000 new housing units within city limits, at least 4,400 of them in the Greater Downtown Area. It’s a break from Stockton’s sprawlish past.

But it’s not a clean break. A previous city council signed development agreements for thousands of as-yet unbuilt homes. These homes will rise within city limits, but on the edge. “Outfill” more than infill, thousands of homes will spread onto farmland and elbow into the Delta, if and when they are built.

And they will account for the majority of the 40,900 homes planned for Stockton between now and 2040.

This legacy sprawl undermines new city goals of reviving existing neighborhoods, downtown and the waterfront, Parfrey said.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you have huge amounts of housing six or seven miles from downtown it’s probably going to rob downtown,” Parfrey said.

David Kwong disagreed. The city’s community development director said different homes will serve different people.

“There’s always going to be two different markets,” Kwong said. “What might fit a single person or empty-nester family in the beginning is going to be different than as the family grows and as they age into their older years.”

The Plan’s ideas for the waterfront are flat-out exciting.

“Develop and implement a public/private strategy for mixed-use high-end development” — multi-story homes on the water’s edge, along with ships and restaurants — “along both sides of the Stockton Channel/San Joaquin River Corridor.”

The Plan also calls for, “A public promenade along the North Channel to Louis Park and the South Channel to Mormon Slough” and “re-use of historic structures.”

Just as importantly, the Plan calls for restoring disadvantaged communities. It talks about fixing neglected streets and distressed properties, encouraging affordable housing and putting finishing touches on incomplete neighborhoods such as Weston Ranch.

Through this plan, City Hall espouses a new ethos: “Build strong ties with disadvantaged communities to ensure that local residents can make significant contributions to planning decisions.”

The other highly questionable element involves something called the Economic and Education Enterprise zone.

This loophole to the General Plan is intended to allow growth north of Eight Mile Road in case some extraordinary project such as a “super-employer” or state university opts to locate here if there is not enough land within city limits to accommodate it.

Which sounds OK. But this element, which involves 3,800 acres of land owned by the Spanos development firm, includes 26,710 housing units.

Sensible mixed-use planning? Or Trojan horse for Old-School sprawl? The subject requires a separate look. We’ll give it one next week.

 

Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or michaelf@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/fitzgeraldblog and on Twitter @Stocktonopolis.