Council Takes Strong First Step Toward General Plan


If the Davis City Council is going to be able to bring the community along on a general plan update it will need to continue to proceed in a cautious and careful manner that incorporates the concerns of the citizenry with the vision of the governing body.

Mayor Robb Davis noted in his comments, “We really are planning by exception and that’s not tenable.”  He noted that we have “emerging needs” and we need to deal with the critical issue of low vacancy in housing.

As newly-elected councilmember Will Arnold noted, what we are really doing is “talking about talking about a general plan,” by way of pointing out that “yes, we are very early in the process.”

Eileen Samitz was part of the previous general plan planning, arguing that we are fortunate to have a very good general plan and she noted that it took over 200 citizens, 14 committees, and thousands of hours over eight years to create the current general plan.

However, she also agreed on the need to do some updating.  She indicated, “As far as I’m concerned we certainly don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water.  It’s a matter of identifying what needs to be updated or tweaked or added.”

Councilmember Arnold noted, “I want everybody if possible to allay any fears that we are going to be throwing anything away.  That’s not my intention certainly.”

The biggest concerns noted during discussion on the Vanguard had to do with the relatively short period for public input that was originally to take place during the months of August and early September, when people are on vacation.  The council was in consensus that the period should be extended until at least the end of September.

There was also the concern that input should not be limited to a web-based application.

Mayor Davis summarized the consensus that the council had around a few issues.  He noted that “there’s a lot of commonality in what we said and I really appreciate that.”

First he cited “definitional work,” which means community forums to educate the community and themselves.  There was discussion about looking again into a Charter City and also the need to discuss what is and what is not part of the general plan.

“We can use this as an opportunity to talk about these basic definitional issues that we sort of hear, but don’t really know what they need,” he said.

Lucas Frerichs had brought up the concept of form-based codes.  This is part of the movement to reform zoning codes.

As literature cited by Councilmember Frerichs suggests, “These codes concentrate first on the visual aspect of development: building height and bulk, façade treatments, the location of parking, and the relationship of the buildings to the street and to one another. Simply put, form-based codes emphasize the appearance and qualities of the public realm, the places created by buildings.”

Form-based codes “place a primary emphasis on building type, dimensions, parking location and façade features, and less emphasis on uses. They stress the appearance of the streetscape, or public realm, over long lists of different use types.”

These codes entail zoning districts, regulatory focus, uses, design and perhaps most importantly public participation, which “is essential to assure thorough discussion of land use issues as the code is created. This helps reduce conflict, misunderstanding and the need for hearings as individual projects are reviewed.”

Mayor Davis suggested at the very least some workshops focusing on definitions like general plan, charter city, and form-based codes.

Mayor Davis noted clear consensus on the need to extend the first period of public input.  There were concerns about the questions that the city will ask the public.  There were concerns that the questions were too open-ended to get real feedback.

Mayor Davis suggested, “I still think they can be open, but more specific.”

He added, “If we do internet, it needs to be ‘internet-plus’ and not anonymous.”

Mayor Davis continued, “This idea of looking outside, it’s going to happen.  Sports park, sphere of influence, regional – I think as you look at best practices, how are cities dealing with these broader regional questions.”  He added, “That doesn’t just mean looking at land outside, it means looking at how we fit into the region within a general plan.”

As Councilmember Rochelle Swanson put it, “I do think we have to look at our sphere of influence more, not just within our borders.”  She noted that “regional planning is becoming more and more the norm.  We are far more heavily involved in SACOG and other regional efforts than we’ve been in past decades. “

As she noted, “The traffic that comes across 80 absolutely impacts Davis and our traffic patterns.  That piece of (information) needs to be talked about, not just our surface roads.”  She noted that, by 2pm, most days it’s impossible to take 113 South, which means that the traffic on the freeways impacts the traffic on our surface streets.

Following the public comment of Jim Gray, who noted that the world changes very quickly, the council reached a consensus that they should “not try to develop a plan that’s a 50 year plan.”

At the same time, he noted that, while the previous plan evolved over eight years of work, he was not interested in making this a five-year process, and that he does not believe that to be necessary.

The first stage of this planning process saw the council take very seriously concerns about process and scope brought up by the public.  There will be plenty of time for dissent in terms of the vision for the future of the community, but getting the process off on the right track procedurally was important, and council was very responsive to the very legitimate concerns raised early on.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. The Pugilist

    Council did a good job here and should be commended.  But to use Will’s language all we agreed to do is talk about a general plan.  The next step is harder – is there a common vision for the community?  That is where I think this process starts to show cracks.

  2. Alan Miller

    is there a common vision for the community?

    The Nishi vote clearly demonstrates the answer is not only “no”, but the City is almost equally divided on the core growth issues.  The general plan fights are going to be protracted Nishi on steroids.

    1. Marina Kalugin

      yep…and you can read my earlier posts on the Nishi to get a clue….anyone who may be interested.

      in fact, if some UCD student who is interested in building and planning issues, or poli sci, would like an unpaid internship, they can scour all comments related to Nishi on the DV, the DE and compile them…

      that would give a very quick pulse reading… fact, stuff related to development is on all kinds of threads including UCD< the Chancelllor  etc…..

      also threads on who and why certain candidates are supported or not…

      in fact, he he….  nearly every thread during election season became fair game I guess…

  3. Michael Harrington

    I vaguely remember that there were approximately 50 CC meetings that I attended as a new CC to finish the 2001 GP?

    I think an easy way to get fast, specific information from the public is to ask them to print off the contents of the current GP, circle the sections that need updating, write a few words for each of those sections explaining why the need, and scan back to a designated planning department email, something like “GPupdate@city____.


    Additionally, if staff specifically contact each of the usual suspects and ask for their quick reaction, that should give staff a quick read on how it feels out there in the public … at least the ones who get into this stuff on a regular basis.


    This informal check in could produce a quick summary in 2 weeks ….  not the end result, but just a quick check of the pulse out there ….

  4. Roberta Millstein

    Glad to hear that the initial comment period was extended and glad to hear that there will be educational components.  Both are needed to get good citizen input.  Good start, City Council.

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