Posted by: kbvale | February 12, 2009

Regional Blueprints in California

This past Tuesday, I attended a statewide summit on Regional Blueprints in California. Like most of us, when I hear “blueprint,” I think of construction. In particular, I think of a specific, comprehensive plan that is made to ensure that all people working on a project are moving in the same direction. Hence, when I heard that California was attempting to make Regional Blueprints for future development, I was excited about the potential such a plan would have to unite researchers, public officers, and community workers in their quest to improve California. As I learned at the summit held this week, the rest of the nation’s leaders are pretty excited to see what happens as well.

While the information provided by speakers and discussions were incredibly useful, in the end I was still left with some questions unanswered. Specifically, I heard little mention of incorporating existing plans and movements already occurring throughout the state, almost as if those involved assumed that these Blueprints would be a starting point when, in reality, development work in California was started long ago.  I have personal experience with several such efforts in the Central Valley, and thus the lack of focus on incorporating such groups raised major flags for me.  In order for the Blueprint to really revolutionize regional planning, I think more focus needs to be placed on incorporating ALL relevant groups in order to pool resources and avoid the duplication of work. Also, questions of information dissemination, funding, and access to resources were raised repeatedly in discussions, which are all issues that I feel would be easily overcome if Blueprint efforts were to focus on creating collaborative efforts among organizations and groups in the state. Each group has funding, resources, and knowledge that could be combined in effective ways towards achieving Blueprint goals, and I feel it would be unwise for Blueprint organizers to ignore those assets.  The Blueprint is a new and valuable effort, but there’s no need to waste time re-inventing the wheel.

SB 375, the new regional planning bill that passed State legislature a few months ago, was brought up several times as an encouraging ally in the quest to get people on board with their region’s Blueprints. While I wonder if the lack of regulatory measures in this bill will allow for cities and counties to continue planning as usual, one participant pointed out a distinct air of acceptance of regional planning in the state. In his words, “something seems different,” and many feel that the impending climate crisis and a more environmentally-minded state governor could be factors behind that sentiment. But, the Blueprint is intended to be a tool to plan for long term goals and needs, not a binding document, which leaves room to wonder what will actually result from these processes. As Henry Gardner said in his address, regional organizations have “no power to force anybody to do anything,” so it’s time to look beyond regulatory penalties to more diplomatic measures. This may be helped by some suggestions made in our group discussions, mainly around identifying success stories and conducting evaluations of Blueprint planning efforts, information which we can hope will inspire more people to get on board. I suppose only time will tell us how this will play out.

Several participants were concerned (and rightly so) about information sharing, to which I suggest a Blueprint website that could serve as a source to view regional Blueprints, as well as a resource to view involved organizations and information gathered. Providing information is key, as well as educating people about Blueprint goals in a manner that is able to be related to each resident effected. This could also provide a public forum for citizens to leave anonymous feedback, comments, or suggestions for Blueprint planners, which is obviously necessary when one takes into account the demographics of those who attend summits and conferences like the one this week.

Overall, I felt this summit was incredibly valuable for the information and participants it garnered. While I’m left with many questions and concerns about Regional Blueprints, it’s hard to not get excited about its potential to change planning and community action as we know it. On that note, I leave you with a quote from our Governor that particularly resonated with me (as a native of what I see as the much neglected Central Valley of California):

“As goes the San Joaquin Valley, so goes California… as goes California, so goes the nation.”

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