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City of Vista – Land Use & Community Design Program to Address Climate Change

Case Story

Climate Action Connection: Land Use & Community Design

Land use planning that directs future growth into higher density communities with easy access to public transit, reduces the need for automobiles and thus vehicle miles travelled and accompanying greenhouse gas emissions. 

Community:Vista (San Diego County)

Population: 95,000


Vista is updating its existing downtown specific plan to allow for much higher residential densities than envisioned in the original 1993 plan.

Program Highlights

  • Bedroom community promotes increased residential densities and mix use around three transit stations.
  • Updated downtown specific plan emphasizes higher residential densities, higher quality commercial uses, and better pedestrian and bicycle connections.

Lessons Learned

  • Do a greenhouse gas inventory and write a climate action plan prior to undertaking a general plan update.
  • Get the word out to the entire community, including all ethnic and economic groups, when promoting public meetings to discuss increasing land use densities.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

Vista is a long-established bedroom community in San Diego County. Over several years, the city has worked to upgrade its downtown area. An existing downtown specific plan adopted in 1993 emphasizes commercial over residential development.

Vista is currently updating the downtown specific plan to accommodate higher density residential uses within the specific plan areas, which include three separate rail stations. The revised specific plan will specify four-story buildings (unless approval is requested for more), and a minimum of 40 units to the acre (unless higher density approval is requested). Any building higher than four stories will have to be compatible with those in the rest of downtown. The updated downtown specific plan will also emphasize higher residential densities near rail stations.

Recently Approved Projects

Although approval of the updated downtown specific plan is in process, the city has approved two mixed-use projects within the past year under the old downtown specific plan. The first, called Vista Village Plaza, is an 83,000 square foot mixed-use building with retail, office and 30 townhomes on ¾ acre. This project will achieve the city’s proposed increased density level of 40 residential units per acre.

The second, called the Santa Fe Station for its proximity to a rail station, includes a four story building on 1.29 acres with 24,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 80 residential units on the remaining floors, for an overall density level of 62 units per acre. The city envisions six additional similar projects once the Downtown Specific Plan is updated and the economy improves.

Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Climate Planning

In conjunction with 10 other San Diego cities, Vista is conducting a community wide greenhouse gas inventory, to be completed in late 2009. It will subsequently prepare a climate action plan, to be incorporated into its upcoming general plan update.

Compiled May 2009

This case story was prepared in partnership with the California Air Resources Board.

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