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10 principles guide General Plan
Council eyes small town feel for Ceres future
Shepherd Westbrook
Leonard Shepherd shares his input on guiding principles that will help plan Ceres future until 2035 as Community Development Director Tom Westbrook listens on Monday evening. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

The Ceres City Council gave its input and - mostly blessings - to a draft Ceres General Plan vision statement and 10 principles that will guide the updating of the General Plan.

The city is not quite midway through the two-year process of updating the General Plan which was last adopted in 1997. By state law a city must have a General Plan and include seven elements: land use, open space, conservation, housing, circulation, noise and safety.

Assisting the city with the complex task is the firm of Dyett & Bhatia, at a cost of $938,912. Once adopted, the Ceres General Plan will set policies and directions of how Ceres will grow up to the year 2035.

Tom Westbrook, the city's Director of Community Development, said the update will "reflect new trends and evaluate the effectiveness of the existing general plan to set what policy direction we want for aesthetics, where we want to grow, utility infrastructure, etc."

Once the General Plan is completed, it will be the foundation for an update of the Zoning Code and the nexus study for Public Facility Fees.

The vision statement and guiding principles were written after community meetings and the joint City Council-Planning Commission workshop.

The draft vision statement is designed to explain how city leaders want Ceres to be by 2035. It reads: "In 2035, Ceres has a continued connection to its agricultural heritage, a balance of housing and retail choices, ample job opportunities, an attractive downtown, rich cultural and community events and an abundance of recreational opportunities. Ceres is a place where families want to raise their children and businesses want to locate and flourish. In Ceres, people enjoy a safe and healthy city with first-rate community amenities and a clean and sustainable environment."

One by one, the council reviewed the draft guiding principles, the first one being Guiding principle 1 - "Small town" neighborly character. "Knowing that "Together We Achieve," continues to cultivate a friendly, inclusive, and civically engaged community as the population grows and changes."

Councilmember Linda Ryno suggested that she likes the idea of a small town "feel," she didn't want the stigma that might follow Ceres desiring to be a small town.

"By stating that I'm afraid that any retailers that might want to come into Ceres would look at that and say ‘small town, is that where I want to locate?'," said Ryno.

The council wanted to strike the term "small town" from the principle title of "Small town" neighborly feel."

Ceres resident Len Shepherd agreed, saying the term "small town does say we don't want to have anything else."

The other principles are outlined as follows:

Guiding principle 2 - Safe Family-Friendly Hometown.

Promote Ceres strong and high performing school system, and support the city's safe neighborhoods and youth activities so that Ceres continues to be a desirable place for families.

Guiding principle 3 - Agricultural identity.

Celebrate Ceres agricultural history, support the continued success of the agricultural industry, and consider how to balance the protection of prime agricultural lands with growth and economic development objectives.

Guiding principle 4 - Health and sustainability.

Provide well-maintained and accessible parks, street trees and landscaping, and healthy food options; and prioritize clean air, clean water, and resource conservation to help keep the community - both the people and the environment - healthy.

Guiding principle 5 - Complete community.

Support the development of a complete and balanced community where needs can be met locally, with new commercial options, industrial growth, and a diversity of housing options that attracts new business, industry and associated professionals.

Guiding principle 6 - Strong downtown.

Encourage and direct public and private investment in downtown Ceres to restore it as the physical and cultural center of the city. Enhance downtown so it becomes vibrant, active and a place for people to assemble, dine and socialize in a mixed-use environment.

Shepherd suggested the city start with major downtown landlord Jim Delhart "and see if you can get his stuff revitalized. That's an all uphill battle, I'm sure."

Guiding principle 7 - Attractive destination.

Cultivate Ceres as a unique destination in the Central Valley and for travelers on Highway 99. To the extent possible, ensure that new development visible from Highway 99 offers attractive and unique views from that travel way.

Shepherd stood up and suggested the goal is a lofty one given the difficulty is making "99 not look like a trash heap that you're driving through."

Vice Mayor Mike Kline said StanCOG is working with Caltrans to work on some beautification of 99 from Turlock through Modesto.

Shepherd replied: "I think I'll probably go to my grave before 99 is beautified."

Dave Pratt, another Ceres resident, suggested that the only reason to get off the freeway is for gas and food and "right at the moment you don't have either."

Guiding principle 8 - Economic development.
Strengthen job opportunities with industrial and commercial growth and promote education and job training. Continue to balance provision of streamlines services and entitlements with fiscal responsibility to support the future needs of the city.

Guiding principle 9 - Revitalization.

Encourage infill development and investment within existing neighborhoods and commercial corridors in order to revitalize areas within the city limits.

Guiding principle 10 - Balanced circulation network.

Make it safe and convenient for residents and workers to get where they need to go and for businesses to transport goods by providing well-maintained sidewalks, connected bicycle networks, efficient connections to major transportation corridors and regional transit connections.

The statement and principles were approved in a 4-0 vote. Mayor Chris Vierra was absent.