HomeLocal government“What is black Gainesville getting out of the Plan?”: City Commission and Plan Board discuss draft Comprehensive Plan
“What is black Gainesville getting out of the Plan?”: City Commission and Plan Board discuss draft Comprehensive Plan
August 16, 2023
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At a joint Gainesville City Commission and City Plan Board meeting on August 15, the boards discussed a major update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan that will add race and equity goals.
Mayor Harvey Ward emphasized that the City is not under a deadline from the State to submit the Plan to Tallahassee and that he wanted it to be “a document that is accessible to the community, that is accessible to people who are not necessarily land use attorneys or planning professionals.” He said he wanted the Plan to be “in regular people language.” The draft Plan is unusual because the chapters are written in lay language, and each chapter has an addendum with all the legal language required by statute.
Robert Ackerman, Chair of the Plan Board, explained that the Comprehensive Plan involves goals and policies, while the Land Development Code implements the Plan.
Goals of the Comprehensive Plan
Forrest Eddleton, Acting Director of Sustainability, said the Plan is required by statute and is updated every five to seven years. The City Commission passed a Resolution on October 19 stating that the City “will make Race and Equity a foundation of the Comprehensive Plan, integrating it into the other core values.” The Resolution includes definitions for Marginalized People, Race and Equity, and Equitable Development, shown in the image below.
Eddleton’s presentation stated that the main goals in developing the new Plan are to “Center Black Gainesville and Underrepresented Residents” and “Involve the Whole City Organization.” He said his department is collaborating with the Office of Equity and Inclusion on how to operationalize the priorities in the Plan and determine which data to collect.
What does “Center Black Gainesville and Underrepresented Residents” mean?
During public comment, Monica Frazier asked what “Center Black Gainesville and Underrepresented Residents” means because “that wasn’t addressed at all. And what are the benefits of this for the black communities, since we are the center?… [If] we have this new Plan that’s supposed to make your lives better and improve it, I think we should at least have a way to let people know instead of just having things done in our name for us, without us at the discussion table.”
Ward replied that there will be “a robust roll-out process. But I want to be careful, too, that we’re not trying to think of this as something that is going to be a plan for how to make everybody’s life better today.” He said the Plan will govern where things can be built, where schools go, where parks should be, etc.
Eddleton said the goal of “Centering Black Gainesville” is about “the questions that are asked and the data that is collected.”
“I don’t see how you can have a Planning Board without being inclusive”
As public comment continued, Kim Tanzer said there had been no discussion of the substance of the document at all in the meeting: “I think that’s the frustration that I have, which is–it may be that everything here is going in a good direction. But there’s really no way to know because the data that you’ve collected is not available.” She added that some of the outcomes listed in the presentation will take so much effort to evaluate “that it would take a whole new department to just track the data all the time… and obviously you don’t have the staff to do that.”
Carrie Parker-Warren said, “I didn’t see anybody on the Planning Board that looked like me. And I don’t see how you can have a Planning Board without being inclusive.” She suggested recruiting “somebody that looks like me because that’s a little disheartening.” She also asked how to reach people “that are sitting home and could care less about what you’re talking about but still want to be involved.”
Ward said the City had been “very intentional” about community outreach and had talked to people in their neighborhoods and hosted meetings in homes. Parker-Warren said nobody had come to Azalea Trails.
“We’re not going to talk to everybody”
Ward said many cities just have “a few Plan Board meetings and a few commission meetings… and you publish some notices in the newspaper, and you say, ‘We’ve got a new plan.’… It is risky to get out and talk to hundreds of people because when we come back and say, ‘We talked to hundreds of people,’ folks are gonna come up to the microphone and say, ‘You didn’t talk to me.’ And that’s probably true… We’re not going to talk to everybody.”
What are the big changes in the new Plan?
Jamie Bell, a new member of the Plan Board, asked for a summary of the big changes in the new Plan and added that she “was not necessarily satisfied with the answer to the question on how ‘Centering Black Gainesville’ was represented in the plan.”
Eddleton responded, “The first, biggest one is communication. So today, when you go and look at our Plan, it’s not easy to digest or understand what the City is trying to communicate or decisions that are being made. So we’re trying to change how we even communicate–that’s the biggest one. The second one would be that we really intend to implement the plans that are stated in this overarching document. So that is something that really, frankly, is largely different from Comprehensive Planning to date is, ‘Okay, sure, you’ve said that these are your goals, policies, objectives–well, how are you going to do it?’ Normally, that doesn’t happen… The third part is, as we’ve talked about, that outreach that we’ve done for years and the different tools that we’ve had in the toolbox for that outreach.”
Regarding Bell’s question about “Centering Black Gainesville,” Eddleton said he had a two-part answer: “It’s really for the commission and our neighbors to answer that question first. And that’s part of this process… How does equity, how does race affect the city of Gainesville? Of course, that is ultimately a decision [for] the City Commission to give us, as staff, guidance. That second part is–now, with that direction, how do we, as staff, ask the questions that really get that data… or build programs to identify or address some of these problems that we have been directed to address.”
