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San Benito County General Plan 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Document will guide development in the county for next two decades, public input still welcomed

The long anticipated draft San Benito County General Plan update and the accompanying draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIR) are now available for public review at San Benito County’s web site. The review period will extend from March 11 through May 14. A public meeting to answer questions about the draft plan and draft EIR will be held on April 10th at 6pm in the County Board of Supervisor Chambers at Fourth and West Streets in Hollister. Dates and times for other meetings before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors related to the General Plan and EIR are to be determined.

In addition to the draft general plan and the draft EIR a number of additional documents and data were prepared to assist in the preparation of the draft general plan and EIR (e.g.: General Plan Background Report, Opportunities and Challenges Report, The 2035 Vision and Guiding Principles report). For example, “the General Plan Background Report takes a “snapshot” of San Benito County’s current (2010) conditions and trends. The background report provides decision-makers, the public and local agencies with context for making land use and policy decisions, and is intended to be objective and policy-neutral.

The Opportunities and Challenges Report (OCR) focuses the community’s attention on the major constraints, opportunities, and challenges facing the county that need to be addressed during the General Plan Update process. The OCR report synthesizes and uses information gathered from community workshops held in October 2007, a community survey conducted in early 2008, the draft General Plan Background Report, General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) input, and County staff and consultant observations. The OCR report is intended to help stimulate discussion and provide context for the preparation of the land use alternatives, and ultimately, updated General Plan goals, policies, and implementation programs.

The 2035 Vision and Guiding Principles report summarizes the vision statement for San Benito County and the guiding principles necessary to achieve that vision. The vision statement is a summary of the general goals to be achieved by the updated General Plan. The guiding principles are fundamental ideas that represent the County’s philosophy about land use, change, economic development, and sustainability.” All of these reports plus others (e.g.: the Environmental Impact Report for the General Plan) are available at the general plan update section of the San Benito County web site and are recommended reading to understand the context within which the draft general plan was developed.

The following summary is a “Readers Digest” abridged version of the Draft San Benito County General Plan and incorporates, mostly verbatim, abridged versions of selected text from documents prepared as part of the general plan update process.

What is a General Plan? A general plan acts as the “constitution” for making sound decisions regarding San Benito County’s long-term physical development. The general plan expresses the community’s development goals and incorporates public policies relative to the distribution of future public and private land uses. The County General Plan guides future land use, economic, transportation, infrastructure, agricultural, resource and environmental decisions. The plan is intended to provide for orderly growth and convey the community’s values and expectations for the future. General plans are typically updated every five to ten years.
Why is an Update Needed? San Benito County population is projected to … grow, … increasing by 32,000 to nearly 95,000 by 2035, an average annual growth rate of 1.7 percent. San Benito County is comprehensively updating its existing General Plan to meet the changing housing, environmental, economic, and growth needs of the county and to incorporate the community’s vision for the future into a new General Plan. Sections of the existing General Plan were prepared at different times between 1980 and 1994. This will be the first time the County has comprehensively updated the entire plan.

The update will serve several important purposes for the community:
• Provide a description of current conditions in the county to identify and assess trends impacting the county;
• Provide information to the public on San Benito County and opportunities for meaningful participation in the planning and decision making process;
• Identify planning issues, opportunities, and challenges;
• Ensure the General Plan is current and internally consistent;
• Develop new policies and programs to address re-source conservation, economic development, and recreational opportunities;
• Create a systematic and integrated framework for implementation;
• Improve coordination with cities in the county, and other local, regional, State, and Federal agencies and organizations;
• Incorporate contemporary concepts and best practices into County policy; and
• Provide guidance for County departments and decision makers in the planning and evaluation of future decisions.

Advisory Committee
As part of the update process, the Board of Supervisors appointed a 15 member General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) to:
• Guide the Board and Commission in understanding community preferences for policies that need to be considered in the new, comprehensively updated General Plan;
• Examine the County’s land use, circulation, housing, open space, conservation, noise, safety, economic development, sustainability, and agriculture needs;
• Make recommendations to the Board and Commissions; and
• Assist the County in publicizing and encouraging public comment and involvement in the update process.

