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3D Modeling: We’re still waiting

Six Seven Eight months into the plan, and still no 3D modeling

** News break **
Friday, August 12th, 2022

The first glimpses of 3D modeling are here!
See articles and examples on this website here.
Read below for why the 3D Modeling is so important to our understanding of the Gateway plan.

    • What is 3D Modeling
    • Why is it so crucial
    • Promises, but still nothing for us. What’s the problem?
    • What the draft plan promises — and why that isn’t enough
    • What are they hiding?
    • Examples from other cities

What is 3D modeling?

Simple.  3D means 3-dimensional. Flat drawings and two-dimensional plans are “2D” — useful and necessary.  But to most people they do not convey a sense of what things will look like in real life. 

Why is it so crucial

There’s a wealth of information in 3-D that is not available in 2D.
Which is more understandable and meaningful to you? 

McKinleyville Town Center – Plan

or this ?

McKinleyville Town Center – 3D overview


This is a big missing element from the draft Gateway plan

If you want to see what we’re really missing from our Gateway plan, watch this 2-minute video of a 3D modeling “fly-over” over a mockup of the McKinleyville Town Center.  It’s on this website here.  

What’s it going to take for us to see some 3D modeling images?

The software used to create 3D modeling can be expensive and elaborate.  Or, in its simplest forms, the software can be simple and inexpensive.  Community Development Director David Loya has referred to using the 3D design software “SketchUp” as an alternative to a more extensive program.

Local “K. Boodjeh Architects,” with a primary staff of three people, made the modeling for the McKinleyville Town Center.  They did it.  The firm entrusted by Arcata to this work is the local office of GHD — a firm with a staff of 10,000 on 5 continents.  They should be able to knock this out pretty quickly, don’t you think?

The Excuses:

The February 8, 2022 Planning Commission meeting

(full link here for the transcript, or for the video, here)

Community Development Director David Loya speaking, at 2:04:38

We have our consultant, has a GIS system that they can use to create basically blocks for massing, to get a rough sense for what that massing would look like on the ground.  And then it also will be able to use shadow projections so that you can see what the shading would look like and that sort of thing.  So that’ll be one avenue that we explore with the community.

And then the second, we haven’t completely resolved on, but what the idea that was floated was to take some Sketchup models that are relatively simple to put together and then put those inside those block models so that we can see, okay, within that framework here’s an actual development that we might see on the ground on this specific location.  And you’d be able to have kind of a virtual experience with it.

The May 5, 2022 Planning Commission meeting

And again, David Loya speaking at the May 5th meeting of the Planning Commission — three months later:

Commissioner Dan Tangney  2:12:07
Part Two of that was about 3D modeling. Is there a plan for that?

David Loya  2:12:13
There is, yeah. We’re working with Planwest to develop some 3D GIS models that help explain the bulk and massing intersection with other existing uses. And that work is ongoing. We had a first deliverable, which was, in part the result of those early estimates. And when we thought we would see that, and the first deliverable needed additional work before it was ready to share with the public. And so the Planwest team, the GHD team, has gone back and has been revising those. In the latest version that I saw seems like it’s on the right track. So I believe that they’re updating the 3D model to reflect some of the improvements that were based on some feedback they got from their architect on their team and our planners. And so I do hope to be able to bring that forward soon. I don’t have a date for release for it yet.

The June 1, 2022 City Council meeting

And again, at the June 1, 2022, City Council meeting — four months after that February Planning Commission meeting, and six months after the draft plan was released:

City Council Member Meredith Matthews

Just one more question about process a little. So I know a lot of people are very excited about 3D modeling — architectural representation and whatnot — so I’m happy to see that that’s coming forward.  Is that going to be presented like in situ — are we going to see physically what it’s going to look like in the place that it’s going to be, or is it just going to be like the building … ?

Community Development Director David Loya

Yeah.  No, it’s really cool.  Actually I’ve gotten a sneak peek at it and what GHD did was, they built the 3D model of the entire Gateway area and then surrounding out a couple of blocks and so you can see all the existing buildings in in sort of like a shadow model and then they, you know… 

[Note:  GHD, a global engineering firm with 10,000 employees on five continents, has one of their 200 offices here in Eureka. In 2011, GHD acquired the Santa Rosa-based Winzler & Kelly, which had an office in Eureka.]

