Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Our Salem Draft Plan v2.0 Still Fumbles on Climate

The City's published a new draft vision and proposed map for the update to the Comprehensive Plan, Our Salem.

They plan on presenting it to the Planning Commission on the 9th and Council on the 22nd.

But the Climate Action Plan is still very much in the early phases, and since that will feed back into the Comprehensive Plan, increasingly it seems premature to finish the Comprehensive Plan update right now. Why are we rushing it?

As for the revisions since September, the City says

We have used your input since the fall to update the draft vision. For example, we have added more mixed-use areas as well as more neighborhood hubs and live-work opportunities across Salem.

Map changes summary Feb 2021
More new single family zones in yellow

I guess there's a few changes here, but in a zoomed-out view they don't alter the tonal shape and weight of the map. They added a few more mixed use areas and hubs.

The changes mostly appear minor and incremental.

One thing new, and on the surface in the wrong direction, is a retrenchment in yellow, a renewed commitment to "single family residential." Shouldn't we just abandon that category now, especially with the smallplex legalization underway? Not expand it anyway. We don't need more of it.

Map changes summary Sept 2020

But even more, there's no new emissions assessment, and no attempt to plan for greater emissions reductions.  

Aside from these words, it's not spelled out

While the document includes the words "reduce Salem's greenhouse gas emissions to 50 2035," it contains no assessment or analysis that the plan actually achieves this reduction. You'd think there would be a new chapter that discusses in detail how each part of the proposal contributes to the City's reduction goal. But no. It remains vaporous and aspiration. It does not seem very serious.

The City and consultants refused the opportunity to rethink and rewrite the plan, and they did not respond directly to the comments offered by our chapter nor show very much indirect evidence of responsiveness.

Later on after a closer reading there might be more to say. Maybe others will find these impressions are in error and correct them. But three general things seem true on a first impression:

  • We should strongly consider deferring adoption of the Comprehensive Plan changes until we are further along in the Climate Action Plan.
  • Apart from that, this new revision is not very much changed from the initial version from September, and does not represent much of a re-thinking.
  • We should not get attached to any plan until we see a realistic analysis that it accomplishes what we say we want to accomplish, like a 50% reduction by 2035. If it turns out it will not accomplish what we want it to accomplish, then that is evidence we need to revise it until it does accomplish what we want to accomplish.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

When the draft was presented at my NA meeting, most people could hardly understand the impact of any changes. What they wanted it seemed was more of the same. The people fear density and changes that impact their comfort levels.

Beyond just wanting what already is, the presentation was lacking. It was short, used terms that most did not understand, and had no illustrations that would be helpful. The process is lacking, so the product is lacking. I knew it would be this way from the start. Whenever, you begin with stickers, you know you are in for ..... group think and not creativity.

Unless the Council changes their policy on zone changes and variances, this process is a waste of time.

I agree that we need to do much more work to make even the incremental changes actually happen. My prediction that this Plan will get shoved through and the very next week after it is adopted, some developer will come along and ask for it to be changed in order to allow their vision of what they want to do!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In a separate post added a comment on the apparent expansion of the yellow-designated "single family residential" zoning, which is actually mainly an expansion of the new proposed R4 Live-Work zone.

To Susann: Is rigidity in a plan really the best measure of its success? Over the years you have often criticized the ease and flexibility in our variance/exception process. But a policy can still be very successful at 95, 90, even 80 percent compliance. The goal of a policy is to move the average outcome, and the effort it takes to move rarer outcomes on the edge might not be worth it.

From here, anyway, the variance process and our flexibility with it seem like a secondary matter to be analyzed adjusted after we finally think we have the primary policies in place.

We agree that "understanding" is a problem. The zoning code is so opaque and Byzantine, requiring specialist knowledge to parse.

MikeSlater said...

Thank you for your comments. This is an important project for Salem and we need to get it right. To that end, I thought I would share my thoughts and I welcome feedback:

The Our Salem project has 4 pieces: a vision statement, a set of guiding principles, a zoning map, and a set of policies and ordinances. The first three exist in draft form. Staff will be presenting these to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council. Staff hope to get a vote of "you're on the right track" from the Council on the first three pieces. If they do, they will then begin to draft policies and ordinances. Let's look at each one.

Vision Statement: The vision statement uses all the right words in a long, run-on, aspiration sentence. Words include equity, carbon neutral, green spaces, diversity. It could read: single family, congestion-free, business friendly, traditional neighborhoods, etc.

Guiding Principles: The guiding principles also seem to strike the right notes. The natural resource principles calls for expanding green spaces and reducing the impact of development on the environment. The housing principles specifically calls for sufficient affordable housing and "missing middle" options. There is a guiding principle on equity. There are some shortcomings. There is no hierarchy with the principles so there is no guidance on how to address conflicts between, for example, housing and expanding green spaces. There are also no quantitive component to the principles, such as a percentage of how much additional green space to add to the City. (This latter shortcoming may be addressed at the next level down of the comprehensive plan, such as the Parks plan.)

Zoning Map: The suggested zoning map makes significant changes from our current zoning map. It adds large swaths of mixed use and live/work spaces on our main, secondary, and teriary corridors, including Lancaster, Commercial, Liberty, Market, Capitol, Fairground Road, and Madrona. Compared to the first iteration, these changes are not only a change in absolute numbers of converted acres, but reaches far deeper into previously single family neighborhoods. Basically, the new proposed zoning map implements many of the best practices recommendations for smart growth. If the private sector responds AND the City can provide the transportation infrastructure and services needed to support a more compact city, Salem will look very different in 15 years.

The fourth component of the Our Salem package will be policies and ordinance revisions that will implement the first three components. A significant portion of the comprehensive plan's impact on GHG reduction will depend these recommendations. It's important we all engage in this part of the process.

Finally, it's worth noting that the ability of land use policy alone to affect GHG emissions is limited. A series of Urban Land Institute studies concluded that, at best, land use policies could lead to a 20% reduction in GHG emissions.

Anthropogenic climate change is a crisis and we need to act. We also need to understand the limits and constraints of land use policy on GHG emissions so we can have a comprehensive plan that does not rely unrealistically on a single approach. In my view, the Our Salem plan today is on the right track. We all need to continue to engage with it and push it in the right direction. We also need to pursue other approaches to GHG reductions since land use policy alone is not nearly enough to get us to net zero by 2050.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

It might be too late to circle back to this, but the only ULI study on land use and emissions I found was from 2010, "Land Use and Driving: The Role Compact Development Can Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Evidence from Three Recent Studies." It is a literature review, and rather than concluding a 20% limit, it really seemed to testify to the immaturity of the analytical discipline a decade ago and call for more study. They found a wide range of reported effects - uncertainty, rather than definiteness.

Is there a more recent ULI study?