What is the West Downtown Specific Plan?
The West Downtown Specific Plan will be a community-driven plan that defines a vision for the area and develops a regulatory framework for future development and public improvements. The Specific Plan Area is generally bounded by the Walnut Creek BART station at the north, California Boulevard at the east, Olympic Boulevard at the south, and I-680 at the west. Approximately one-third of the Plan Area is currently developed with residential uses (houses, apartments, etc.), one-third with commercial uses (offices, stores, etc.), and one-third with civic/community uses (churches, the BART station, etc.). Click here for a map of the Plan Area
This important plan will focus on making it easier to walk and bike between the BART station and downtown; and plan for new homes and businesses between Olympic Boulevard and the BART station, while preserving the Almond-Shuey neighborhood.
What has happened so far?
The City assembled a 13-member Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to be a voice for residents, businesses, and community groups, and to provide feedback for this community-driven plan. The CAC held its first of ten meetings on June 12, 2012, with its last meeting held on June 5, 2014.
Also in June of 2012, the consultant team conducted a series of small group interviews with 27 "stakeholders" to solicit specific input on the proposed Specific Plan and the challenges and opportunities of the Plan Area. These stakeholders represented a broad cross-section of residents, business owners, land owners, service providers, developers, and community groups.
In July and August of 2012, City staff and the consultant team prepared a Plan Area Profile (1st edition - now superseded) (large file – 19mb) consisting of three main components: 1) an existing conditions report which analyzes a wide range of subject areas including land use, urban design, air quality, biology, cultural/historic resources, geology, greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous materials, noise, parking, public services (schools, police, fire, etc.), and utilities within the Plan Area; 2) an analysis of traffic and the existing transportation infrastructure within the Plan Area; and 3) a demographic and economic analysis of the Plan Area.
In August of 2012 the City hosted the first community workshop, which was attended by approximately 110 community members. City staff and the consultant team introduced the Specific Plan process, presented the some of the key findings from the Plan Area Profile, and facilitated a group exercise whereby those in attendance identified what they liked and didn't like about the Plan Area, what they would like to see change or stay the same in the future, and their key issues and desires for the Plan Area.
In September of 2012 the City was awarded additional grant funds to expand the Plan Area south from Mt. Diablo Boulevard to Olympic Boulevard, and in early October the City Council authorized this change to the Plan Area boundaries.
City staff and the consultant team updated the Plan Area Profile (expanded 2nd edition) (large file - 19mb), to include the expansion area, and held a special "catch-up" workshop in January of 2013 to give the community members of the expansion area an opportunity to provide feedback on the same subject areas that were covered in the first community workshop.
In February of 2013 the City hosted the second community workshop (third if you include the "catch-up" workshop mentioned above), which was attended by approximately 135 members of the community. City staff and the consultant team provided a summary of the input received at the previous community workshops, and facilitated a group exercise whereby tables of 8 to 10 people each indicated on poster-sized maps of the Plan Area where they would like to see things change, and what that change should be (land uses, transportation/circulation, neighborhood character, etc.).
In spring of 2013, the City published a guidebook for a Self-Guided Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Tour to provide examples what might be possible near the Walnut Creek BART station. This self-guided tour provided highlights from the Pleasant Hill BART station (unincorporated Contra Costa County), the Redwood City Caltrain station, the San Jose Caltrain station, the Colma BART station, and the 19th Street BART station in uptown Oakland. At each location community members could experience for themselves how homes, shops, and restaurants can be designed around walking, bicycling, and transit, while still respecting the surrounding existing neighborhoods.
In July of 2013, the City hosted the third community workshop, attended by approximately 145 community members, for the purpose of reviewing three "alternative scenarios" (large file - 18mb) that had been created out of the input received at the previous community workshops. These alternative scenarios represented three possible versions of a preliminary draft plan. City staff and the consultant team facilitated another group exercise at tables of 8 to 10 community members chose which of the three alternative scenario they thought was the best starting point for a “preferred scenario” and then added items that they liked from the remaining two alternative scenarios, or new ideas altogether, so as to create their table’s own preferred scenario. At their meeting a week later, the CAC considered the input received at the community workshop and provided initial direction to City staff and the consultants in order to create a preliminary rough draft of the preferred scenario.
Staff and the consultant then prepared the draft preferred scenario, which was then reviewed by the CAC at their August and October 2013 meetings. A major focal point for this review was the integration of transportation and land use (i.e. how the transportation network will interact with and respond to changes in land use / development). In relation to this key topic, staff and the consultant prepared a report analyzing the draft preferred scenario and its impact on traffic congestion through the year 2040.
After making the final revisions to the preferred scenario, study sessions were held with the City Council and the Planning, Design Review, and Transportation Commissions in November and December 2013 for the purpose of providing an update and check-in at this major milestone.
In 2014 work began with the more policy-related aspects of the Specific Plan. In February a fourth community workshop was held to discuss development standards (things such as how big and how tall buildings should be, how close/far they should be from sidewalks and property lines, how the Almond-Shuey neighborhood should be buffered, etc.), and how the streets should look and function (things like wide sidewalks, bike lanes or paths, on-street parking, trees, benches, gateway features, etc.).
The CAC held two meetings in March and April 2014 to discuss the topics covered in the February community workshop and to review the Draft Urban Design Guidelines and Streetscape Standards.
In May of 2014, staff and the consultants prepared an Affordable Housing and Anti-Displacement Strategy Report which provided background on existing housing stock and trends in West Downtown, as well as housing and displacement constraints and challenges that will be faced as the vision for West Downtown is realized over the next 20+ years. The report concludes with a menu of potential strategies that could be included in the West Downtown Specific Plan to facilitate affordable housing production and provide anti-displacement policies that are fair to both tenants and property owners when existing housing is redeveloped. A fifth and final community workshop (combined with the final CAC meeting) was held on June of 2014 to collect input on this topic.
The Draft Specific Plan and Environmental Impact Report (EIR), plus the related draft amendments to the General Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and Building Regulations were released for public review on November 19, 2014, and are now undergoing review by the City Council and the Planning Commission, Design Review Commission, Transportation Commission, Arts Commision, and Parks Recreation & Open Space (PROS) Commission.
What remains to be done?
Following the review by the City Council and Commissions, the final Draft Specific Plan and related documents (as revised) will be considered for adoption by the City Council. Final adoption is expected to occur between the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016.
Who is paying for the Specific Plan?
The preparation of the Specific Plan was made possible thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) through their Station Area & Land Use Planning Program. The City is also contributing $150,000 from its General Fund, $50,000 from its General Plan Fund, and staff time. Completion of this plan will give the community more certainty as to what the future will bring to the Plan Area, will make the City much more competitive in seeking additional grant funding to build new or upgraded infrastructure in the Plan Area, and will spur increased economic development by private land owners.
Who is working on the Specific Plan?
The Specific Plan is a community-led effort that will be based on input received through the community workshops and other public forums, and policy direction given by the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). The project manager is Andrew (Andy) Smith in the City's Community & Economic Development Department, Planning Division. As part of the grant program, the City is also partnering with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART).
Where can I get additional information?