Sunday, August 12, 2007

Let the People Plan

Last weekend I attended the Sierra Nevada Alliance conference in Kings Beach. A couple of the sessions addressed an exciting trend -- community-based planning.

Instead of waiting to react to what a developer brings them, some towns are looking at land planned for annexation or redevelopment and coming up with a master plan for that land themselves. The processes are often hands-on, with lots of citizen involvement.

People decide what kind of development will take place, where, and how fast. They plan the parks and schools and fire stations. They plan the housing. They plan the business locations. They make sure that what they value most is protected -- special views, natural and historic features, and so forth. Most of all, they make sure the plan is consistent with their vision for their town.

And when the plan is done, the message to developers is clear: "This is what we need in our town. This is what we want. Join with us to make it happen."

The good news is that developers seem happy to bring in projects that fit the plans. That's probably because a community-developed plan gives the developer and landowner more certainty. It can also spare them all of the time and money they normally spend trying to market a project.

Amador County's small towns could take this approach to planning. Just think about how different the results might be from what developers are bringing us now.

Look at Martell. Some of us pushed for just such an approach to Martell redevelopment years ago, but the developers weren't interested. If local residents had developed a plan for Martell, it could have included a passive park in the woodland at the lower end, walking and bike trails to connect to the towns, mixed-use development with workforce housing, and more. But instead, we got a same-old, same-old sales-tax sacrifice zone that pulls revenue from our towns and gives us traffic jams in exchange.

It doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to wait for developers to "save" us with their ideas of what our towns should be.

We should define our future, ourselves.

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