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California City Solutions: Innovative Community Involvement Plans Future of Mill Valley

August 14, 2015
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. The Mill Valley 2040 General Plan Update was submitted in 2014 for the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics, and Community Involvement award category.Mill-Valley-2040-logo.jpg

For the first time in more than two decades, the city of Mill Valley adopted a new comprehensive General Plan in October 2013, providing a vision and blueprint of ideas and goals. Establishing public trust was a critical part of the MV2040 General Plan update to ensure that the city’s decision makers to feel comfortable with newly updated goals, policies and programs. Community participation was also essential to the ultimate success of MV2040.
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The city’s last comprehensive General Plan update was in 1989, with the Housing Element adopted in 2003. Because of the time gap, the city had residents lacking knowledge of the purpose of a General Plan or how it could be used to develop a collective vision for the community to  guide future planning. Mill Valley leaders committed to creating a process that was available to a wider variety of residents and decided to implement a process that took into account the fact that a significant percentage of city residents are comfortable accessing information digitally and perhaps less interested in the traditional method of community meetings. The city wanted to include the adoption and certification of the Housing Element as part of the MV2040 General Plan process.
 
Transparency in the General Plan update process was a key goal and important when including the community for determining goals and policy decisions related to land use, transportation and housing.
 
A General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) and three General Plan Working Groups (Community Vitality, Natural Environment, and Land Use and Mobility) were established to take part in an 18-month, multi-phase community-based effort to update the General Plan. The phases were:Mill-Valley-input-from-school-student.jpg
  • Phase I: Community Values. The working groups were first tasked with updating community values and identifying common themes through the course of initial discussions related to existing conditions, trends and thinking about the future of Mill Valley.
  • Phase II: Goals, Policies and Programs. The working groups then transitioned to developing goals, policies and programs for GPAC’s review.
  • Phase III: Draft General Plan. GPAC reviewed the existing conditions and working group goals, policies and programs that were then folded into a Draft General Plan document. 
Comprised of more than 40 residents, the committees held over 50 community meetings between April 2012 and May 2013. The city used its website capabilities to distribute meeting materials and allow the review of documents. Meetings and hearings were webcast live and the video shown on the local government access channel.
 
Mill-Valley-mixer.jpgA virtual meeting space was established and attracted participants who may not have otherwise attended a traditional meeting. More than 235 residents registered and 160 comments were posted on the site.
 
From its inception, the goal of the General Plan Update was to keep the process manageable with a two-year timeframe, a budget of $450,000 and use existing staff resources, and to keep the final document simple and community-inspired.
 
The update process was conducted in-house with planning staff as the primary facilitators. The city’s goal was to build community trust in the effectiveness of the planning process and in planning staff’s ability to process local interests by listening and reflecting community thoughts into General Plan goals, policies and programs.
 
A Speaker Series of speakers including John King (San Francisco Chronicle), Peter Calthorpe (urban planner) and Ed Everett (civic engagement) kicked off the project to talk about big picture ideas. A short two-part workbook was also developed to deliver facts and trends to watch related to land use and economy, mobility, and health and safety.
 
The city conducted an old-fashioned walking tour to raise community awareness about housing density. Seeing well-designed multi-family developments that had been in Mill Valley for years, built at 20 to 30 units to the acre, helped show residents that the city could provide the housing needed and still keep the small town character.Mill-Valley-housing-map.jpg
 
The Housing Element also took a different approach in addressing regional housing need allocation numbers. Instead of selecting sites, a capacity analysis was conducted for the city. Through Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software, the city was able to identify all parcels that met specific criteria, rather than pin pointing or highlighting specific large or vacant parcels in the city. This approach helped communicate and illustrate that potential change and development could occur throughout the community within the existing, allowable land use, zoning and development guidelines.
 
The MV2040 General Plan was completed in 22 months, from city council authorization to adoption. Its creation relied on in-house staff with specialized consultant assistance, came in under budget, and brought together a variety of individual interests and stakeholder. It establishes a broad-based community vision to grow and nurture the arts and culture, civic engagement, a local serving economy and the natural environment. It is also a call to action for complete streets, health and welfare, sustainability, emergency preparedness and resilience, and housing opportunities for the local workforce, aging population and influx of young families with children.
 
MV2040 creates annual and five-year General Plan reviews to be tied to the Mill Valley City Council’s annual goal-setting and budget process. Most of the MV2040 General Plan maps are GIS-based and will also be available online to allow community members to identify items such as trails and paths, natural environment and hazards at a parcel-specific or city-wide perspective.


 
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