One of the common refrains we hear around town is that “things are changing.” Some say this with enthusiasm, while others sound mournful and discouraged. What some call “progress” others call “failure.”
What’s missed by both sides of this argument is their agreement; things are changing, they always have and always will. The real disagreement is not about the fact of change, it’s about the nature of change: how rapid and in what manner should change occur? Those who favor change often prefer it to be faster and more dramatic than those who do not, and would prefer it happen slowly and moderately. When it comes to change, the devil, as it’s said, is in the details.
Some developers talk as if people don’t want things to change at all, and those who object to their development plans aren’t interested in the future. The developers use all the buzzwords and slogans about what’s best for the kids, best for the economy and best for housing, but rarely talk about what’s best for them and the bundles of money they plan to make. Great efforts are made to spin the project as conforming with plans.
The fact is an enormous amount of time and effort has gone into planning for change. While the plans for change are imperfect, they are an honest, measured and careful attempt to guide our community’s path into the future.
The vision of that future is found in our General Plans and Development Codes. They’re revised every ten years or so, because plans of any kind get out-of-sync with the evolving social and cultural reality. During any revision, the public is invited to contribute ideas, criticize, comment, and put time into planning for our future.
Such plans include regulating the pace of population growth by planning the growth of housing; projecting transportation and circulation needs; insuring environmental protection of trees, creeks, hillsides and open space; providing economic stability and job opportunity; and other issues with impacts on the future. The General Plans and Development Codes reflect consensus about the pace and nature of change.
Our plans become both the updated “constitution” of land-use and the development roadmap into the community’s future. As projects and developments are proposed, the Planning Commission and City Council, and if in the county, the Board of Supervisors, are tasked with determining the ways in which such proposals conform or don’t conform to the plans.
As our Wine Country economy has grown, the sophistication of development proposals has increased. Studies, reports and expert evaluations are employed to help assess the effects of proposals, and to measure those effects against our plans. Technical language and reams of data are difficult for the average citizen to absorb; it’s often impossible to keep up. In this age of number-crunching consultants, common sense is hard to find.
Our planning tools establish the legal framework upon which we rely, and when serious conflict arises, resolution is sometimes found in the courtroom. If government violates its own planning laws, that comes at a risk. Conversely, if government fairly applies the community’s rules, courts will find in its favor. It is for this reason that great care must be taken in crafting plans and the lawful rules they impose.
The only thing that never changes is change. That’s why we plan.