City saves on General Plan, students get chance for real-world experience

Sebastopol is hiring Sonoma State University students to do the groundwork for updating the city's 18-year-old general plan.

The students, all seniors at SSU with career goals of being municipal planners, will get experience in drafting a planning policy that meets California law and guides decisions for the next two decades.

And Sebastopol will get information it needs and possibly new ideas to update its plan, which the city cannot afford to do, said Kenyon Webster, Sebastopol's planning director.

"We are hoping the students also have insights and bring a new perspective to the community planning discussion, and some energy and enthusiasm," Webster said. "And because it will be for the academic year, it will not go on forever, as some of our planning processes will do."

The City Council last week approved a $15,000 contract with Sonoma State for the work to be done in the university's environmental and planning department.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for students," said Wayne Goldberg, a SSU lecturer and former Santa Rosa planning director. "It may be the first time in their academic careers that they are engaged in something that is meaningful for a public agency."

The first work begins this summer with three students mapping the city and its land use patterns, followed by a demographic report compiled by students in the fall and a draft proposal for general policy changes next spring.

Students will be monitored by Goldberg and Professor Steve Orlick and meet with Sebastopol planners, politicians and residents.

"They will reflect the interest of their client, the city of Sebastopol," Goldberg said. "They can have a discussion of subjects that might be outside the box, but also a discussion of subjects that meet the city's needs."

The SSU class has done similar studies for Cotati, Cloverdale, Sonoma, Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa and for the area surrounding the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

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