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Problems persist with General Plan update

Posted: Monday, Mar 25th, 2013

The Watsonville City Council voted on Jan. 22 to adopt the update of the General Plan 2030, by a 6 to 1 vote. Parts of the old General Plan 2030, adopted on May 23, 2006, were found by the courts (superior and appeals) to be noncompliant with the California Environmental Qualities Act (CEQA) and the State Aeronautics Act. One stipulation of the court was that these discrepancies be fixed — then take the plan back to the court for approval.

The appeals court decision regarding airport land use planning apply to both the city and county general plans. City/county planners decided that the content in the city update would be incorporated into the County General Plan. More than half of the land around the airport is county jurisdiction. This means close scrutiny of city plan content is doubly important.

The revised edition, just approved by the council in January, still is not completely fixed (refer to the Feb. 14 column, “Section of the General Plan still unsafe”). A cursory look finds obsolete remnants of old plans, inaccurate text and wording not in compliance with the court decisions.

For instance, chapter 3 (pages 3-19) of the update says that the Airport Master Plan contains the airport land use planning for Buena Vista. An Airport Master Plan’s core purpose is to provide planning inside the airport fence. “Airport Master Plan” should be struck out and replaced with “General Plan.” In addition, the general plan update describes a variant system of forming a commission, not consistent with that described in state law. Wording problems persist throughout this document. Will the court approve it with these errors?

A general plan is normally general in nature; it’s allowed to omit some details and specifics. But there are exceptions. One is the airport land use planning section. That requires specificity applying to the local airport environs. The courts require definitive wording on airport land use planning; for instance, the words “should” or “could” must be changed to “shall.” Numerous changes were provided by the Watsonville Pilots Association, but not all the wording changes appear in the update.

Another big loose end is Caltrans Division of Aeronautics (CDOA) review and approval of the general plan. Because of their expertise, improvements could result.

Proposed construction on the private land parcels on the airport is an alarming safety issue. People are looking for feasible solutions, such as land swaps or transfer of development rights. If they are successful that would be great. But it still does not remedy the fact that the general plan has incompatible content.

When a city or county hires a consulting firm from Timbuktu or somewhere to write their general plan, the firm does not know important details unique to the local community or area. They don’t know Bronte from Holohan. In Watsonville, there are many people who have expansive knowledge of the local situation. You probably know them. A small team of these people could be employed to review the update, page by page. They would recognize obsolete content in a jiffy and make changes. The result? A better document. They could augment a consulting firm, probably for way less cost.

If you go by the general plan update, you will see the Freedom Fire Department. Suppose there was a house on fire next door. If you grab the phone book and look up the Freedom Fire Department, you won’t find it. It’s history. Now a library occupies the building on the corner of Freedom and Airport Boulevard. It’s been a library for what, 16 years? And the General Plan Hazards Chapter 13 lists the Salsipuedes Fire in the update. There is no Salsipuedes Fire department. It’s now Cal Fire; has been that since 1995.

True, the draft is widely advertised, and there are public meetings/hearings. But somehow the public’s requested changes don’t appear in the final text. It looks like major policies (like urban sprawl) are controlled by top staff. Are the public’s alternative concepts dismissed as “blah, blah, blah”? Another problem is that some consultants simply rubber stamp what staff wants in the plan. The public is left with only litigation for resolution, the expensive last resort.

A general plan is supposed to look forward. Its content needs to be appropriate to the local situation. Some specifics can be omitted, some can’t. A general plan controls subsequent specific plans. A letter to the city from the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics says, “The General Plan is the controlling document for implementing land use regulations.”

Will the Superior Court require an update of the update? Whatever happens, the City Council can take advantage of the situation. Ask staff to clean up the update.


Dan Chauvet is a resident of Watsonville.

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