The City of Los Banos hosted its first community workshop for the Downtown Master Plan on Aug. 23.  The agenda of the community meeting was to provide the project overview and background, review opportunities and constraints, get input on what community members would like to see on types of uses and activities as well as streetscape amenities, and discuss the project’s next steps.

The community workshop was represented by Stacy Souza Elms, Community & Economic Development Director for the City of Los Banos,  Stephen Patchan, the consultant awarded the Downtown Master Plan contract for  Mark Thomas, Inc. and Bruce Brubaker and Cliff Lau, building planners and consultants from Placeworks. Mark Thomas  is dedicated to improving mobility in communities. Transportation is their speciality.  PlaceWorks’  expertise and services are in planning and are known for providing solutions in their varied projects. There were 20-30 community residents in attendance, as well.

The Los Banos Downtown Strategic Plan was adopted by the city early in 2020.  The 80-page detailed plan is available to read and review online and is a component of the broader 2040 General Plan update effort. The plan identified strategies into a central destination for Los Banos residents. The process included stakeholder and community engagement meetings that collected community input that informed strategies and provided the vision and framework that set the ground for pursuing actual improvements for downtown.

Previous Downtown plans were consulted from past years which helped in the development of the approved strategic plan with realistic adjustments made for current circumstances.  Shortly after the adoption of the plan, the pandemic restrictions were put into place delaying the next steps in the process for more than two years. 

From the initial strategic plan, 10 strategies were established. From those, two were selected to discuss further. They are upgrade infrastructure which includes underground or overhead utilities and enhance character by improving the streetscape.

Prior to the workgroups discussing the goals, a prioritization exercise was done. The opportunities  and constraints were discussed next. The constraints and barriers listed were parking lots not easily findable, no downtown advertising visually from Pacheco Boulevard and Mercey Springs Road, and for businesses, specific infrastructure improvements are required to support food and drink establishments downtown.  The opportunities and assets listed were good block structure and street layout, wide streets options for reconfiguring or having wider sidewalks, clearly established corridors with 6th and I Streets, vacant lots for opportunity for new development, alleys offering potential opportunities to accommodate uses and activities and lastly proximity to Henry Miller Plaza and the Rail Trail providing open space access.

Groups were organized to discuss the questions: “What would you like to see in downtown” regarding uses and activities to include but not limited to music in the streets, food trucks, theater and entertainment, dining and drinking establishments and streetscape amenities such as more trees, landscaping, planters, additional streetlights. Ideas were to include pedestrian and bicycling improvements, outdoor dining on sidewalks, parklets, and/or alleys.  The groups reported back with their suggestions which will be incorporated into the conceptual design .

The schedule and next steps in the master plan process will be to input this additional information into a conceptual design by this fall, conduct community workshop #2 in late fall, develop the implementation plan by this winter, present it to the Planning Commission and City Council by the end of the year and have a final plan by early 2023.

Sandy Lemas

Sandy Lemas is a longtime resident of Los Banos who has volunteered much of her time to community service. She will be writing a regular column on volunteers and volunteer organizations that help their community.