How was the Springs Specific Plan area boundary developed?
The Springs Specific Plan area boundary is based on the Rural Community Investment Area (RCIA) boundary approved by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) in July 2012. The RCIA boundary was developed by the County based on specific criteria (see below).
The only modification to the Springs Specific Plan area boundary occurred in July 2015, when Permit Sonoma requested from ABAG a minor expansion of the boundary to include a small area to the north of Verano Avenue and Maxwell Farms Regional Parks (the “Splash” area).
What is a Rural Community Investment Area (RCIA)?
RCIAs were formally established in 2012 as counterparts to Priority Development Areas (PDAs). RCIAs were conceived of in consultation with local jurisdictions as opportunities to address the specific needs of different parts of the region while supporting a larger regional growth pattern that helps achieve environmental, economic, and equity goals.Rural Community Investment Areas are centers and corridors of economic and community activity surrounded by agricultural, resource, or protected conservation lands.
These districts present an opportunity to preserve a rural character and scale while integrating a range of housing types, local retail, and cultural and civic activities. In some cases, these elements are already in place, while in others additional planning and investment can help create a more complete community.
In addition to a diversity of land uses and an inviting public realm, strong pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between the area and surrounding neighborhoods are key components of RCIAs. These areas are not intended for large amounts of housing or job growth, but serve to complement Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs) by accommodating much of the (limited) new economic activity and development anticipated in rural areas, reducing development pressure on the greenbelt.
The key designation criteria for RCIAs include:
- Location: The area is a focal point of a community’s social, economic and civic activity, not contiguous with other urban communities, and within the existing urban footprint and an established urban growth boundary (or comparable policy protected area).
- Size: The area is between 20-160 gross acres.
- Land Use: The area contains or is being planned for a mix of local-serving commercial, cultural, civic, and some low-density residential uses.
- Connectivity: The area is being planned for connectivity and complete streets improvements, such as pedestrian and bicycle improvements and increased transit service.
What is a Priority Development Area (PDA) and Priority Conservation Area (PCA)?
PDAs are locally-identified, infill development opportunity areas within existing communities where there is local commitment to developing more housing along with amenities and services to meet the day-to-day needs of residents in a pedestrian-friendly environment served by transit. PCAs are areas of regional significance where there is urgent need and broad community support for protection.
In 2007, four regional agencies (Association of Bay Area Governments [ABAG], the Metropolitan Transportation Commission [MTC], the Bay Area Quality Management District, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission) launched the FOCUS Program, a regional incentive-based development and conservation strategy that promotes a more compact land use pattern for the Bay Area. FOCUS links land use and transportation by encouraging the development of complete communities and promotes conservation of the region’s most significant resource lands through PDAs and PCAs.
Why isn’t the Springs Specific Plan area boundary the same as the Springs Redevelopment Project/Plan boundary?
Although they sound similar, the Springs Specific Plan and the Springs Redevelopment Project/Plan are two completely separate projects/plans. While the boundaries share some common area, they are not identical, nor do they need to be.
The Springs Specific Plan Market and Feasibility Analysis describes the Springs Specific Plan area as extending one block east and west of Highway 12. Why doesn’t the Springs Specific Plan area boundary reflect this?
The exact quote from the Springs Specific Plan Market and Feasibility Analysis regarding the geographic context of the Springs Specific Plan area is as follows: “Defined by the County, the Specific Plan Area generally follows Highway 12 between Verano (to the south) and Agua Caliente Road (to the north). The Specific Plan Area typically only extends one block to the east and west of Highway 12,” (bold added for emphasis; New Economics & Advisory 2016:2).
Unfortunately, this report does not actually contain a map of the Springs Specific Plan area boundary, and is limited to the in-text description quoted above, which is not exactly precise. However, this report used the same Springs Specific Plan area boundary for the analysis, including those areas in the boundary that go beyond one block east and west of Highway 12.
What is the County’s obligation for notification regarding the Springs Specific Plan?
The County is required to notify the community in advance of postings of agendas for meetings of legislative bodies, including public hearings and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) actions. All actions related to the Springs Specific Plan have been lawfully noticed.
The Specific Plan is at a mid-point in process and the bulk of the legal noticing and community input opportunities will occur once a draft Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) is available for review. Feedback from the community is an integral part of the planning process and the County has provided additional outreach beyond what is legally required (for a list of outreach methods, see below).
The Springs Specific Plan has been driven by the community and we will continue to ask for input. We invite you to get involved now. A formal public notice will be provided when the DEIR is released.
What are the outreach methods?
The County has relied on multiple mediums for outreach.
These include a number of press releases:
- December 22 2015, Forming a Community Advisory Team
- January 23, 2016, Community Advisory Team selected
- February 9, 2016, Announcement of First Community Meeting
- May 9, 2016, Announcement of Second Community Meeting
- June 22, 2016, Announcement of Third Community Meeting
- February 24, 2017, Announcement of Community Open House (Fourth Meeting)
Additionally, at least 14 news articles covered the Springs Specific Plan:
Community Advisory Team (CAT) Meetings
Six CAT meetings have been held:
- February 1, 2016
- July 25, 2016
- March 13, 2017
- June 18, 2018
- August 13, 2018
- September 24, 2018
Information Tables at Festivals
Staff set up information tables at the Cinco De Mayo Festival at El Verano Elementary School on May 6, 2016 and at the Springs Festival in Larson Park on September 10, 2016.
