In a marathon January 18 meeting that lasted almost five hours, Redding’s City Council again discussed proposed changes to the Downtown Specific Plan. City staff says the last update to the plan, in 2018, has led to a “tremendous resurgence” in Redding’s downtown development and the revitalization of the city’s core. But proposed changes also pit advantages to developers against the desires of some current residents of Redding’s Garden Tract, some of whom worry about the cumulative impact of multiple projects under consideration in a closely connected area of downtown.
On Tuesday night, what might have been a quick open-and-shut hearing process was extended after a series of remarks from Council member Mark Mezzano. In preparation for the zoning decision, Mezzano said, he’d met with members of both the Planning Commission and the city’s Planning Department and spent three days walking the Garden Tract area and talking to community members about the potential impacts of the zoning update.
That update calls for a new pre-application process for developers and a less rigorous review process for some kinds of development. It also includes an expansion of the area of downtown covered under the specific plan to include the Butte Street corridor that edges the Garden Tract and lies just across the freeway from the Redding Civic Auditorium grounds.
On Tuesday night, citing concerns about traffic patterns and the number of residents aware of the pending decision, Mezzano told his fellow council members more information was still needed to make the best decision for the community. “I want to see the city grow,” he said, “but I want to see it grow responsibly.”
Mezzano also took issue with the city’s use of a twenty-year-old environmental approval document for the project. The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, regulates planning changes such as this one. The city is relying on a CEQA document from the original 2001 Downtown Specific Plan because proposed zoning changes will not create any significant new environmental concerns, City Senior Planning Manager Lily Toy told the Council in response to Mezzano’s concerns.
But Mezzano called the decision to use the old CEQA document “legal, but not morally or ethically responsible,” saying factors downtown that affect environmental quality, such as traffic patterns and size and number of schools, have changed significantly since 2001.
In response, Toy, who presented the project to the Council, spoke at length about CEQA processes, including a review of what might constitute a “project” under CEQA legal definitions and whether current updates would pose “significant” or “substantial” impacts to the environment.
Environmental review done in 2001, Toy said, indicated that the Downtown Specific Plan did constitute a project under CEQA but that the impacts on the environment were limited, allowing for what is called a “negative declaration” of environmental impact. That decision was reviewed in both the 2010 and 2018 updates to the plan, she said, as well as this one, but updates thus far have not had substantial enough impact on the environment to require any new environmental review documents to be prepared.
But at least one resident of the Garden Tract wanted to know more about the cumulative environmental impacts of multiple projects being considered within a connected area of downtown. Those projects include the expansion of the boundaries of the Downtown Specific Plan, proposed riverfront development of the Civic Auditorium and Redding Rodeo grounds, and changes to the Park Marina Corridor area.
CEQA requires a study of the cumulative impacts of related projects or parts of projects. But, Toy said, neither the proposed riverfront development nor potential changes to the Park Marina corridor constitute what CEQA refers to as a “foreseeable project” and consideration of the impacts of such possible development would be the equivalent of “looking into a crystal ball.”
Only Council members Kristin Schreder and Julie Winter joined Mezzano for the downtown zoning discussion, after both Michael Dacquisto and Erin Resner recused themselves, saying they own property in the area under discussion. Those recusals echoed a series of similar ones at a Planning Commission meeting on the topic, where four out of seven of those commissioners also recused, leaving the group without a quorum and forcing a legal process that brought one conflicted member back to vote anyway.
Tuesday night’s extended discussion involved repeated questions from Council members about details of both the state environmental review process and the city’s development approval process. Those questions indicate the complexity of environmental and planning processes and the difficulty that both elected officials and private residents face in understanding and engaging with development.
Some residents frame the proposed updates as a battle between the aims of for-profit developers and the desires of local community members, one that could threaten the public’s voice. It’s a familiar complaint in Redding, where a proposal made by developers to buy and develop key parcels on Redding’s riverfront, met significant community opposition during the fall of 2021. The proposal to develop that land, which lies just across the freeway from parts of downtown affected by proposed zoning changes, is scheduled to return to the Council soon.
Concerns about what they see as the city’s prioritization of developers over residents is what has inspired Kathryn and Brooke McDonald, a mother and daughter who live in the Garden Tract, to organize neighborhood residents to oppose proposed zoning changes. Susan Murray, another resident of the Garden Tract, told the Council Tuesday that she has passed out more than 200 flyers in the neighborhood to let fellow residents know about the proposed changes.
One of their complaints is that not enough residents in the Garden Tract have received notices about proposed changes, although Toy said almost 600 notices have now been sent out to community members that could be affected by changes. Residents have previously complained that initial notices contained maps without street names and were nearly impossible to understand. In a previous conversation with Shasta Scout, Toy acknowledged that those first notices incorrectly omitted street names and that a second set of notices sent out to residents had corrected the mistake and included a brief explanation of proposed changes, not just the legal notification.
After about an hour of discussion and public comment, Council voted to direct staff to provide notices to additional residents in a larger area of downtown. They’ll also seek feedback from city staff on how traffic might be affected by proposed changes and will reconsider updates to the Downtown Specific Plan at their meeting on February 15.
Shasta Scout’s previous coverage of proposed downtown updates can be found here.
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