Tonight’s General Plan workshop didn’t produce a ton of news, though an official with the city’s Municipal Utilities Department did say the city is investigating a “cash for grass” program in which homeowners are compensated for removing water-guzzling turf from their yards.
Tony Tovar didn’t sound too optimistic about the idea, which has proven effective in Southern California during the drought.
He said it “might not be cost effective.”
“We’re going to start small,” he said.
Still, it sounds like something might be in the works.
As for the rest of the workshop, about 60 people attended this latest session, which focused on the city’s environmental needs. Local advocacy groups explained their positions at various tables and booths, followed by a panel discussion.
The majority of those who sat on the panel represented environmentalist, slow-growth or alternative transportation stakeholder groups. No developers participated; John Beckman, with the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley, attended the meeting but told me that he wasn’t asked to speak.
The gist of what folks had to say:
• Tovar shared Stockton’s water conservation efforts this summer, including what he described as 15 percent, 14 percent and 8 percent savings in June, July and August, respectively, compared to the same months last year. He did not offer any theories as to why the city’s success tapered off substantially toward the end of the summer. “We have a strict and very aggressive water conservation program,” he said. Most of Tovar’s comments pertained not so much to the development of the city’s new general plan, but rather how Stockton will weather the drought.
• Kari McNickle, representing the San Joaquin Bike Coalition, talked about how even small lifestyle changes could help improve the city in years to come. She talked about the cost of driving a car, and the cost of the Valley’s enormous air-pollution problem ($12 a year on your DMV registration, and that’s just the beginning). She said the city can add amenities that will make it easier for people to make the decision to choose alternative transportation, and invited the public to “rediscover” their bicycles. “Come play ‘bikes’ with us,” she said. “Rediscover that childhood sense of wonder.”
• Eric Parfrey, with the Sierra Club, might not have had any developers to do battle with during Thursday’s discussion, but he managed some fiery rhetoric. He talked about “sustainability” as a buzzword. But the truth, according to Parfrey, is that Stockton grew “promiscuously” in the past. “We’ve simply sprawled out into prime farmland. We pollute the air, we pollute the water. We haven’t really done anything ‘sustainable,’” he said. The city cannot continue to sprawl and eat up farmland, and must do a better job planning for parks, trails and other open spaces, he said. Parfrey called for development of existing properties within the city’s footprint. “We have some wonderful neighborhoods in this town and we have to start revitalizing them,” he said, adding the city should ditch its “obsession” with large houses being built miles from downtown.
• San Joaquin County’s rivers were the focus of environmentalist Jeremy Terhune’s remarks. Two of the county’s four rivers, the San Joaquin and the Calaveras, run right through the middle of Stockton. “Frankly it’s appalling how we’ve treated these rivers,” Terhune said, from the proximity with which houses were built, to the levees “shaved” of all vegetation, to the frequent fish kills that happen almost every fall. The Calaveras should be a gem but instead looks “God-awful,” he said. “We just need to change our attitude,” Terhune said. “We’re the only waterfront in the Valley. Good God, let’s do something with that, please.”
• Hayden Logan III, with Stockton-based energy retrofit company Greener Solutions, talked about the importance of energy conservation (i.e., turning the lights off when you’re not using them) as opposed to energy generation (putting in solar panels, etc.), and said it was important to educate the public. Indeed, conservation seemed to be the common thread in all of the panelists remarks, he said. “Whatever we’ve done in the past, good bad or ugly, we have to look for changes because it didn’t work,” Logan said.
More general plan meetings will likely be held after the holidays, city officials said.