Merced County Times Newspaper
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Atwater leaders move forward with General Plan update

Atwater is gaining momentum in the development of its long-awaited General Plan update.

At the City Council’s last meeting, leaders approved the hiring of a firm to manage a bulk of the plan’s development. Atwater’s last such planning resource was completed in 2000, and with the lifespan limited to 15-20 years, the city was at risk of litigation as well as loss of state funding. 
A general plan, required under California state law, functions as a long-term planning document for the development and mission of a city. The state requires that it address land use, circulation (transportation and infrastructure including sewer, water, drainage, utilities), housing, conservation, open space, noise, and safety.

While the state does provide a list of components that are mandatory for inclusion, how the document itself is structured is at the city’s discretion. Due to the extensive nature of a general plan, the Atwater City Council has approved De Novo Planning Group to aid in the process. The council has been saving money in anticipation of the expenditure for three years.

De Novo Planning Group, based out of El Dorado Hills, is a land use and environmental planning firm that has experience in the development of general plans for multiple California cities. They were selected from a pool of proposals based on their experience in the Central Valley as well as their understanding of the city’s goals moving forward.

“General plans are really where cities get to chart their own future, have a lot of self-determination,” said Ben Richie, one of the founding principals and owners of De Novo Planning Group, who was present at the meeting. “So our job is to really help you navigate through this process.”

Mayor Mike Nelson and Richie both emphasized during the meeting that development of the new plan is not a closed process.

“We have our pockets of low-income and disadvantaged communities, and I’m afraid that over the years they have not been invited to the table, and I want to make sure that they are invited to the table.” said Nelson. “Whether they choose to participate is on them, but they at least need the invitation made to feel welcome.”

“We have a whole lot of platforms and opportunities for participation to try to find the right avenue that works for different groups,” Richie said.

He described a “robust scope of work” in the days ahead, and gave an estimate of three years to complete the plan. While there are still many details left to be determined about how the process will unfold, it is now underway.

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