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General Plan Advisory Committee holds first public meeting

SAN MARCOS — The city’s sounding board for the update process for its General Plan convened for its first public meeting on Jan. 17 at the San Marcos Civic Center.

Dubbed the General Plan Advisory Committee, the group consists of city stakeholders in the business, academic, education, parks and recreation, and water/infrastructure sectors. The GPAC will meet on a nearly monthly basis to discuss various sections of the General Plan, a document that serves as a guiding force for city-level policymaking processes

At the meeting, the GPAC introduced El Dorado, California-based De Novo Planning Group as the lead consultant and go-between for city staff and the committee. Ben Ritchie, a founding principal for De Novo, will work as lead staffer for the planning group.

Ritchie provided an overview of what the GPAC will do, as well as what it won’t do. The GPAC will be a forum for robust debate, but will also operate in the spirit of consensus, he said. And it will not do roll call votes, making it different from other bodies such as the Planning Commission and City Council, though its work-product will inform the votes of both of those legislative bodies.

“While you’re here, of course you’re representing your own opinions, but we hope that you’re always keeping the communitywide benefit in mind and that you’re talking to your colleagues, your friends, your neighbors,” said Ritchie. “Communicating the intent of the General Plan, gathering feedback and coming back and sharing that with the group, so that we get as broad a perspective of community perspective as possible.”

Ritchie also said that, generally speaking, cities that update their General Plan do so with a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. And the Existing Conditions Report for the city, which GPAC members will read and review, will serve as a launching point to make that particular determination.

“You have a General Plan now and it’s just about 10 years old, so relatively fresh as far as General Plan documents go,” he said. “And there’s going to be a lot of goals and policies and items in your existing General Plan that are likely serving you well and ought to be retained.”

Ritchie spelled out similar contours and more for the GPAC’s work in a nine-page memorandum, now published on the city of San Marcos website.

A major part of what GPAC will do is provide the city with input on its public outreach plan, lending insight for how the city to get as much community input as possible to inform the final document. Outreach, in turn, was a key part of the dialogue among GPAC members at the meeting.

Mike Strong, assistant planning director for the city of Escondido and a GPAC member, recommended robust outreach to underrepresented groups which may not be attending GPAC meetings on their own. That should include “churches, the community groups, the things that have a social fabric connection” to daily life in San Marcos.

“I see San Marcos as a community of families and so the family events are probably critical in terms of pop-up outreach,” said Strong. “Not necessarily pop-up outreach in terms of collecting input at those events but being a physical presence and spreading awareness and passing out flyers at those events.”

Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez, research director for National Latino Research Center at Cal State San Marcos and GPAC member, recommended a “trusted messengers” mode of outreach to Latino communities.

“For me, one of the main reasons I agreed to be on this group was because I am very interested to help facilitate outreach with the Spanish-speaking community, given that our city has over 30,000 Latinos, many who are predominantly Spanish-speaking families,” said Nuñez-Alvarez, sister of San Marcos City Councilwoman Maria Nuñez. “And also knowing that the best method of getting information into many of these communities that are typically considered hard to reach, so it’s definitely a community that is the least engaged and informed about civic events like this.”

She said a “trusted messenger” is an organization, individuals, respected community leaders “that are able to deliver information in a face-to-face format.”

Matt Simmons, vice president of field operations for the San Marcos-based real estate land use consultancy firm Consultants Collaborative, Inc., also voiced his ideas for reaching out to the business sector.

He said he thought getting the word out through the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce and having a presence at street fairs in the city would help boost the group’s presence and efforts. The State of the City, he added, would also be a good spot for GPAC to make itself known. The speech and event is a joint production of the city of San Marcos and the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce.

The GPAC process will end with a public review and commenting process. According to a preliminary timeline provided at the meeting, the group will begin meeting monthly for a four-month period on specific topical areas beginning in May. That will include issues such as public facilities and services, land use, economic development, and transportation and circulation.

The final General Plan is set to come out in the fall or winter of 2021.