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By Roz Rogoff

Putting first things first

Uploaded: Feb 9, 2011

Measure W was attacked for rezoning a large portion of downtown for mixed use as some kind of secret plot to change the city without letting anyone knowing about it. Well it is NOT true that the City was hiding the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan (NCRSP) from voters before putting Measure W on the ballot. The cover story in the Spring 2009 City Report was "North Camino Ramon planning begins," with a map of the specific plan area.

This same newsletter included a blurb that "General Plan 2030 Update is underway" with a list of dates for workshops the public could attend, but hardly anyone did. So if residents are hearing now that this was all kept secret, no it wasn't. But it depended on residents caring enough to pay attention to the information that was made available to them to know what was in it.

The question asked now is why was the zoning change was included in the General Plan before the Specific Plan was completed? Jim Gibbon called it "Putting the cart before the horse."

A General Plan is exactly that. It plans for land use in the city based on what the State requires and what the Planning Department and City Council believe is the best way to meet these requirements throughout the city. Zoning changes must be in the General Plan before any specific details are applied to how the land would be used in the future. Zoning simply says that land A would be used for X purpose and not Y purpose, and land B would be used for Y purpose.

City planning is just a city-wide version of planning for home improvements to make better use of different areas of your house and property. Here's a simplified scenario. You plan to remodel the kitchen, add a new bathroom, and replace the lawn with drought tolerant landscaping. These are three different areas of your home that are designated for three different uses. That's the zoning in your home's General Plan.

After you have made your General Plan, you would create a plan for each of these different sections of your home to be more specific about what would go into each one. You might start looking into fixtures for the bathroom and getting estimates on changes you want to make. Then you would draw a diagram showing what would go into each section of the new bathroom. That's your Specific Plan.

You'll notice that you can't have a specific plan for what goes into a bathroom before you have a plan to add the bathroom to your house. So the plan for modifying the house comes first (General Plan), the plan to add a bathroom comes next (zoning in the General Plan) and the plan for what goes into the new bathroom comes last (Specific Plan).

Now that you have a Specific Plan for your new bathroom, you ask the kids and Grandma what they think about it. They are given the chance to change the layout and fixtures since they would be using the bathroom too. That would be your Public Hearings. If Grandma wants a chair height toilet and walk-in tub, you'd have to consider the additional cost and how these would fit into your original (General) plan.

You might make changes based on input from the kids and Grandma. That's what happens in public hearings on a Specific Plan. You take the opinions and needs of each person in the house who comments on the plan. If Grandma and the kids don't bother to tell you what they want, you probably wouldn't make any changes to your Specific Plan.

Likewise if hardly anyone comes to the Public Hearings held by the Planning Commission and City Council on a Specific Plan, Commissioners and City Councilmembers would think that nobody cares about these plans and do what staff advises them to do.

Your neighbors might worry about how your plans would affect them. They might complain about workers parking their trucks on the street or noise or dust from the construction. These are like the outside agencies and neighboring communities that might be affected by a city's land use plans. That's why cities are required to provide Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) to identify how they would mitigate any disturbances in the neighborhood.

While it is important to be considerate of your neighbors, you probably wouldn't want them to tell you how to design your own bathroom. You should be able to control your own plans for your house and not have them controlled by outsiders (except of course the State of California is telling you and the City what must go into your General Plans).

OK, my example is very simplistic, and I will probably be accused of being condescending, but if some readers are confused by the planning process, I am trying to make it as simple as I can to explain it.

So if you don't like the "specifics" in North Camino Ramon Specific Plan, it isn't cast in stone until all of the Public Hearings are held and the Planning Commission and City Council vote on it. You can come out and speak your mind at the Planning Commission public hearings and the Commissioners will listen to you.

If you do like what is in this plan, you should come to the meetings and say so too. Don't leave it to the naysayers to be the only ones at the meetings. Tell the Planning Commission and City Council what you want to keep in the NCRSP as well as what you want to drop or change.

The Planning Commission's next Public Hearing on the NCRSP is February 15, 2011. If you don't participate in the planning process, then don't complain about the plans you get.