Part of what’s taken so long is that essentially they took what’s called a glass box and that just takes some basic setbacks, and then they put the glass boxes in.  And we looked at it and said “That doesn’t really convey what these buildings are going to look like – you’ve got to try harder.”  And so they went back and then they built a model inside the glass box, a little bit more refined, and they came back and we said the same thing — like that doesn’t quite get us there. People aren’t going to look at that and be like “Oh, I get it.” 

So they went back again, and now we’re in sort of our fourth iteration.  We’re bringing in an architect to do some renderings on top of those models.  And then also associated with that will be some shade study work that we can show — based on those setbacks, the upper floor setbacks — what a potential building could look like and what the impact would be on the community, the existing built environment.

The June 22, 2022 City Council meeting

At the June 22, 2022 City Council meeting:

City Council Member Meredith Matthews

So the Committees and the Planning Commission, they can agree on building heights and whatnot and give recommendations on that without Form-Based Codes and Ministerial Rights and all of that stuff?

Community Development Director David Loya

Yeah, I think so we’ll be going through some of the Form-Based Code engagement concurrently with this. And again, I mean, as I, as I discussed earlier there’s been some discussion and questioning whether or not, Form-Based Code is the correct approach. And so the Council and the Planning Commission certainly need to weigh in on that. The work that we do towards that Form-Based Code will still be valuable to the community. But I certainly don’t want to invest in creating a Form-Based Code, you know, these very valuable dollars that we have very limited access to, to then later find out that the community or the Council isn’t interested in a Form-Based Code. So the difference here, it does impact those grant funded, some of the grant funded work that we’re doing. But it also affects the Housing Element commitment, there was a rezone requirement in this housing element to certify it. We’re working with HCD. We don’t have a clear path yet. But we’re working with HCD, to get a clearer path on is there some leniency. What I fully anticipate is we’re going to get an enforcement letter when we reach out to them and let them know that we’re not going to make the rezone by August of this year. You know, we’ve talked to them about we ask them about COVID, delay for COVID, and various other items, those conversations are still ongoing, but I’m anticipating an enforcement letter that basically says, Hey, look, you need to get these done. This is the first letter if you don’t make significant progress, so on and so forth. So the one-time pass — the difference between these two processes, the one-time pass gets us closer to meeting those objectives. I also just want to recognize that we are not going to, at least for the Housing Element and for the grant funds that are required to be, or the work product is required to be done by the end of this year, we’re not going to meet them, I don’t think there’s any way possible that we get through this process by the end of this year. So we’ve extended the timeline, we’re looking at Spring of next year, late Winter, Spring next year. So we’re still facing those penalties regardless. So one thing the Council could consider is that, Look, if we’re already going to face these penalties, then you know, pressures off, let’s, you know, let’s just take the time we need, we will have to, at some point, consider whether or not the grant funds have to be repaid. If they do that’s approximately $500,000 that we have in our grant funded monies that we would have to replace through some other source to pay those grant granting agencies back. And then those time constraints, at least, would be off. The Housing Element certification is still a significant barrier. And if you recall from my discussion when we talked about the timeline previously being out of compliance with the Housing Element doesn’t just affect housing grants. It’s now tied to a host of other granting agencies.  There’s been a lot of integration at the State level, a lot of these funds are coming from climate change  money that’s been allocated through in through climate change bills. And so there’s a lot of integration between those and housing elements. And so it’s intertwined with transportation funds many other funding sources. And if we’re not certified, we’re not eligible for those funds.

[29:41.  Four minutes to not answer the question.]

Community Development Director David Loya

I did want to mention, Vice-Mayor, to the point that you made earlier about the Design work. I know that many in the community are anxiously awaiting some of the 3D modeling and what the solar shading looks like and that sort of thing. You know GHD team who’s subcontracting to Planwest had a fairly early deliverable, I believe it was February for 3D GIS modeling. And we were anxious and excited about sharing that with the community in March, is what we were anticipating. And what my expectations of what 3D modeling would be and what GHD’s understanding of what 3D modeling would be were radically different. So they were basically able to create in that first version, taking the standards and then creating what they call a jewel box or a glass box. So it would just give you the maximum development framework. And it really did not convey the discussion that we’d been having with the community around upper floor setbacks and this sort of thing. And so we had to delay releasing that information because people would take a look at that — you don’t get a second chance for a first impression — they would take a look at that and say, Hey, look this is completely inconsistent with what you’re what you’re proposing, and they would be right. So we’ve been working and adding refinements.

