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Council kicks off process for creating new General Plan

SAN MARCOS — City Council has begun creating a new General Plan, which one member referred to as “our constitution or Bible or whatever you want to call it” for city planning and development.

At its July 23 meeting, City Council announced the formation of a General Plan Advisory Committee and introduced the members. Council members also shared their visions of what a city plan for the next decade could look like, conveying what they might consider in their deliberations in the months ahead.

A General Plan is a document guiding all city decision-making, with all approved projects and legislation abiding by its regulatory language. A city General Plan includes everything from land use codes and distinctions, plans for parks and trails, funding mechanisms and its vision for law enforcement and firefighting capacity, transit mechanism and roads and more.

“To me, what makes this document so important is that every decision that we make follows what a General Plan says,” Councilman Jay Petrek, who also works as the Escondido assistant city manager, said. “When we adopt our budget, when we adopt our city master plans, when we adopt the zoning ordinance, when we adopt service contracts our Sheriff’s Department, it’s all based on what the General Plan says and what our vision is for the community.”

The 13 members of the Advisory Committee range from the real estate industry, academia at California State University-San Marcos and Palomar College, policy wonks in the water and public parks orbit and others. Also included is Mike Strong, Escondido’s assistant director of planning.

Mayor Rebecca Jones thanked the Advisory Committee members for their time commitment and public service, noting that it will mean many nights away from their families for meetings and planning sessions in the next couple of years.

“This is what makes San Marcos so remarkable. It’s really the people who are willing to step up every time and serve our city and we really appreciate that,” Jones said. “We’re expecting big things from you. I know I speak for the whole council when I say thank you very much.”

City Manager Jack Griffin said the city has aimed to create a new General Plan every decade. The last General Plan for San Marcos passed in 2012. The goal, he said, is to ensure the city has a legal framework to keep up with changing times and trends.

“We think a 10-year update of the General Plan is a pretty reasonable and a well-respected planning principle,” Griffin said. “It’s not so soon that it becomes almost a constant planning effort, but it’s not so far that you’re out behind changes in the economy, or changes with what’s going on in the development world or public safety or any of those sorts of things.”

Griffin added that San Marcos is currently at about 70% capacity for developing housing, and by the next General Plan cycle, it may approach a “maintenance” phase in which it relies on different models for economic growth and revenue generation to fund essential city services.

In laying out what she would like to see in the next General Plan, Petrek, Councilwoman Sharon Jenkins and Councilman Randy Walton all agreed on the principle of changing the city’s zoning map to include more mixed-use development, as opposed to strictly commercial or strictly residential zoning codes.

In making his case for more mixed-use development, Walton emphasized the young demographics in the city and its two higher education institutions, calling San Marcos an ever-burgeoning “college town destination city.” He said that he believes San Marcos sits at a “crossroads” in its development due to the rising levels of housing costs and lack of “housing that is more likely to be affordable,” a definition he said was legally distinct from “affordable housing.”

“There are no easy answers to the housing situation we find ourselves in,” Walton said. “And we all agree that San Marcos needs to do its part to be part of the solution.”

As one potential solution, Walton called for the permitting of more higher density homes, which he described as looking like “urban-style villages or neighborhoods that apply smart growth principles,” such as walkability, location near transit centers and other major roads, restaurants and shopping centers. Place them there, Walton said, and the projects will likely face less public resistance.

Jones said that the city should also consider beefing up the “light industrial” zoning distinction in its next General Plan as a way to bring more jobs into San Marcos. She said about 77% to 78% of the city’s residents leave during the day for jobs elsewhere, which she called a “tragedy.”

“We can’t just send everyone outside of the city to work,” Jones said. “If we don’t have the opportunity to well-rounded housing, then we’re sending people to Temecula, Murrieta, Wildomar, which is a real problem for me because we’re creating more traffic. We want them to live here and we want them to be able to have their roots here.”

But she also said it is important for San Marcos to maintain its “character” as a “fairly large city” which “still has parts of it that makes it feel like a small town.”

In closing, Jones said she was hungry on a hot and humid day. And so, piggybacking off of the Walton “crossroads” metaphor, the mayor compared the city to a sundae.

“I would say we have this amazing sundae,” Jones said. “How do we put the cherry on top? Every decision that we make from here on out, it’s got to be intentional because we are going to become a maintenance city and that’s part of the conversation too that’s got to happen.”

The city, currently fielding Requests for Proposals (RFP) from contractors to facilitate the General Plan proposal creation process, aims to have a new General Plan in place by 2021. The RFP period ends on Aug. 29, with the Advisory Committee convening as a body to begin regularly scheduled meetings starting this fall. The City Council will award a contract with a firm to help it draft its General Plan by November.

Editor Note:

A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Jay Petrek as an assistant city planner.

A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Jack Griffin as Jack Griffith.

A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Jack Griffin as a city planner. 

The Coast News regrets the errors.