Monday Q&A: Guiding a shift to Stanislaus County regional planning

gstapley@modbee.comMay 5, 2013 

    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government

— Ever get tired of traffic?

Know anyone who has trouble breathing?

Do you wish the valley had more job options?

Experts say there is a link between causes of these everyday headaches, and they toss into the mix housing, bicycles and buses, potholes and food, as well. The common thread is planning, an effort often done in isolation.

A new move toward regional planning is afoot, and Jaylen French is its guide. He is an associate planner with the Stanislaus Council of Governments, which has expanded its traditional charge for transportation planning to include other disciplines affecting our lives.

Q: In a nutshell, what is Valley Vision Stanislaus?

A: Valley Vision Stanislaus will be a regional planning document that better matches future job and housing development with transportation improvements. The plan will consider where jobs and housing will be located to improve investments in roads, sidewalks, public transit, bike trails and other ways people and goods move around for the next 28 years, so that we can maximize each dollar.

Q: What are the main goals?

A: To reduce traffic congestion, improve mobility for people and goods, improve air quality and provide more housing and transportation choices. The goal of StanCOG is to ensure we receive dedicated transportation funding for the region.

Q: What kind of feedback are you getting?

A: We have made nearly 20 presentations to elected officials and community groups in every city in the county, as well as in unincorporated areas. In addition, we have conducted online surveys taken by hundreds of residents.

Some themes have been broadly supported — desire to maintain the unique character of Stanislaus County and to preserve farmland. Also, the majority support more compact growth than in the past. Though some are concerned about so-called stack-and-pack housing that would be out of character for our communities.

Feedback has varied slightly by city but is mostly consistent. There is a strong desire to maintain existing roadways and to reduce congestion because these affect people's daily lives, but we have learned that the need and desire for more travel choices is greater than perceived. This plan will attempt to balance the immediate concerns of today while planning for the needs of tomorrow.

Q: Have people said things that surprise you?

A: I was surprised by support for more compact growth, which we heard in nearly every meeting, but for a variety of reasons. For some people, it came from a desire to preserve farmland and open space. Others, such as seniors and students, simply want to make it easier to get around, so they like the idea of jobs, shopping and recreation closer together. This is something that planners generally encourage, but I did not know what to expect from the public.

Some expressed concerns about regional planning as they believe it could usurp local control, but this is not the case. The real intent of the plan is to examine changing needs of the region and plan accordingly.

Q: Would you say people are more concerned with the land-use component or transportation? How about air quality?

A: Actually, I would say the biggest concern we've heard is economic. People want to know how this plan may help or hurt an already struggling economy. Our goal is to develop a transportation plan that supports economic growth by making it easier to move people and goods.

After that, the land-use component typically draws the most concern. Some are worried that the plan will attempt to force lifestyle changes. This is not the intent. The plan seeks to provide more housing and transportation choices while reducing congestion, improving mobility and improving air quality, things we all can support.

Q: How do people react to concepts of living more compactly and giving up driving alone?

A: These two concepts elicit more concern than, say, filling potholes and new transit routes. However, the plan does not call for everyone to live more compactly or to give up driving alone.

Really, it comes down to having choices. A growing number want options for smaller homes as they cost less and are easier to maintain. With rising gas prices, some would prefer other transportation options. In the end, the plan seeks to provide a variety of options for people to meet their individual needs and improve quality of life.

Q: Next steps?

A: We are now reviewing all of the comments we have received from the visioning process and are using that input to start the development of the plan.

Then we will prepare four scenarios, which are basically packages of land-use and transportation policies that we can measure against each other to determine which will best meet our goals. Once the scenarios are complete, we will hold a set of meetings to gather input from the public on the preferred scenario, which will be the basis of the final plan. We anticipate the next round of meetings in June and July with the selection of the preferred scenario in late summer.

Q: How can people engage in this effort?

A: Through our project website: We post all of the information about the process and opportunities for public input. There is also a comment section where people can share concerns or ideas.

Another good source is the Valley Vision Stanislaus Steering Committee, which is composed of planners from each city and the county, and representatives from other groups linked to transportation. This committee meets once a month and makes decisions that help craft the plan. The public is welcome to attend. Committee agendas and minutes can be found at:

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or (209) 578-2390.

The Monday Q&A introduces Bee readers to members of the community who make a significant contribution to the public good but rarely make an appearance in regular Bee coverage. If you know of someone who might make a good subject for Q&A, email the name and contact information to Bee local news editor Deke Farrow at

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