This is the last in a series looking at Solano County’s priority development areas. This installment focuses on Dixon, Vallejo and Benicia.
DIXON — Dixon in 2006 built a $1 million replica of its long-gone, late-1800s train station and is still waiting for trains to stop there.
The Capitol Corridor passenger service has yet to designate Dixon as a stop. The “build it and they will come” approach has yet to pay off, though that’s not unexpected – city officials knew seven years ago that they would have to be patient.
Mayor Jack Batchelor said the city must improve road railroad track crossings before Union Pacific will allow a train stop to become reality.
“It could be 2018, 2019,” he said.
Yet the train station has had another, more immediate effect. Its presence as a potential mass transit hub allowed Dixon to get the surrounding Old Town area designated as a “priority development area” under the One Bay Area program.
Whether having a priority development area is good or bad can be debated – and it is being debated, both in Dixon and throughout the region.
One Bay Area and the associated Plan Bay Area seek to recast the region’s growth patterns. This vision calls for less growth in car-dependent, suburban subdivisions and creating higher density neighborhoods that are inviting to walk in and are near stores, schools and mass transit.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments are spearheading the effort in response to state laws. They cannot dictate how cities choose to grow. However, they are funneling millions of dollars in federal and state transportation money for streets and other infrastructure to priority development areas.
All seven Solano County cities have priority development areas so they can compete for these transportation dollars. Among them are Dixon, Vallejo and Benicia.
Dixon is already getting a share of One Bay Area transportation dollars for a project that could hasten the day that trains stop at that train station.
The city hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for a $6 million pedestrian crossing under the tracks at West B Street. Of this amount, $2.5 million is coming from a One Bay Area grant.
About 300 pedestrians and cyclists cross over the tracks daily, most of them schoolchildren. Thirty-two Capitol Corridor passenger trains and six to 12 freight trains pass by on the tracks daily, according to the Solano Transportation Authority.
Two people – not children – have been killed at this site in recent years, Batchelor said.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s a dangerous crossing,” Batchelor said.
He’s sees other advantages to having a priority development area. The city can get money for projects that make it easier for people to walk and bike downtown.
“To me, that makes downtown more business-friendly,” Batchelor said. “It makes more businesses want to locate downtown, to keep our downtown moving forward.”
One Bay Area and the Dixon priority development area have critics. A group of Dixon residents going under the name Old Town Dixon Neighbors sent a May letter to the Association of Bay Area Governments, protesting the priority development area designation.
The area has been overdeveloped with multifamily housing for more than 30 years, the group wrote. There’s no evidence that residents in these apartments bike and walk more. To the contrary, their vehicles contribute to traffic congestion, it said.
Primary access to a downtown Dixon train station and transportation center would be through older, residential neighborhoods, it said.
The group also has concerns about the West B Street undercrossing. Member Ginger Emerson said the design is such that people about to enter won’t be able to see people who are already there, raising safety concerns.
“It would not be inviting whatsoever,” she said.
Old Town Dixon Neighbors has a response to those who argue cities must have priority development areas or miss out on transportation money.
“Our answer would be ABAG and MTC can keep their money and not impact our neighborhood even more than it has already been impacted for years,” Emerson said.
People in the neighborhood had been talking to city officials about the increasing density of housing and other issues prior to the City Council designating the priority development area in January 2012, Emerson said. Yet, she said, they hadn’t been alerted to plans for the priority development area, she said.
“We’re just going to have to keep voicing our concerns and being persistent and being very watchful,” Emerson said.
Dixon’s priority development area is 130 acres with 425 residences and 225 jobs, according to the city’s priority development area application. The goal is to have 700 residences and 500 jobs there by 2040.
Vallejo has long wanted to give its waterfront and downtown area a shot in the arm.
Now it will try to use the priority development area program to further its aims. It has created a 189-acre area that runs along Mare Island Strait and extends eastward into the historic downtown.
The area is already a mass transit hub. It has the Vallejo Ferry Terminal, where ferries take commuters to San Francisco. It has the Vallejo Transit Center, where people can catch buses for local and regional trips.
A group called Association of Vallejo Heritage Neighborhoods has expressed concern about One Bay Area. Among other things, it is concerned the program will do nothing to alleviate what it sees as concentrations of poverty in Vallejo’s heritage neighborhoods.
Vallejo’s priority development area has 1,350 residences and 1,900 jobs. The goal is to bring this to 3,350 residences and 4,200 jobs by 2035.
Benicia in 2007 adopted a master plan for its downtown. It too will use the priority development area program to try to advance its goals, bringing about change, but not too much change.
“We have to be very careful because of the historic district,” Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said. “We don’t want to impact that.”
The 145 acres has about 70 single-family homes, 521 apartments and townhouses and 477 jobs. The goal is to by 2035 increase the numbers to 75 single-family homes, 605 apartments and townhouses and 575 jobs.
This neighborhood includes the city hall and waterfront. The idea is to create a “walkable transit town center” with a range of offices, shops, churches, libraries, public spaces and recreation opportunities within a five-minute walk, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.