Game planning for the future

By Reggie Ellis

The second round of game planning for Tulare County's future took place on Wednesday, March 24 at the Lindsay Veterans Memorial Building.

Bruce Race, a planning workshop consultant hired by the county to gather public input, opened the meeting by splitting the attendees into three groups of six and then having each group empty the contents of a manila folder. Inside were a pair of child-safe scissors, permanent markers, glue sticks and three sheets of game pieces. The game pieces came in several colors and sizes - red circles marked "Commercial Centers;" blue squares marked "Industrial." There were also squares representing different population densities such as "Agriculture Residential," about 640 people per square mile living in ranchettes; "Low Density," about 2,500 people per square mile living in single family homes; "Medium Density," about 4,500 people per square mile living in townhouses and small lot single family homes; and "High Density," about 6,500 people per square mile living in apartments and mixed use residential/commercial areas.

"At the first meeting we identified problems, assets and resources," Race said. "Now I want you to use the game pieces to show me where we will put the growth in the next 20 years."

Race said Tulare County is estimated to grow by about 165,000 people by 2025, which will require about 28 square miles of urban development. He said of Tulare County's 4,300 square miles 48 percent is land used for agriculture and only about 1.6 percent of the land is urbanized with Visalia being the largest city covering 23 square miles.

However, the San Joaquin Valley is rapidly changing, experiencing the greatest urbanization of ag land in the state and possibly in the nation. While ag currently provides about 60 percent of the county's jobs, Race said durable goods and manufacturing jobs will have to increase by 19 percent to employ the additional residents.

The game was to choose where future urban development would take place, diversify the economy, deal with social issues such as high poverty and drug use and low education, all while promoting a healthy environment.

What looked like gearing up for a game of Risk where those with vested interests would jockey to dominate the landscape and take no prisoners actually became a game of Monopoly, where compromise and tradeoffs were made during civil discussions. As groups strategically placed their pieces on the map of Tulare County, farmers, miners, businesswomen and teachers worked together to try and create a county where everyone was a winner.

Team 1 focused on infill housing using high and medium density neighborhoods to limit urban expansion beyond current city limits. They focused urban growth along transportation corridors and spread industry and commercial centers out to be accessible for local workers to cut down on traffic. They diversified the ag economy by adding ag related business and supported a local four-year university and a trade school.

Team 2 used high density residential focused in and around hospitals and downtowns, much of which could be upscale senior housing. They also used infill and concentric growth to limit urban sprawl, but spread the growth more evenly in many of the unincorporated areas with poor farm soil, such as Terra Bella and Pixley. They also suggested more growth in the foothills which would take the pressure off the developing prime ag land on the Valley floor. Team 2 decided that a four-year university was also necessary because there is no economic growth without good education. Finally, they lined Highway 99 with industrial centers similar to Goshen which would develop infrastructure in cities that needed it such as Traver, Earlimart, Pixley and Tipton.

Team 3's focus was preserving ag land and limiting urban sprawl in the major cities. They increased density within the current boundaries of major cities but did not develop unincorporated areas that lacked the necessary water and infrastructure resources to support future growth. Industry and commercial centers were balanced throughout the county but Team 3 decided economic growth would primarily come from small businesses. Having a four-year university and more vocational education would allow residents to get higher paying jobs that required skilled labor or services with the idea that if people have better jobs a lot of social problems will take care of themselves.

The process began with eight public workshops in November 2003 in the cities of Lindsay, Visalia, Goshen, Orosi, Springville, and Tipton. The second round began this month with meetings in Orosi on March 22, Pixley on March 23 and Lindsay on March 24. In addition, a joint workshop on issues and opportunities was held with the Tulare County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, and a workshop was conducted with the Tulare County Agricultural Advisory Commission.

Round three of the public input hearing process for the county's General Plan will begin in a few weeks. Keith Woodcock, Planning Division Manager with the Tulare County Resource Management Agency, said he will be "taking his show on the road" to anyone who would like to listen. He said any community service groups, high school civics classes, senior citizen groups or large employers that would like a presentation on the General Plan to gather public input can contact him at 733-6291 ext. 4201. He can also be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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