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City of Pacifica – Creating a Blueprint for a City

Case Story

Community: City of Pacifica (San Mateo County)
Population: 37,691


In September 2008, Pacifica launched its General Plan Update with the desire to stimulate the economy, engage the community, and set a vision for Pacifica for the next 25 years. Pacifica, a coastal city located south of San Francisco, is long and narrow, and is comprised of pocket neighborhoods. The city’s last General Plan was completed in 1980.

A significant challenge for the proposed planning process was to ensure the engagement of residents from each of the city’s geographically compartmentalized communities. City planning officials, with the assistance of the General Plan consultants, detailed and implemented an engagement plan to solicit input from each of these unique neighborhoods. While strategizing on methods to use in the facilitation of this plan it was clearly recognized that there was the need to utilize various tools for engagement to ensure the full range of community ideas and perspectives were  provided to staff so they could be incorporated into the new General Plan during the update process. 

Engagement strategies have included the development of a General Plan Outreach Committee, three community forums, and interviews with selected individual stakeholders and groups throughout the city, including appointed and elected officials. More than 350 individuals have participated in the public engagement phase of the General Plan update process. Utilizing such a variety of public engagement methods has allowed Pacifica to actively connect with a broad cross-section of the population. It’s possible that many of the participants in this process  may not have previously  engaged in similar processes due to strategies employed at that time with respect to specific project processes.

Program Highlights

  • The formation of the General Plan Outreach Committee (GPOC), a committee comprised of 27 community members, local business owners and commissioners; the goal was to have community members from the many different neighborhoods and business districts participating in GPOC to present the broadest representation of the Pacifica live/work population possible.
  • The City engaged multiple stakeholders by conducting a series of interviews. These were conducted by interviewing randomly selected leaders from community organizations, business owners, major landowners, City Council Members, city commissioners, school board members, and water district staff among others, which were conducted in a group setting to help trigger responses, and stimulate dialogue between participants and those conducting the interviews.
  • To solicit public input throughout the planning process, Pacifica facilitated three community forums at the beginning and middle stages of the General Plan Update process; Involving more than 350 residents, business owners and students at the forums; small group discussion and brainstorming sessions (10 people per group) held at each table led to larger group discussions on land use topics that concerned participants. Voting by way of electronic wireless handheld devices allowed for staff and the consultants to quantify, qualify and then define and detail the community’s priorities and major areas of focus via PowerPoint in real time during the first two forums.
  • The General Plan Update Project was in the final stages during the writing of this story. Future steps include reviewing the Administrative Draft of the General Plan as well as the Local Coastal Land Use Plan and the Administrative Draft Environmental Impact Report. The release of these documents for public review and comment will be followed by additional public engagement opportunities. The final result will be a plan that will reflect area specific and citywide priorities, and detail a vision that will shape Pacifica holistically for the next 25 to 30 years.

Lessons Learned

  • The City’s ability to tailor outreach and engagement opportunities to a variety of community members and groups helped to ensure the General Plan update process was relevant and easily understood by a wide cross-section of the community.
  • Transparency about the plan’s purpose and intent and planning efforts encouraged participation and trust in the planning process and allowed the City to limit the spread of unsubstantiated planning-related rumors.
  • It is helpful to use plain language to describe the General Plan, planning terms, and the overall General Plan update process, as well as when describing what the purpose of the process and General Plan is in relation to the community and the City.

Resources to Learn More

Pacifica General Plan Update Project: _plan_update_project/default.asp

The Rest of the Story…

A challenge for the proposed planning process was to ensure the engagement of residents from each of the city’s geographically compartmentalized neighborhoods. City planning officials designed an engagement plan to solicit input from each of these different neighborhoods, and utilized various methods of engagement to ensure the full range of community ideas and perspectives were incorporated into the new general plan during the update process. 

The project began with the formation of a General Plan Outreach Committee (GPOC), with representation from the various neighborhoods and business districts within the city.  The GPOC may continue to meet  once the Draft General Plan, Draft Local Coastal Land Use Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Report are released to ensure that the GPOC representatives have accurate, timely information to connect with their neighbors and neighborhood businesses and pass along updates, as well as important dates and deadlines associated with this ongoing process. The public is also kept informed of important dates and deadlines via the city maintained General Plan Update Project Webpage where this information may be located as well as circulated through periodic email.

Each of the three facilitated forums had a specific focus, as follows:

Forum #1:  To identify priorities among the community by asking what they like most about Pacifica and what they want to preserve, and about their main concerns and things they would like to see change.

Forum #2:  To review and comment on the results of the first public forum and the City’s development of responsive plan priorities and language.

Forum #3:  To review and comment on updated plan priorities, focus areas and related plan; prioritize areas of development opportunities.

In addition to providing opportunities for productive dialog, the forums were particularly helpful in correcting misinformation. For example, some property owners heard rumors that the City had taken action in order to develop projects on their privately owned property. The forums offered an opportunity in a group setting to clarify the purpose and intent of a General Plan document and associated plan updates as well as the importance of feedback and continuing input from community members and local business owners alike.  City planning staff assembled the public input from these different sources generated as a result of the forum discussions and through written comments submitted to staff in order to create a draft updated General Plan. The community will have additional opportunities to further review and refine the Draft General Plan once it is released for public comment.

As this article was written in January 2013, this update is now in the final stages, and next steps include staffs continuing review of the Administrative Draft General Plan, review of the Administrative Draft Local Coastal Land Use Plan, and the review of the Administrative Draft of the Environmental Impact Report. Once this review process concludes, these documents will be prepared for public review. The public will be informed via the public noticing process of the availability of the above mentioned drafts. The City typically utilizes multiple periodicals, email blasts, and US mail services including direct mailing to inform the public of the availability of these documents as part of the public noticing process. Staff regularly posts these notices at municipal buildings and local libraries as well. More information may be obtained online at regarding the status of the General Plan Update.

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