Our land

Like the rising floods ravaging parts of Texas and Louisiana, this week ended in a deluge of breaking news.

San Juan Bautista City Manager Roger Grimsley, who also doubled as the small town’s city engineer, abruptly resigned Tuesday during the city council meeting after a rising tide of public complaints over his handling of the 99-unit housing development currently under construction by Meritage Homes made his position at the city untenable. Neighbors to the Rancho Vista development accused the former city engineer of approving substantive amendments to a segment of the project’s design.

Over the years I’ve heard residents in different places voice their concerns and opinions over what to do with land in their communities within a system that seems designed to confuse, obfuscate and frustrate. During the San Juan City Council meeting, one of the neighbors impacted by the Rancho Vista development brought, at his own expense, an attorney to help relate his talking points.

With the change in staffing at city hall, the neighbor is heartened the city council appears to be listening, but worries there is little that can be done to change the trajectory of the housing development near his property.

Everyone can agree the region needs more housing and well-paying jobs. What people cannot agree on is the approach to residential and economic development. More housing leads to more traffic and an increased burden on schools and infrastructure, some argue, but where are people supposed to live? Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown attempted to spur multi-family residential development that included affordable housing by relaxing environmental review laws and allowing eligible projects to move forward by right if they conform to local general plan and zoning standards. The proposal was supported by smart-growth advocates, however it ran into opposition from local governments, unions and environmental groups and died.

So for now, we are stuck with the system we have. A development review process that can be too lengthy, expensive and cumbersome for innovative developers that want to build small or do something creative. A process that can only be navigated by large companies with deep pockets, an agenda and a legal team.

In this landscape, it is important that city leaders do all they can to make the process clear to the community, reach out to impacted residents and take the long view.

In San Juan Bautista it is not crazy for people to ask, “How can we build more housing when we cannot even drink the water some days?” In Hollister, it is not bonkers for people to ask, “How does putting offices that close at 5 or 6 p.m. on weekdays going to draw people to downtown?”

It is easy for people who have to commute hours each day to work to miss a planning commission meeting or public hearing. It is difficult for individuals to understand their rights when it comes to development happening in their community.

I hope elected officials make it easier for people to know what is going on and how they can contribute to the community dialogue, without having to bring an attorney.

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