San Carlos' vision for smart growth

Last summer, the city of San Carlos, Calif., faced a dilemma. Key propertiesdowntown were being considered for redevelopment — projects that could dramatically change the area.

In some cases, property owners were proposing the changes, while inother cases, changes were originating from government agencies such as thelocal transit district and the city itself. At the same time, small businessowners, the school district, the city and some residents were wrestlingwith how to balance the growth of jobs in Silicon Valley with an adequatesupply of workforce housing.

Rather than bring these proposed developments and issues to the CityCouncil and Planning Commission one by one, the Community Development andPlanning Department staff developed a program called Visioning DowntownSan Carlos.

The idea was to develop a series of presentations by experts in thefields of economics, traffic engineering, urban planning and housing todescribe the current state of downtown and the different options that mayface San Carlos in the future. These presentations would be made to localbusinesses and residents in a series of monthly community meetings at theSan Carlos Library.

The staff also envisioned bringing technology into the process. WithWeb-based 3-D models, residents could "walk through" downtown as it currentlyexists and as it might look in the future if the proposed redevelopmentsat six sites occurred. The city's Web site would host Web presentationswith an overview of material before meetings and would include the 3-D modelof downtown, project minutes, agendas, background information and reports.The city's Redevelopment Agency would pay for the site.

In June, the city council approved the contracts to carry out the VisioningDowntown San Carlos project and hired an urban planning firm to act as thelead consultant and to develop a set of urban design guidelines.

The community workshops began in August. Each month, 125 to 175 residentsand business owners showed up for evening meetings at the library. The meetingsfeatured presentations by the experts, a look at the potential developments,the 3-D model seen from 18 key intersections and an opportunity for attendeesto offer feedback.

Feedback forms were provided at the meetings and on the city's Web site,to give people who did not attend a chance to contribute.

The result of the Visioning Downtown San Carlos process was a draftset of design guidelines to be presented to the City Council and PlanningCommission. Because a substantial amount of information was presented andhundreds of residents were involved, the community has supported most ofthe recommendations.

Residents were more involved than ever in a process critical to thefuture development of downtown.

Property owners and developers sat in on the community meetings, listenedto reactions to their development concepts and then revised their proposalsto get further comment from the public — long before submitting their projects— which created a positive outcome for everyone involved.

Mixing citizen participation and experts in the fields of planning,economics, housing and traffic engineering with technology brought smartgrowth to San Carlos.

From the comments we've heard from our residents and other cities, it'ssomething we expect to see more of in the future. In San Carlos, we stronglybelieve that a process like Visioning Downtown San Carlos is the way tomake community development and smart growth a reality.

Moura is assistant city manager for San Carlos, Calif.

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