A City, If You Can Keep It: Housing element follow up

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A Winters Express op-ed columnWhether you agree or disagree with Measure A, it is now law in Winters. It passed with 2,424 votes which is not only 73.21 percent of the Winters residents who voted in the November election, it is also approximately 60 percent of the registered voters in town. The voters made their desires clear.

On June 22, the Draft Housing Element was formally presented to the Planning Commission. This was the first opportunity for the public to directly provide feedback. I had a concern and a question: Concern over the small sample size of the survey and a question about why is there no mention of Measure A?

As I’ve written before, the sample size of the survey is too small to achieve statistical significance. The consultant responded to my concern by saying the survey is used to round out the data and isn’t a statistical tool.

This is problematic because we’re inserting bad data to round out good data (or what we assume is good data). Doing so is like fixing a hole in your fender with Bondo — it will “fix” the hole but it is not the same quality. The survey results do not represent the issues or views in town with any reasonable certainty, and filling gaps with data you know to not be accurate is just wrong. That aside, the consultant’s response sends the message that community input isn’t important for this document, but it should be.

The housing survey has the potential to be a valuable tool to find out how the people want infill handled. The survey is well-designed if not a little tedious and long (as evident by the low percentage of people who finished it).

I think the city should re-open the survey, start from scratch, publicize it the same way, and work with the folks who organized Keep Winters Winters (KWW), as well as any other community groups with large email lists, to leverage their contact lists and get a statistically-relevant response. To not use this chance to gather feedback on growth would be a huge missed opportunity.

I also asked why Measure A wasn’t mentioned in the housing element. The consultant left it out because the housing element doesn’t address the area Measure A affects. Since this is an eight year document and the first change to our growth plan since Measure A passed, excluding Measure A from the plan seems short- sighted. Will we not cross Moody Slough in the next 8 to 10 years?

Measure A will surely be significant in shaping the future growth of Winters, and it passed with 73.21 percent approval. While the housing element may only specifically address infill parcels south of Moody Slough, if new developments have roads that may cross the north area boundary (as the proposed Farmstead overlay appears to) then we should be planning ahead for how that will connect. A skeleton of arterial thoroughfares if you will. Suddenly elements of Measure A are needed. A holistic approach to growth needs to be taken.

Even if Measure A’s inclusion is unnecessary for the housing element, we need to start thinking about it and including it in our planning process. It is the law now and it is easier to incorporate Measure A in our planning documents from the start rather than shoe horn it in later when there is no longer a choice. Prudent proper planning prevents poor performance.

Overall, it seemed the Draft Housing Element document that we have is more representative of the consultant checking the box for completion and legal compliance than of a document representing the people and elected representatives of Winters.

By happenstance, I had the opportunity to chat with two people with planning experience for cities in California last week. They both confirmed that the housing element is largely boiler plate, which explains my impression that this was a check-the-box exercise for the consultant. But, that does not mean the housing element cannot be valuable in a practical way.

Keep Winters Winters, and, by extension Measure A, were a product of people in town feeling that they did not have a voice in the growth planning process. Redoing the housing element survey is a prime opportunity for the city to get citizen input on how infill should be handled with a measure of statistical certainty that it represents the views of everyone. This is an easy chance for the city to show that they heard the concerns of the people, and assuage them.

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