Public Outreach
From January 2007 to February 2008, the County conducted a community outreach and analysis process,
which included stakeholder interviews, community workshops, and a community survey. The purpose was to identify the themes that would be the focus of the General Plan Update. The overarching themes identified include:
• Balancing growth and agricultural preservation
• Protecting natural resources
• Maintaining a place‐based identity
• Increasing economic opportunities
• Repairing and expanding infrastructure

Draft 2035 Vision and Guiding Principles
The 2035 Vision and Guiding Principles report summarizes the vision statement for San Benito County and the guiding principles necessary to achieve that vision.

The vision statement is a summary of the general goals to be achieved by the updated General Plan. The vision provides the foundation for more specific guiding principles, goals, policies, and programs to be developed later during the update process. The visioning process is valuable in identifying issues important to the community and in providing early direction for alternatives development and analysis.

Draft 2035 Vision for San Benito County
At pace with the changing world, but still rural in nature, our vision of San Benito County in 2035 is of a
positive and prosperous future, in which balance has been attained between business and residential
growth without surrendering our rich natural resources, valuable agricultural assets, active country
character, or our historic heritage.

Walkable neighborhoods, parks and public lands, business districts, and job centers are linked to one
another by a sensibly‐sized, well‐maintained transportation network, suitable for foot, bicycle, auto,
bus, or sometimes horse. Connection to distant destinations is readily available by auto, bus, train, or
plane, or “virtually” by way of enhanced telecommunications.

Downtowns are not taken for granted. Established local businesses, not just the buildings they inhabit,
are understood to be important foundations to thriving prosperous downtowns. To ensure continued
relevance of the downtowns, infill development containing compatible enterprises is supported.
Visitors find ample retail and dining prospects, welcoming accommodations, and unmatched outdoor
recreational opportunities.

The county continues to widen the spectrum of business and industry, enhanced educational
opportunities, and broadened leisure time activities available for a population that is diverse in age,
culture, education, and lifestyle. People are afforded the facilities needed for healthy lives.

Environmentally‐sustainable technologies are embraced, and businesses of any size are encouraged to
put down roots here, hire local talent, and grow in the rich soil, clean water, beautiful climate, and rural
atmosphere of San Benito County.
San Benito County General Plan Advisory Committee
September 22, 2009

Guiding Principles
The guiding principles are fundamental ideas that represent the County’s philosophy about land use, change, economic development, and sustainability. Guiding principles are written early in the General Plan Update process so that they can be used to guide the development of land use and policy alternatives. Similar to the vision, the guiding principles will be used to help evaluate existing and proposed goals, polices, and programs developed during the General Plan Update. Guiding principles were developed for the following: Land Use and Community Character, Agriculture, Housing, Economic Growth and Prosperity, Transportation and Infrastructure, Natural Resource Protection, Health and Sustainability.

Guiding principles are purposefully broadly stated in order to guide the County throughout development of the updated General Plan. All future general plan goals, policies, and implementation programs will need to be consistent with the vision and guiding principles.
For example, the guiding principles for Land Use and Community Character include:

• Direct new growth towards cities, compact villages, or clustered developments in order to
preserve prime farmland, rangeland, protect natural habitats, and reduce the financial, social,
and environmental impacts of urban sprawl.

• Ensure that compact villages include a mix of residential, commercial, employment, park, open
space, school, and public land uses in order to create a sense of place by supporting condensed,
pedestrian accessible, and transit‐oriented development.

• Promote higher residential densities in existing urban areas and new compact villages while
encouraging mixed‐use development and downtown revitalization.

• Ensure new development complements and preserves the unique character and beauty of San
Benito County.

• Establish defined boundaries to separate cities and compact villages from prime agricultural
land and important natural resources, using such features as agriculture buffers, greenbelts,
open space, and parks.
And the guiding principles for Agriculture include:
• Ensure that agriculture and agriculture‐related industries remain a major economic sector by
protecting productive agriculture lands and industries, promoting new and profitable
agricultural sectors, and supporting new technologies that increase the efficiency and
productivity of commodity farming.