Online and in person surveys were held from June 20 to August 16, 2016; hard copies of the surveys were available at the La Michoacana ice cream shop and La Luz. Additional online/hard copy surveys were available from March 10 to March 31, 2017; hard copies were made available at La Michoacana, La Luz, and the Community Resource Center at El Verano Elementary. Springs Alliance meetings were attended on January 14, 2016, and later on August 16, 2018.
Over 1,000 bilingual flyers were distributed in May 2016 to Flowery Elementary, El Verano Elementary, and Sonoma Charter School. Flyers were also posted at area schools and businesses.
Why weren’t Community Advisory Team (CAT) meetings publicly noticed?
The CAT meetings are not subject to the Brown Act, as they are advisory meetings, not legislative. These meetings are posted on the Permit Sonoma website and the meetings are public for anyone to attend.
There was a robust application process for selecting the CAT; and a call for applicants was put out through a press release on December 22, 2015. The CAT was formed to help shape the Springs Specific Plan (the “Plan”) by providing input, offering community insight, and serving as a liaison to area residents, businesses and organizations. The CAT is considered advisory to the planning process, and was meant to reinforce the feedback received at the various community meetings and workshops.
During the Fourth Community Meeting (Workshop 4), the three land use and circulation alternatives were introduced, and participants were invited to vote for their preferred alternative. What was the significance of this vote?
The vote on the different alternatives was intended as an exercise to create a foundation or starting point for the draft Plan. It was not intended to be the basis for the final alternative selection.
Although the Moderate Growth Alternative was the most popular during this vote, the Community Housing and Mixed Use Alternative came in second, with many participants voting somewhere between these two alternatives.
The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) will include a range of alternatives which provides flexibility during the decision making process on the Specific Plan.
Why did the Community Housing and Mixed Use Alternative change from what was presented during the Fourth Community Meeting and what was presented to the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Committee in August 2018?
The Community Housing and Mixed Use Alternative always proposed a higher-density zoning relative to the other alternatives. The draft Springs Specific Plan was modified as it was reviewed by various groups (the Technical Advisory Committee, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, the Community Advisory Team [CAT], and the Citizens Advisory Commission). It was further adjusted and improved in response to public/property owner and agency input.
Other modifications may still be considered based on the results of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). During the visioning workshops, the community identified workforce and affordable housing as a major priority for the area. This priority was used as a guiding principle for the Plan. Since the Springs is largely built-out, it will be many years, if not decades, before new housing opportunities are created on currently developed parcels.
Who has the authority to up-zone a parcel? Is there a County process to up-zone a parcel? What is the difference between up-zoning and spot zoning?
Up-zone is not an official term, but it generally refers to rezoning for a more intensive use. Spot zoning is again is not an official term, but refers to when a small area of land is zoned differently from that of neighboring property. For example, a park or school might be “spot-zoned” to be allowed in a strictly residential area. The County has the authority to re-zone parcels. However, it is a lengthy process, often requiring a General Plan Amendment, possibly a Specific Plan Amendment, and Board of Supervisors approval.
The re-zoning needs to be consistent with the General Plan and any Area or Specific Plans. The re-zoning may also be subject to CEQA and require an environmental document to be produced detailing potential effects on the environment. The Springs Specific Plan will also go through this process.
I am concerned about safety, specifically about fires, traffic, parking and pedestrian access. How does the Springs Specific Plan evaluate safety?
The DEIR evaluates many subjects, including public services, traffic, and utilities. These three subjects are the most directly related to safety. For example, in the traffic and transportation section, the DEIR will be analyzing emergency access, specifically whether or not there is adequate emergency access. It will also analyze Level of Service (LOS) and parking. The public services section highlights the regulatory setting, including Fire Codes and Guidelines, and evaluates fire and police protection services.
The DEIR will address wildfires. The utilities section will review items like whether there is enough water pressure for fire hydrants and firefighting actions. The DEIR is currently being drafted, and so more information on these subjects is not yet available. However, the County’s primary concern is the safety and health of our residents. One of the goals of the Springs Specific Plan is to encourage and improve multimodal options, including bicyclist and pedestrian access and safety, while providing adequate parking for the area.
I would like to request a draft of the DEIR when it is completed. How will the County notice me?
The County is obligated to notice for a DEIR. The County will send postcards out to all addresses within the Springs Specific Plan, and to all addresses within 1,000 feet of the Springs Specific Plan boundary. The County will also place an ad in a local newspaper, post posters around the Springs Specific Plan area, and send an e-mail out to everyone currently on the Springs Specific Plan mailing list.
The DEIR will be available online, and hard copies will be available at public facilities like the local library.
How was I to know that my neighborhood was in the Springs Specific Plan area boundary?
Please refer to the previous question regarding the County’s outreach efforts. Maps of the Springs Specific Plan area boundary were provided at all four community meetings, at the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, at the CAT meetings, at the project scoping meeting, and on the project website. The Sonoma Index Tribune also published a map with their article on March 3, 2016.
If you just became aware of the Springs Specific Plan project, please note that there are still multiple opportunities to review and provide input, including the forthcoming release of the Draft EIR and Draft SSP. While comments are welcomed at any time, there will be two opportunities to attend Planning Commission meetings and at least one opportunity to attend a Board of Supervisors meeting to share your thoughts and submit written comments.