“What is black Gainesville getting out of the Plan?”
Bell responded, “That felt like a circle answer… I know you’ve done so much work… but what is black Gainesville getting out of the Plan? Like, what are underrepresented groups getting out of this plan, other than being asked questions so that you know what questions to ask?”
Eddleton responded that planning is “iterative. So that is why it inherently sounds circular. I’m appreciative of the criticism, and certainly… black Gainesville has not gotten what they are asking for out of our current Comprehensive Plan. And we are trying to create a new document that does give those things.”
Bell said, “That was a better answer. Thank you.”
Eddleton said he was “reminded to go back to our original directive… to get more representation and more equity out of comprehensive planning than has been done.”
Operational document will implement the Comprehensive Plan
City Manager Cynthia Curry said her office has been meeting with the Office of Equity and Inclusion on the “operational side of the Comprehensive Plan, which is, we say, more like a constitution.” She said the operational part would include being “more intentional and specific about measures in our community that we know need to be addressed. It’s not going to be addressed [in the Comprehensive Plan]; it will be addressed in the operational plan that will have to be submitted to the Commission.” She said every department that impacts the community “will have to have measurable performance measures that will be presented to this Commission for review, for input, and they will become an operational side of this that will have to report to the Commission and to the community… It will be a separate document.”
“We need to be looking at this for people that have historically been underrepresented”
As an example, Brittany McMullen from Sustainable Development pointed to one of the outcomes in the Draft Plan that says, “All Gainesville residents, regardless of their race, ethnicity, income, gender, age, or ability, will have access to equitable, reliable, affordable, and safe transportation.” She said staff is tasked with working on how to actually get there and that the current Plan just says, “We need connectivity, we need connected transportation; it doesn’t focus on who is getting that transportation, where is it going, are all of the groups in the community being served?… It’s just supposed to be the guiding document for–we need to be looking at this for people that have historically been underrepresented.”
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she “ran on equitable development… It will be a standalone document that works in tandem with the Comprehensive Plan… I’m really grateful to have had unanimous support from the Commission to move that forward because it is designed… to make sure that we are looking at all parts of Gainesville, making sure that an improved quality of life is enjoyed by all of the residents.”
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said they need to “take community engagement one step further and think outside the box.” She said that, as a commissioner, she has looked “at a profile of boards when we make appointments… because I’m looking to make sure that the boards reflect this community. And [Parker-Warren is] correct. There is no reason that the Plan Board should not reflect the diversity of the community when the decisions we make are having a long-term impact on housing, on single-family housing, on how we live.”
Commissioner Casey Willits said, “I would love our boards and our Plan Board and the participation to reflect our community, and we are a community that rents–60%, and when we pretend like it isn’t, it is harmful, divisive, I’m going to say immoral when we pretend that we are a community that does not rent 60% roughly… So I welcome on the commission there being 60% renters, on the Plan Board, on every board; only because of COVID did I stop being a renter.”
Willits said it is “truly groundbreaking” to “operationalize equity… the fact that we’re willing to look at [equity] in a world where people are pushing back and say, ‘Oh, everything needs to be race-blind.'” He said it’s important to not just set overall percentages to measure success but to also look at subgroups.
“There’s something really powerful about ensuring that race and equity is so central”
During a discussion about whether the State would object to the focus on equity, Ward said a lot of it comes down to where the City builds infrastructure: “Seventy years ago, we would have said, as they said then, ‘We’ll just put those in southeast Gainesville.’ You know, put the things that nobody wants in southeast Gainesville. But now… this guiding document tells us, hey, when you put that stormwater retention pond somewhere, make sure that it’s not just being put somewhere because you can put it there. Put it somewhere that makes sense, where it serves a population, but does it exclude a population and move some group of people out of the way to do that?”
Ward said, “We’re gonna have to be careful about how [the legal parts that go to Tallahassee] are termed… But the parts that speak to Commissions and Plan Boards, for the next decade in Gainesville, can speak very directly about what we’re trying to achieve here.”
Commissioner Bryan Eastman said, “There’s something really powerful about ensuring that race and equity is so central… Race and equity have always been a part of our land use and zoning, not necessarily in the direction that we’re trying to go in as a City now. If you look at the early decisions that were made as to why certain zones would be created, why certain land uses would be created, it was not necessarily for the benefit of everyone; it was to ensure that some people would be forced into areas that no one else wanted to live in, to ensure that certain people had a good life while other people did not. And for us to put, from the direction of our land use and zoning, that same profession, now taking that and saying we’re going to take this and we’re going to use the same tools to try to move into a better direction, I think is a powerful statement, even if it is from the 100,000-foot level.”
How to provide feedback on the Plan
The draft Comprehensive Plan can be found here, and comments can be left at that site. Eddleton also said people who have questions or comments can call the Sustainability Department or drop by their offices in the Thomas Center.
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