North County city updating general plan
The city of Santa Maria is in the midst of receiving community input for updating its general plan, with virtual online meetings marking the next step in the long process.
State law mandates that localities’ general plans be periodically updated, and Santa Maria’s changing circumstances demand this update happen now, according to Mark van de Kamp, public information for the City Manager’s Office.
The process of updating Santa Maria’s general plan has thus far consisted of stakeholder meetings and a survey that has received more than 600 responses from Santa Maria community members. The survey asked the public questions on topics from environmental conditions to jobs. It has concluded, but there may be more surveys in the future, according to general plan update project manager Dana Eady.
The next step in the update process is digital workshops to receive community feedback. The first will be at 6:30 p.m.on Nov. 11, and the other will be a Spanish speaking-only meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 3.
A city’s general plan serves as a blueprint for the kind of development it will experience over a few decades. The updated plan will guide Santa Maria’s growth through the year 2040. Mr. van de Kamp told the News-Press that now is the right time to update the general plan because Santa Maria’s approximately 108,000-person population is projected to climb to around 130,000 or 140,000 in the next 15 or 20 years.
Accommodating this growth would demand utilizing available land within the city or, if need be, annexing land outside of the city limits. Mr. van de Kamp remarked that the city has not yet identified any parcels of land for annexation.
However, according to a summary of 17 stakeholder interviews consulting firm Raimi + Associates did for the general plan update, land the city would consider for annexation is especially on the eastern portion, where there isn’t any prime farmland.
Other findings in the summary show that aspects of Santa Maria the stakeholders hope to preserve include the area’s natural resources, young population, and “small town feel.”
Opportunities for change in the city that the summary lists include transforming its Broadway corridor into a walkable and bikeable thoroughfare, establishing “Old Downtown” as a gathering place, increasing entertainment and dining options to increase tourism, and diversifying the economy by attracting high-skilled jobs and providing job training opportunities to residents.
Despite the many opportunities for change the stakeholder summary lists, it also lays out several barriers to making those changes happen with an updated general plan. Those include educated youth leaving the city because they don’t think there’s long-term opportunity, the perception of Santa Maria as merely a “one industry town” dedicated to agriculture, the high cost of adding infrastructure to annexed land, and Caltrans’ jurisdictional authority over Broadway and Main Street.
According to Ms. Eady, the updated general plan for Santa Maria is expected to go before the Santa Maria City Council in the winter of 2023.