A discussion item before the Ceres City Council relating to the General Plan update last week was nearly identical to a December meeting with the Ceres Planning Commission.
Both discussions were prompted by the Condit brothers – Ceres Planning Commissioner Couper Condit and his brother, newly seated City Councilman Channce Condit.
The council was asked last week to prioritize a list of tasks that need to be completed to implement the new Ceres General Plan, which was approved in May. Saying that city staff doesn’t have unlimited resources to do all of them in the first year, Community Development Director Tom Westbrook asked the council – and commission in December – to prioritize specific actions and programs in the first years of the 20-year General Plan. The staff has already begun working on updating the Zoning Ordinance which will be completed soon. Westbrook suggested the city make a priority of:
• Updating the Public Facility Fees program and creating the nexus study;
• Pursuing the establishment of the green belt between Ceres and Hughson to designate an agricultural area where no urbanization will be permitted;
• Developing a list of recommended, preferred and/or prohibited plant species for new development to coincide with state water efficiency standards;
• Establishing standards for sound amplification at special events since the city has received complaints about noise and must have noise standards for enforcement reasons.
• Installing some wayfinding signs for downtown.
Councilman Condit’s request to make public safety a priority mimicked a request made by his brother at the December Planning Commission meeting. The problem with the unorthodox request, said both Westbrook and City Manager Wells, is that both panels were being asked to prioritize tasks to implement the General Plan update; that bolstering police and fire staff is not a function of the planning document; and that public safety staff can only be expanded by way of the spending controlled by the council.
Westbrook tried pointing out that while public safety remains a high city priority, the council was being asked to set priorities for the implementation measures of the General Plan.
“There isn’t in the General Plan a specific implementation plan for changing the staffing level,” said Wells.
Condit’s persistence drew in Wells to comment that public safety goals are reflected in the strategic plan, which is separate process.
Mayor Chris Vierra suggested shelving the discussion to allow for more “education.”
“This is typically not the document where you address what your goals are,” said Vierra. “I understand what he’s asking for.”
Marjorie Blom, the project manager of the General Plan update, explained that one of the overriding goals of the General Plan is a strong public safety but that it was separate issue from the list of tasks.
“I think where we are getting lost here is we’re not saying these are the number one priorities for the city,” said Vierra. “Just so maybe I can explain a little bit … you’re saying their (Planning Department) number one priority should be focusing on public safety or should it be doing the planning things that are in the General Plan document that needs some prioritizing?
Condit answered: “We need to plan for the future of our Public Safety Department.” To that Mayor Vierra said “But that’s not the Planning Department’s responsibility.”
“It needs to be our responsibility and I think that takes priority over prohibiting plant species,” said Condit. That prompted an irritated Vierra to ask, “How many general plans have you been a part of?”
“Well, this is my first one,” answered Condit. “I happen to be newly elected.”
Condit continued to argue his point, prompting the mayor to ask, “Are you listening to what I’m saying?”
Councilman Mike Kline weighed in, telling Condit that the General Plan is a planning tool but the actual means of beefing up public safety was a matter of council budget priority.
The matter ended with Mayor Vierra suggesting the matter be tabled and instructed staff to “see if you can weave something in there related to public safety.”
In December Planning Commissioner Bob Kachel said he was comfortable with the Westbrook’s recommendations and said he was “impressed with the list” picked.
However, Commissioner Couper Condit suggested one of the priorities be listed as achieving a ratio of 1.3 officers per thousand residents as listed as a General Plan goal. After Couper Condit said the commission could set it as a priority, Wells cautioned that going from 0.8 officers per 1,000 to 1.3 would make “everything else goes away.”
Kachel said police funding was a complex, multi-layered issue and offered: “I don’t think we’re in the position to have the information.” He added the commission doesn’t have any authority to set budget priorities.”
When Kachel motioned to adopt the five priorities suggested by staff, Couper Condit voted no against Laurie Smith, Kachel and Gary Del Nero.
The new General Plan is intended to guide the growth in Ceres through 2035. The plan encompasses 14,700 acres, including the city limits, Ceres’ sphere of influence, adjacent unincorporated areas and Mancini Park.