And the work that we’re scheduling to come out the 29th, that Delo had mentioned earlier, our consultant Ben Noble who’s going to do sort of the first phase of this design work with the community, is intended to really describe what a Form-Based Code is and how it’s used. And to dig a little bit into the detail around how building form can be regulated, how you can have larger statue buildings and still have it be pedestrian friendly, human scale. The second phase is going to be more detailed design work, community design, work with the community, to try and pull together information. So the first one is a little bit more informational. And question answering, the second one would be more roll up our sleeves and get into the details.

And we’ve gotten to the point now where we have a local architect who’s assisting with some of the images that you can transition from the 3D GIS modeling to a visual drawing sketch of what the streetscape might look like, which conveys a lot more effectively what it is that the streetscape might look like then that first product we got in February. So that’s been part of what the delay is, is that we’ve had to continuously refine that work product to make sure that it’s going to convey information to the community that they can digest and understand. So looking forward to having that rollout over July and August.

When are we going to see the 3D Modeling?

All these “answers” — these responses — are missing the answer to the most basic question:  When are we going to see this ?

Without 3D modeling of what a potential build-out of 6-Story and 8-story buildings might look like, the public — and the Planning Commission — are not in a position to assess the impact this plan may have on the streets and the neighborhoods. 

This cannot be stressed enough.  A map or a color-coded plan is insufficient, and, for the general public, it is misleading.

This is yet again an integral part of the Gateway plan that has been promised and not seen.  Regardless of whether the Community Development Department is understaffed, or if the Gateway plan is underfunded — the public MUST have in front of them accurate depictions of what these buildings would look like.


The planners have the software — and they are capable of making valid 3D images

The image below was made prior to December, 2021.  It’s on Page 23 of the December 2021 draft plan.  We know the plan’s consultant is capable of making 3D drawings.

What the draft plan promised

Page 43 in the December 2021 draft plan is titled “Visualizations.” 

The page is mostly blank — it’s a placeholder.

Written on Page 41:
Following public feedback regarding draft Gateway Area Plan, several pages will be added here to display photo-realistic visualizations of selected opportunity sites within the Plan Area. Each visualization will show existing conditions and then envisioned future improvements on the same site. These renderings will be illustrative, will be conceptual, and will not be prescriptive. 


Will what they show us be enough?

We will see.  The descriptions of the 3D modeling that have been provided to us sound pretty good. But — and this is a big but — if the number of new building shown, if the massing of potential buildings is not shown, if the buildings depicted seem to be infeasible or unlikely to be built or seemingly not in line with what would be good for Arcata… then it’s back to the drawing board, as they used to say.There should have been a virtual 3D model put in with the original draft plan document, from December 2021.

The impact of the construction in the Gateway area CAN NOT be evaluated until the public has access to the 3D modeling.  We’ve been promised that the entire Gateway area (plus some surrounding areas too, for context) will be included in the Gateway modeling.

We’ve waited so long.  This had better be good.

When when when when when…?

This has been promised for over 5 months (as of July 15, 2022).  It has not happened yet.  We’ve been promised that it will be very, very soon — possibly even in a two weeks or a month.  The Design element is actually on the Planning Commission’s schedule for July 26th.  I’m excited.

Sometimes doesn’t it seem that the more important some ingredient is — a portion of the puzzle that’s absolutely critical to evaluating the Gateway plan, or crucial for moving forward — the more important it is, the longer we have to wait for it?  More promises that David Loya makes… More scheduled deadlines get passed by… And more we hear “yes, all that will be in the ultimate report, you’ll be sure to see that info before the plan is approved.”

Examples from other cities

Redwood City

On this website, in the article on this website about Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan.  You can gain a good amount of information about what the plan is from this 2D image:

But in terms of understanding what a build-out would look for Downtown Redwood City, how about the impact of this, versus looking at the map, above.
Which was then modified with setbacks on height along the major commercial streets to be this, below.  A person can quickly see the difference in “human scale” along pedestrian shopping zones and along borders with lower-height city areas. See Main Street in the right-center of the diagram.


Vancouver, British Columbia

Here’s a plan for a portion of the city of Vancouver, BC. All the colors mean something and represent heights and neighborhoods.  Looks pretty, doesn’t it?  But what do the colors really represent?

The map above is the plan.
Here, below, is what a potential build-out could look like:


And then in the 3D modeling, for a closer look:


And then back to the original plan. 


Reader, judge for yourself:  Which tells the real story?  The plan is necessary for planning, but it gives only a small idea as to what will happen. 
And it’s the same for Arcata.


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