City Planning and Communications
Running a city can’t be easy. Even a thriving, smaller city like Morgan Hill comes with its challenges. If you spend time going through the city's website, you quickly get a sense of the huge workload city leaders face in setting policy and managing work plans. We can only hope they are also working tirelessly to follow the General Plan, Zoning Code, and other guiding documents of our city.
Sometimes, even those of us with the best of intentions make critical mistakes, often because we make decisions or enter into agreements we don’t fully understand, or have the time to research, and therefore cannot anticipate all future ramifications.
Could this be what happened when the Shoe Palace Expansion project was summarily rubber-stamped without going through the full approval process for a significant project? Or when the proposal for Trammell Crow's technology park somehow morphed into one of the largest distribution centers in Northern California? Or when it was decided that our city should jump on the e-commerce bandwagon, possibly becoming the Distribution Hub of Silicon Valley?
Who are our city planners?
City of Morgan Hill’s Planning Division is part of the Development Services organization, as shown in the organizationl chart at the top of this page. According to their website, the Planning Division performs a variety of services intended to protect, maintain, and develop an attractive, safe, and healthy environment. Responsibilities include direction and leadership in implementing the goals, objectives, and policies of the General Plan."
This all sounds great! Residents shouldn't have to worry at all about what is being planned then right?
But if you look closely at that org chart at the top of the page, notice who is at the TOP of the org chart?
City Planning Gone Awry
- Key industry, last mile distribution...
City leaders, including our city council and planning division have all been clear about "not wanting distribution centers in our city" but how
exactly do these developers find land opportunities then?
At that first meeting we did, however, learn a bit about Morgan Hill’s economic development process. The Economic Development Director talked briefly about this project and suggested we check out their website used to advertise properties for sale, ChooseMorganHill.com. In doing so, we learned some unexpected details about the property sale. Apparently, we can’t give Trammell Crow all of the credit. From this ad, we see that our city, in order to attract a buyer, was already ADVERTISING the possibility of rezoning this land for heavy industrial use, and suggesting warehouse/distribution as a development opportunity!
Is this how our Morgan Hill Planning Division fulfills their mission to protect, maintain, and develop an attractive, safe, and healthy environment for residents of the city?
We imagine that city planners were quite captivated by the marketing pitch this builder gave on potential tax revenue and job growth. But did they even once question how comparable projects have affected other cities, especially in suburban areas where trucks and forklifts actively load and unload materials 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
Did it not occur to the city planners that a massive increase in traffic, noise and air pollution, along with health issues and a decrease in public safety, would be detrimental to residents of Morgan Hill? DO THEY EVEN CARE?
We've done our own research on distribution centers and it doesn't take much effort to find articles about suburban cities like ours whose residents are suffering from the ill effects of living near distribution centers. We've listed a few of those articles in our Research Library.
MH Guiding Documents
City of Morgan Hill, according to their page on Guiding Documents, takes pride in its approach to thoughtful policy making. Engaging the community and stakeholders is a cornerstone in developing master plans and guiding documents. We know these plans and documents represent endless hours of work by many residents of our city.
MH 2035 General Plan is a comprehensive, long-term plan for the physical development of our community. It represents the city's determination of the amount, type, and timing of Planned Developments to achieve social, economic, and environmental goals of our city.
Policies #CNF-18.1, 18.2, 18.3, and 18.4 pertain to the parcels of land purchased by Trammel Crow, emphasizes the need for:
Vibrant job centers with amenities that support workers and businesses along with thoughtful designs that relate to and support surrounding businesses.
Industrial and/or commercial development to ensure neighborhood compatibility.
Planned developments to address such issues as traffic circulation, and impacts on surrounding areas.
Mitigation of impacts on nearby residential areas shall be a high priority
MH Zoning Code xxxxxxxxxxx
MH Economic Blueprint xxxxxxxx
MH Planning Division Project Files
The Planning Division maintains public documents for significant land-use projects on their website, including the developer's architectural plans, public letters, videos from community meetings, and status of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
UPDATE LINKS TO FILES
Add images for:
Econ Development goals
MOVE/REWORK into what we want city to do - move and include in ARCHIVES???
We do know that city leaders began working with developer Trammell Crow 16 months before anyone heard about this massive distribution center proposal. The city is required by law to notify residents living near the proposed development when the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process begins; however, less than 1% of residents were directly contacted to attend the Initial Public Scoping Meeting.
The city claims they went beyond their legal obligation to send notices out to 174 addresses within 600 feet of the project site; however, in verifying the mailing list, we found 44 addresses were actually invalid. Residents at Westmont Senior Living Center, a mere 300 feet from the nearest dock doors, had absolutely no awareness of the project until one Westmont resident saw it in a discussion on NextDoor.com.
It wasn’t until word got out about this project on social media that our city officials decided to actively engage the community in this land development that is likely to affect all residents in some way or another – traffic, pollution, noise, economics, and consequently, overall quality of life.
With a significant project like this close to residential areas, you would expect Morgan Hill to reach out to the community for awareness. As it turns out, only 174 households were directly notified by mail. But once the news got out through social media, public concern grew rapidly. This prompted city staff to schedule an impromptu Community Meeting in May 2019 to answer questions, in the hopes of quieting public outcry about the project.
