Stick with the plan

As we describe in a story in this issue (”Plan hits a pothole"), Butte County’s new general plan is coming under criticism these days, though not because of what it says—it hasn’t been written yet—but because of the way it’s being created.

That’s because the team of planners and consultants working on it have taken the tack of first finding out where development is likely or possible or, in some cases, desired by particular landowners, rather than first deciding on an overarching vision for the future.

In a series of 19 meetings countywide, the team has listened to people talking about their cities or their neighborhoods or the land they own, and included them in the process. The result is the designation of 43 “study areas” for possible future development, comprising about 118,000 acres.

However, only 10,000 to 20,000 acres of buildable land will be needed to accommodate the 100,000 additional people projected to live in the county by 2030. Obviously, only a few of the study areas will become actual growth areas.

Still, the process has critics nervous, including members of the county Planning Commission, who seem hesitant to endorse it. They worry that developers are getting a foot in the door before the county knows what it’s doing. They ask, how can we decide on these study areas if we have no idea of what kind of growth we want?

They’re being unnecessarily impatient. The process calls, in its next series of countywide workshops, for the 43 study areas to be analyzed closely in terms of the constraints—wetlands or wildfire risk, for example—that might make them wrong for development. Simultaneously, the general-plan team will be responsible for coming up with a set of policies—a vision, if you will—to guide future development decisions.

This may seem backwards to some, but we don’t see a problem with it. For one thing, the process does have a set of 13 guiding principles that, while necessarily broad, do commit it to such values as protecting natural resources, the environment and farm land. And we’re confident that a vision for growth—or perhaps several visions—will emerge during the next series of workshops.

If the process is to be slowed down, it should be so that the Citizens Advisory Committee has more time to do its work of developing a vision for the county. Otherwise, though, we see no compelling reason why the process shouldn’t move forward as designed.