Under a staff proposal that City Council will consider on Monday, the city could spend another $597,206 on consulting services for work on the city's land-use bible, the Comprehensive Plan.
If approved, this would raise the total that the city has spent on consultants for the Comprehensive Plan update to $1.7 million and kick off a two-year process involving extensive public engagement, a citizen "leadership group" and the creation of numerous planning alternatives for the city to explore. The plan would have a horizon of 2030.
If the council signs off on the contract with The Planning Center | DC&E, the city's upgraded Comprehensive Plan would be approved some time around December 2015.
The upgrade of the bulky and wide-ranging document, which includes chapters on everything from land use and transportation to business and the natural environment, is one of the key components of "Our Palo Alto," the city's recently launched strategy for engaging with the community about changes that the city is undergoing. In recent months, as the city kicked off this effort, council members have taken several actions to address residents' concerns about parking shortages and traffic increases, including eliminating parking exemptions for new developments and suspending the "planned community" zoning process, which allows developers to barter public benefits for zoning exemptions.
In discussing the need for an updated Comprehensive Plan, staff pointed to the rapid growth that the city has been experiencing in recent years as the economy rebounded, and the anxieties borne out of this growth. In light of voters' rejection last November of the controversial Maybell Avenue housing development,
the city agreed it needs to do more to encourage public participation in the planning process. A new report from City Manager James Keene notes that the revised Comprehensive Plan approach would include more public engagement and "a more robust analysis of alternatives than originally anticipated."
The current Comprehensive Plan covers the years 1998 and 2010. Council members first proposed updating it in 2006 and agreed to keep the changes relatively modest. They also proposed new "concept area plans" for the changing areas around California Avenue and near East Meadow Circle. Starting in 2008, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and consultants have held public hearings on both the broader document and the two plans, which have largely been completed. The commission has been working ever since on revising each chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.
Under staff's new approach, the commission's recommended changes would become the starting point for a series of meetings and online forums during which other alternatives could also be proposed and data about development, traffic and parking would be provided. The city would then spend much of the year creating an Environmental Impact Report that evaluates the various planning scenarios and selects a preferred alternative.
"The ultimate goal of the process and the justification for the substantial investment of time and resources involved would be to adopt an updated Comprehensive Plan that expresses the community's collective vision for the future of our City," Keene's report states. "Once complete, the updated plan would play a lasting role in guiding wise decision-making to preserve what is treasured about Palo Alto and to meet the challenges we face between now and the suggested plan horizon year of 2030."