It was standing-room only at City Hall, with several hundred residents in attendance We all had high hopes of getting answers on this project. It was obvious the city put great effort into planning that meeting and organizers were excited to see the turnout. As they told us, “this is phenomenal, the community doesn’t usually get involved until the EIR draft is released.”
What We Want Our City Leaders to Do
Our Morgan Hill Guiding Documents, including the 2035 General Plan and Zoning Code, represent endless hours of work by residents of our city. We want city leaders to show by action, not just words, that they respect and follow these Guiding Documents in ALL decision-making for our city.
Specific actions we are looking for:
Follow the General Plan and Zoning Code. Adhere to all city Guiding Documents in making decisions for this project. Do not change the General Plan and Zoning Code to suit the objectives of a developer.
As citizens, we hire city staff and elect city council to adhere to Morgan Hill doctrine and to protect us when high-powered developers submit construction plans that are not in line with our city's long-term General Plan, Zoning Code or Economic Blueprint.
The Planned Development process and procedures defined in the Morgan Hill Zoning Code are not just guidelines, they are the law.
Involve the community...just like the graphic shows....
Show commitment to transparency with an open and honest dialog during this process. Transparency is a foundational value for ethical government practices. Elected city officials are accountable to those who elect them and transparency is ensured by California's Public Records Act and the Brown Act. As residents of this city, we would like an opportunity to see current project records that have not been properly shared with the public, for example, basic information about the Traffic Impact Analysis.
Complete an independent and unbiased Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for this project. In doing so, ensure that all environmental impacts of a 1.1 million sq foot distribution center are considered. For example, make sure the Traffic Impact Analysis uses a reliable model to estimate the actual traffic this development could generate with the total number of loading docks and big rig parking spaces in the plan. Also look at how similar projects have impacted other cities to verify these EIR studies are comprehensive.
Complete a detailed and objective market analysis.
Let's start working on something that will provide long term sustainable public benefit to our city!
We believe the city should collaborate with these developers to find better alternatives for commercial and industrial land use that also provide greater community benefit. Our city should be focusing efforts on bringing in high quality companies that maximize job growth, thereby helping Morgan Hill realize the vision and goals set forth in our General Plan to grow into a vibrant job center for years to come.
MHRGC's role in keeping our community represented and informed during the city's planning and decision making process
MHRGC volunteers continue to attend city planning meetings to ensure that our collective voices are not forgotten. Trammel Crow is requesting changes to both the General Plan and Zoning Code. Why should we change our city vision and priorities for one developer? There are two related processes that come into play when a project like this is considered for city approval:
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires local agencies to identify significant environmental impacts. While CEQA has many complex parts, the core requirement is the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Trammell Crow paid $300,000 for the city to complete this process and the draft EIR is expected to be released for public review and comment sometime this year.
We are trying to do everything possible to ensure that all aspects of environmental impact are considered for a 1.1 million SF distribution center. However, the reality is that the EIR is paid for by the developer, overseen by the city, and written by consultants who typically rely heavily on the developer and city for future business. Therefore, we don’t have great confidence that the EIR process is going to address our legitimate concerns regarding this project.
At the city level, the approval process relates to a Planned Development (PD). Most cities have a PD process to allow projects to be approved that would not otherwise be allowed under base zoning regulations. With this project, the developer wants to build a distribution center. This type of development is not permitted at all on the commercial-zoned part of the property and only allowed with special permission on the industrial-zoned part. In addition, the developer specified up to 55-foot-high roof lines, not allowed on either the commercial or the industrial parts of the property.
In exchange for waiving certain restrictions, the PD process defines mandatory procedures to provide oversight and restraint to protect the community and to prevent the PD process from being misused. An application for Preliminary Design Review must be completed prior to consideration of project-related General Plan and Zoning Amendments. During this review, the builder presents their Master Plan, with more details than were available in the conceptual design. This enables the city to ensure that the proposed development exhibits high quality design consistent with the General Plan. It is also intended to ensure that new development and uses are compatible with their surroundings and minimize negative impacts on neighboring properties. Preliminary Design Review Meetings: October 15 and 22, 2019; Design Updates reviewed on December 10, 2019.
MHRGC is committed to keeping track of the EIR and PD processes for the MH Technology Park to help our community stay informed of what is really going on with this project.
Better Ideas for Commercial/Industrial Land Use
For the Trammell Crow project: This massive development will become a permanent fixture at the gateway of our city. The city should be responsible to its residents and tell Trammel Crow that this land is is better suited for a REAL Technology Park focusing on research and development, corporate activities, or perhaps some appropriate advanced manufacturing facilities
Capitalize on their influence and reputation to seek out other companies in Silicon Valley that are planning to move or expand their business or tech campus. Why not present that opportunity here in Morgan Hill where land is xxxxxxxx and homes are too? Let's not sell ourselves short!
Or, if the city wishes to expand tourism along with other goals for economic development, dedicate a portion of this land for an indoor sports facility, perfect location to sporting good store, dining....