This story is part of Scout’s ongoing coverage of riverfront land development.

An update to Redding’s General Plan that guides land use and development has been in process for the last year although that process has not yet involved the public. Shasta Scout learned about the process through an email sent by Planning Commissioner Aaron Hatch to City Council members in September 2021, and received by public records request.

In that email, Hatch wrote strongly against moving forward to accept a proposed sale of key public riverfront land to private developers. Instead, he urged the Council to wait until an update to the city’s General Plan was completed to review the proposal, ensuring a stronger community voice in the process. 

Hatch is a financial planner who was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2021 by Council Member Erin Resner. He is married to Rachel Hatch, who is employed by the McConnell Foundation, part of the collaborative that has proposed buying and developing key riverfront parcels. He did not respond to a request for comment.

While relatively few city residents have weighed in on the potential sale, the majority of those who have submitted public comments oppose it.

What were Hatch’s objections to accepting the proposal to sell and develop riverfront land?

Writing as a Commissioner, Hatch told the Council it was not in the community’s best interest to allow private developers to plan for and develop riverfront  land that is currently owned and utilized by the public, saying such planning should instead be a “City staff and citizen-led effort not facilitated by entities who have a potential financial interest in the property.”

Noting already-in-process updates to the city’s General Plan, Hatch suggested selling riverfront land now would “short-shrift” community involvement in long-term planning and risk violating the public’s trust. 

Asked to provide a response to Hatch’s concerns about the riverfront land sale, City Manager Barry Tippin told Shasta Scout, “Commissioner Hatch is entitled to his thoughts and opinions, I respect them and I have no other comment.”

What’s a “General Plan” and Why Does it Matter?

Like all cities across California, Redding has an overarching city planning document known as the General Plan, which City Manager Barry Tippin says can be thought of as a high level blueprint for community development. City documents call the General Plan a “constitution” for Redding’s land use because it determines where new development will be allowed to happen and where natural space will be conserved. 

Urban Focus Area from 2020 General Plan

Much of the plan is a series of “growth goals” that set large-scale vision and policy for how the city will develop, along with specifications for policies that will ensure those goals are reached. It also includes a series of focus areas within the city, and guidelines for how each of those areas will be developed.

Both zoning ordinances and the General Plan set policies for how city land may be developed, but they differ in their scope. The General Plan is long-term and identifies the general types of development that can occur, as well as the general pattern of future development. Zoning is more specific, regulating lot sizes, building setbacks and allowable uses. Development must meet both General Plan policies and the zoning ordinance requirements to be legally allowed.

Redding’s General Plan was last updated in 2000 and was designed to guide Redding’s planning for 20 years. California recommends that cities update their General Plans about every fifteen years, but there is no mandatory timeline for completion of the update.

Who’s in Charge of Updating Redding’s General Plan?

Vishnu Krishnan started his job as a Senior Planning Manager with the city of Redding in April 2021. Hired to conduct the General Plan update, Krishnan says he took six months to familiarize himself with the city’s current General Plan and planning needs before officially starting the update process last November. 

The Redding Planning Commission, on which Hatch serves, is the steering committee for the General Plan update. They’re also responsible for investigating and making recommendations to the City Council on amending the General Plan and providing annual reports on the status and implementation of the General Plan. 

In August 2021, Krishnan presented an informational report on the update process for the General Plan to the Planning Commission, which took no action at that time. The Commission has not yet otherwise interacted with or approved any aspect of the General Plan update, including the process by which community engagement will be facilitated or who will be included as stakeholders in the planning process. More than 50 stakeholders have been selected by the city to engage with the city on how various sections of the General Plan could best be updated.

According to Tippin, the involvement of Planning Commissioners in the General Plan update process is up to each individual commissioner. In general, the Planning Commission currently appears to take a reactive role in city planning, only responding to specific development needs placed on their agenda by city staff. In 2021, the Planning Commission canceled 18 out of its 24 scheduled meetings due to lack of agenda items.

The Commission may soon become busier when they’re called upon to review draft sections for the General Plan update as they’re completed by city staff, under the supervision of interim Director of Development Jeremy Pagan. The Planning Commission vote on proposed updates will provide a recommendation to the City Council, which will approve any updates to the General Plan. 

None of the city’s Planning Commissioners responded to a request for comment on their role in the General Plan update process. 

Which Aspect of the General Plan Update is Currently in Process?

City Planning staff is currently focused on the Community Development and Design element of the plan which addresses land use, urban design, and historic preservation. Because land use determines many other aspects of community development, this foundational element will set the stage for other aspects of the General Plan update, including recreation and transportation. 

Since November, city staff have met biweekly with twelve community stakeholders in private meetings to collaborate on proposing updates to this section of the plan. The last of those seven meetings finished this week and a draft of proposed updates to this section of the Plan will go to the Planning Commission soon, Krishnan said. 

Who are the Stakeholders who are Providing Community Input into this Aspect of the Plan and how were they Chosen?

Tippin, who said the stakeholders for the General Plan update were chosen by the city’s previous Director of Development, explained that he doesn’t have complete information on how they were chosen. Krishnan, who told Shasta Scout that Tippin approved those stakeholders, says the community picked “subject matter experts” who have worked with the city over time and who have the interest and dedication to contribute the significant time needed for the project.

Stakeholders for the community development and design aspect of the plan update include six developers, architects, and engineers; a retired planning commissioner; a Shasta College faculty member;  a member of the Shasta Historical Society; a staff member at Shasta Living Streets; and a staff member from the McConnell Foundation. 

California’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) indicates that stakeholders must be representative of the broad community and should represent its diversity.

State guidance from OPR regarding community development stakeholders

How are Updates to the Plan Likely to Change How Redding Plans for Land Use?

State guidance from OPR regarding conservation and open space.

The city updates will align with current California OPR planning priorities, Krishnan says. Those include promoting infill, or filling in spaces between or around existing buildings and on vacant lots within developed parts of the city.

State guidance from OPR indicating planning priorities.

The city is also prioritizing planning that protects environmental resources as well as finding ways to increase community “circulation” through biking and walking. Krishnan says staff are also hoping to address ways the community can better utilize the Sacramento river.

Planning will reflect more Native considerations in the update too, he says, including preserving Indigenous cultural history and “artifacts.” While no Native community members currently serve as stakeholders in the city’s General Plan update process, Krishnan says the city is reaching out for additional tribal consultation as required by state law.

Will General Plan Updates Impact the Potential Sale and Development of Key Riverfront Parcels? 

The General Plan does not address specific sites such as the Redding Civic Auditorium Grounds or the Redding Rodeo Grounds, Krishnan says. Instead, it provides more general policies, including what kinds of development could occur at Redding’s riverfront. Changes to the plan are not expected to have any impact on the potential sale and development of key riverfront parcels, Krishnan says, but could affect how land is developed in the future.

Read the full letter from Planning Commissioner Aaron Hatch to the Redding City Council here.

Read the city’s full list of stakeholders for the General Plan update here.

Read our full coverage of proposed Redding riverfront development here

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