• Encourage agriculture that is locally‐owned, profitable, and attracts related businesses.
General Plan Alternatives
The General Plan alternatives were developed based on population and jobs forecast for the region and San Benito County. In 2008 the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) prepared a regional population and employment forecast called the Monterey Bay Area 2008 Regional Forecast (Forecast). The Forecast projects a countywide increase of 32,300 people and 4,320 jobs between 2010 and 2035. On June 23, 2009, the Board of Supervisors directed County staff and the Consultants to use the AMBAG population projections as the estimate for 2035 population growth. Each of the three alternatives presented in the alternatives report are based on the Forecast estimates for population growth. However, Alternatives B and C include more job growth than the Forecast in order to maintain close to a one to one jobs‐to‐housing ratio countywide. Please visit AMBAG’s website (www.ambag.org) to view and download the Monterey Bay Area 2008 Regional Forecast.

The alternatives presented in the Alternatives Report (December 16, 2010) represent different policy options for San Benito County. While these alternatives do not necessarily establish allowed land uses, they do indicate where certain types of development would or would not be allowed in the future. Alternative A represents the Base Case Scenario for the county. This alternative was developed by County staff and the Consultants based on existing County and City policies. This alternative also used the AMBAG Forecast (discussed earlier) to determine the amount and location of future population and employment growth. General Plan alternatives B and C represent different scenarios for how the county can change in 2035. While the AMBAG Forecast was used as a starting point for developing alternatives B and C, the location of growth (unincorporated vs. cities) was adjusted in Alternatives B and C to reflect different policy objectives.

The alternatives presented in this report are all focused on the northern part of the county for two reasons. First, it is anticipated that the majority of the policy decisions related to future change (growth, preservation) will be focused in the Hollister and San Juan Valleys (68% of the county population lives in Hollister and San Juan). Second, it is anticipated that there will not be major changes to the central and southern parts of the county. While additional farms, homes, and other uses will be established in these parts of the county, it is not anticipated that any significant urban development will occur in these areas. This is because these areas contain significant constraints to development, such as lack of water and infrastructure, high fire hazards, steep slopes, and remoteness. When drafted, the updated General Plan will include land uses, goals, policies, and programs for the entire unincorporated county. However, for this stage of the update process, the County is focusing primarily on the Hollister and San Juan Valleys.

Major themes shown in the alternatives are based on input received from community workshops, the
San Benito County General Plan Update, Background Report, the 2035 Vision and Guiding Principles, and the Opportunities and Challenges Report. In addition, the boundaries where future change could occur were developed based on GPAC and Board of Supervisors input, and County staff and Consultants observations. A community workshop was held in January 2011 to gain public input on the General Plan Alternatives in order to move forward with development of the Draft 2035 General Plan.

2035 General Plan
The 2035 Draft General Plan (including the Draft General Plan diagram) and supporting documents are available for review on the County of San Benito’s web site under General Plan Update. The comment period for the Draft General Plan and the Draft General Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is open until 5pm May 14th 2013. Only written comments on the General Plan EIR will receive an official response. Additionally, a public meeting to ask questions and make comments concerning the Draft General Plan and EIR will be held on April 10th at 6pm in the Board of Supervisors Chambers located at Fourth and West streets in Hollister. It is suggested that any comments you may have regarding these documents, especially the EIR, be submitted in writing. Again, only written comments on the EIR will receive an official response.

To update an earlier message sent March 20, a notice will be printed in the March 29, 2013, on the availability of the San Benito County 2035 General Plan Update Draft Program Environmental Impact Report (DPEIR). Included in the notice is the County’s extension of the DPEIR public comment period, with submittal of written public comment on the DPEIR now to be accepted by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at latest.

As a reminder, a public meeting to receive public comment on the DPEIR will take place on April 10, 2013, at 6 p.m. at the County Board of Supervisors chambers, 481 Fourth Street, Hollister. Subsequent review by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will take place at later dates and allow further opportunities for public involvement.

For inquiries or to make comments, contact:
Michael P. Kelly • Associate Planner
San Benito County Planning & Building • 2301 Technology Pkwy • Hollister, CA 95023-2513
mkelly@cosb.us • 831•637•5313 voice • 831•637•5334 fax
cosb.us/government/building-planning • sanbenitogpu.com

mprisco