Elk Grove seeks to increase jobs in Southest Policy Area plan

It’s the last remaining expanse of land open for development in Elk Grove’s urban core, and what gets built there could shape the future direction of Sacramento County’s second-largest city.

At 1,200 acres, the Southeast Policy Area on Elk Grove’s southern edge has a name only a bureaucrat could love. But Elk Grove leaders and planners see the long-awaited, city-led development plan as a crucial step toward bringing jobs and businesses to the bedroom community of 160,000 people.

The plan lays out a mix of office and “industrial flex” space, hybrid buildings that can house office, warehouse or light-industrial tenants. It also calls for smaller stores and coffeehouses, mixed-use residential and retail spaces, as well as residential neighborhoods closely connected to businesses.

The land surrounds the skeleton of what had been the planned Elk Grove Promenade mall and now what the city hopes will become an outlet mall.

“The council has given us a very clear direction as to where to go with the city,” Elk Grove Planning Director Taro Echiburu said, explaining that it involves “significantly more employment-oriented land use.”

Residents will get a look at the plan Tuesday at a community open house at Elk Grove City Hall. The city is touting it as the most aggressive jobs-and-housing plan in the region.

Planners talk a lot about the city’s jobs-to-housing balance. For years, that balance has tilted toward residential rooftops. Elk Grove’s population has more than doubled since 2000, but many residents still head north into Sacramento or trek to the Bay Area to work. Earlier developer-driven communities, including the Laguna Ridge development area adjacent to Southeast, were tailored to the city’s commuter-conscious ethos.

It’s a theme throughout Elk Grove, where Echiburu says the jobs-to-housing ratio is roughly half a job for each home. A normal ratio is considered to be about 1.5 jobs for every home, Echiburu said. City leaders are eager to up the ante. The plan for the Southeast Policy area is five jobs for every home.

“They saw the numbers and challenged us,” Echiburu said of city leaders. “Can Elk Grove meet employers’ needs? Not right now.”

“In Elk Grove, we don’t have the office space that companies can move into like Rancho Cordova or Roseville,” said city planning manager Christopher Jordan. “We have raw land. There’s still a lot of work that has to be done.”

Raw land. It’s in short supply in the Sacramento area, said Randy Starbuck, director of the city’s Economic Development Corp., and it’s a recruitment tool his office is using to entice new businesses.

With the region’s four major health care groups – Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and the UC Davis Health System – already maintaining a presence in the city, Starbuck has medical device and technology manufacturers on his radar. Agribusiness and clean tech could also find a home in Southeast, he said.

“In the Sacramento region, finding an area of 1,200 acres that is undeveloped is nonexistent,” Starbuck said. “This will be the place to make a significant dent in jobs-to-housing ratio and bring high-paying jobs.”

He said Elk Grove appeals to educated workers who are attractive to employers.

“A critical aspect of economic development is the quality and the availability of the workforce. Quality of life is the biggest,” Starbuck said. “People want to live in Elk Grove. People want to stay in town where their kids’ soccer game is, or go to their swim meet. They want to be able to meet their spouse for an early dinner.”

Though the plan has a clear jobs focus, Jordan said residents want housing to be part of the blueprint.

“If this is going to be an employment-centered place, it needs to have residential and it has to have a greater mix than ever provided before,” he said. As part of that, planners want to take advantage of natural features and carve out bicycle and pedestrian trails linking home to work and shops.

The acreage sits along the city’s southern border, to the west of Highway 99 and the freeway-visible framework of the Elk Grove Promenade mall where construction halted when the recession struck.

Developer Howard Hughes Corp. is recasting the project as The Outlet Collection at Elk Grove with plans to open in 2015. Elk Grove City Manager Laura Gill earlier this week said Hughes was “working with interested retailers to get signed leases” at the site and is working “pretty continuously” with city staff on the shopping mall project.

The plan makes scant mention of a proposed soccer complex southwest of Whitelock Parkway and Highway 99. City leaders in March 2013 voted to explore obtaining as many as 120 acres of land to lure professional soccer to Elk Grove and build facilities to host tournaments and youth soccer leagues.

The plan does not target an area specifically for a soccer complex, but leaders will include it as a potentially allowed use if a proposal is presented, said city spokeswoman Christine Brainerd on Friday.

The twin draws of outlet shopping and sports could be “mutually beneficial,” said Abby Friedman, a research manager at commercial real estate firm Cassidy Turley.

“The council directed that land be identified, and that staff (contact) landowners to determine interest in selling or leasing parcels for these facilities,” Brainerd said.

Discussions, she said, are ongoing.