Sacramento County’s official plans for Arden Arcade are something of a jumble. The foundation is the Community Plan adopted 38 (!) years ago. That 1980 plan was “updated” in 2006 with the adoption of a Community Action Plan as an Appendix to the 1980 document. Both are, frankly, laughable. They speak to the preservation of neighborhoods, improvement of transit, biking and walking, reduction of commercial blight and engagement of citizens in planning decisions. Anyone with eyeballs can readily see that the nicey-nice goals, objectives and statements in those old, official plans for our area have been routinely ignored and trampled upon by the decisions of the County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors over lo these many years. But, wait! There’s more!
You see, the plans for our portion of the unincorporated area (the UnCity) are but part of the County’s General Plan, something required by state law. The County’s General Plan was adopted in 2011 and has since been expanded by the addition of other chapters in the General Plan. One such chapter is the Economic Development Element, adopted in 2017. It essentially says the County will let the market do what ever it wants to do, with some lip service about “balancing” economic development with everything else. There is also the Environmental Justice Element, adopted in 2017 in response to a new state law mandating attention to disadvantaged communities (like ours). The state also requires local general plans to be internally consistent from element to element and requires the plan’s implementing ordinances (e.g. the zoning ordinance) to be consistent with the General Plan. Fortunately for Sacramento County, there is no enforcement of those state-level requirements. Unless ultra-rich people with money to burn decide to sue the County for failing to even come close to what state planning law intends, the County can more or less do whatever it wants to. OK, so what?
Is there maybe a gem or two within the mish-mash of adopted plans that can help lead us out of the mess we are in? Perhaps “mixed use” offers a way forward. Mixed use is a land use planning term that refers to the blending of different land uses within a given development site — such as stores on the street level with apartments or condos above. This blog has written about a few mixed use projects that have succeeded elsewhere. Aside from the County’s track record, there is no reason why they would not be successful here. Lo and behold, the County actually has a General Plan implementation policy that specifically ENCOURAGES mixed use. Right there in the Housing Element, adopted in 2013, is a policy (HE 1, Sub-Strategy HE 1.1 A2) that says:
"The County will continue to encourage LC and SC properties to be developed with multifamily housing or a mix of multifamily housing and commercial uses so that at least 25 percent of LC and SC zoned acreage that develop between 2013 and 2021 have multifamily units."Sacramento County Housing Element of 2013-2021, page 3-4 (LC means "Limited Commercial" and SC means "Shopping Center")
In 2016 the County approved the Howe ‘bout Arden commercial project. In the CPAC meetings that lead to the approval of the shopping center’s redevelopment, the developer was asked if mixed use residences had been considered and told the community “there’s no market for that.” Similarly, the developer of the Arden Creek Town Center project steadfastly insisted that only commercial uses would work at Arden and Watt. Of course, there are abundant examples in other places where mixed use development not only works, but has been essential to project success (see photos). Mixed use can also be thought of as something to include in a very large-scale development. Right now Arden Arcade is confronted with two white elephant commercial centers at El Camino and Watt — the struggling Country Club Plaza site and the the recently abandoned-by-Walmart Country Club Center site. Together, or even individually, those properties are large, well-located and begging for something new. They could be developed as big-scale-downtown sites that blend residences, offices and stores as has been done in Rancho Cordova, El Dorado Hills and elsewhere. As always, though, the key is vision, something that has been lacking for Arden Arcade.