Planting the Seed: Creating Physical Change to Our Built Environment

Dulce Walton Molina

City Planning is relatively a new field for me. Last semester, I took my first City Planning course titled “Y-PLAN” (Youth - Plan, Learn, Act, Now). Through this course I was able to do what I am most passionate about, which is empower youth of color by including them in shaping the solution to the pressing issues directly affecting their community. I enjoyed how hands-on we were with our students as well as our client (BART) as they developed a project proposal for the Coliseum BART Station. The end result was a reflection of how they want their community to look and what it represents to them. That, to me, is the key to social justice.

I decided to continue in the field of City Planning and Urban Development this summer at The City of Vacaville Community Development Department, which is only a short 10-minute drive from my hometown, Fairfield. Being so close to my hometown gave me the advantage of being familiar with the community, yet there was so much more to learn. During the first week of my internship, I did a lot of background research to familiarize myself with the language used regarding Vacaville jurisdiction in terms of planning. 

Here is a little bit of what I learned: The majority of California’s cities have “use-based” zoning laws. Use-based codes divide the jurisdiction into districts and regulate the use and development of the land within the districts based in the designation, in other words ‘zoning’ is the physical conditions of a city. This regulatory mechanism determines what can and cannot be built, and what activities can and cannot take place, on the parcels of land throughout a community. One of the activities the City is looking to implement is community gardening. Unfortunately, community gardens are not usually addressed in zoning codes, which leaves them vulnerable to being closed down as ‘illegal’ uses or to displacement by development that is expressly permitted in the zoning district. That is where I come in. My task this summer is to draft a zoning ordinance amendment that will allow community gardens in residential areas and other zones deemed suitable. The project objective is to fulfill the General Plan action items related to community gardens (LU-A9.3, LU-A9.4).  

With the guidance of my supervisor, Jo-Anmarie Ricasata, Planning Technician, we marked on the zoning map parcels for potential community gardens sites. We focused on neighborhoods in high density residential areas, which tends to be mostly low-income communities. I went out to the community and conducted site visits, and by far that has been one of the highlights. Going out to the community allowed to see the current conditions of the neighborhoods. After I gathered data based on observations, the next step was to analyze what is suitable for the city as well as what is needed in the neighborhood areas I visited. The site inventory report is being circulated to get feedback from both the Advanced and Current Planning Division. 

Having developed a criteria for community gardens, I will be using that as I move into the final stage of my project. I am currently drafting the ordinance amendment, and learning a lot about the different steps it takes to get it approved and implemented. While I won’t be able to witness the adoption of the ordinance due to length of internship, I am glad I have the opportunity to provide the language, framework and guidelines to establish community gardens. I am beyond grateful for being part of a project that will have long-term benefits to my community. 

This internship has reassured me the direction I want go professionally. I will strive to be in position that allow me to create change at a local, and hopefully one day state level, so that everyone is valued and has access to the resources and opportunities essential for health, such as fresh and affordable food. We have the power to change our surroundings, granted there are some challenges, but we, as people of color, must advocate for our community to get the services and resources needed to thrive. By doing this internship this summer, I am planting the seed for the growth of my community, and I intend to continue on this path.