By Roz Rogoff
City Center Love FestUploaded: Jun 22, 2014
I said in my last blog on Lunch with Lou again, that I would watch the video of the Presentation on the new design for the City Center before making any judgments about it.
I set aside time on Sunday afternoon to watch it and take notes. One advantage of watching the video instead of attending the workshop is I could replay portions of the video to take notes and match the names of the speakers correctly to their quotes.
What surprised me about the presentation and the comments after it, both on and off the dais, was this was a love fest. Everyone who spoke, from Councilman Dave Hudson recalling City Center plans of yore to Vice-Mayor Phil O'Loane calling the new design "Cool," all of the Councilmembers backed this new plan. They called Sunset's decision to start the design over again, "gutsy."
Councilmember Scott Perkins even thanked Alex, Sr. and Jr. for "wiping the slate clean." Perkins has seen many malls throughout the USA and Europe as a pilot in the Navy Reserve. He said, "They all look the same. This project will be unique."
It was a little hard for me to get an image of the plans from the presentation. I didn't like the buildings in photos of Renzo Piano's previous designs. These are supposed to be great international landmarks, but maybe I'm too much of a traditionalist to appreciate some of what appears to be "way out" design.
The City Center's designer, Antonio Belvedere, gave the presentation on the layout of the site and his rationale for the buildings and "piazza" or plaza. He called it an "Engine in a carpet of trees." I'm not sure what he meant by "engine." I might have misunderstood because of his Italian accent.
Mr. Belvedere is very enthusiastic about the project. He said it would be "a magnet for San Ramon, civic, retail, residential, and hospitality a source of pride for you, residents of San Ramon." Speakers at the end of the presentation agreed.
Mayor Bill Clarkson wants to be sure the Planning and Parks Commissions are involved. Harry Sachs was on the Planning Commission in 2007 when the previous plans were developed. He recalled that John Dickenson was on the Economic Development Advisory Committee in 2007 and had an idea for a piazza-style City Center.
Dickenson was in the audience and as if on cue he rose and spoke in Public Comment. He asked about the reduction in square footage of this plan from the previous one.
Planning Director Phil Wong explained that most of the reduction was from dropping the anchor stores. This would be an "anchorless" project. The design presented at the workshop is Phase 1 of a three-phase project. Phase 2 would be a combination of retail and residential and Phase 3 will be more retail.
Speakers in Public Comment had questions, but everyone who spoke liked the plans as presented. Robert Klingner wants Sunset to run busses to bring kids to the City Center a place that's social and safe. "Everything I see here is positive," he added.
Paul Desmarais asked about connections to the Iron Horse Trail and a timeline for the project, but ended with "I love the plan. I think it will be a great asset to the city."
The project will follow the City's standard development sequence: Architectural Review, Zoning Administrator, Building Permits. Depending on submissions from Sunset Development, Wong estimated that grading could begin by the end of this year, building in 2015, and opening of Phase 1 (the Piazza phase) in 2016.
Mary Simanello, a 35-year resident of San Ramon, really liked what she saw in the presentation, but questioned how this would impact traffic on Bollinger Canyon Road. Wong told her Bollinger will be widened with another lane for traffic. A traffic circulation analysis is being prepared.
Michael Jones felt this is better than the earlier plan. He was concerned about providing enough parking spaces so there would not be "bleed over to Whole Foods" parking lot. Councilmember Dave Hudson said it wouldn't be a problem as long as people shopped.
Even Herb Moniz and Jim Blickenstaff agreed on the plans. Moniz, who was City Manager for many years, said he's been working on City Center plans since 1985. "This generation looks great. Everyone is to be congratulated and let's get on with the project."
Jim Blickenstaff appreciated the way the designers worked with the community. "It's very refreshing to see the connectedness to the community. That gives me great hope for a great outcome here." Blickenstaff suggested holding workshops over the next few months. "This is going to be win-win with the business community and residents."
I'm still on the fence about the design changes. I liked the plans from 2007, but since Sunset could not attract suitable, upscale anchor stores, and since the competition from Walnut Creek and Pleasanton was too strong, the Mehrans were right to start over. I'm not as thrilled with the design as those at the meeting, but I've only seen the drawings presented and not the models that those who attended saw. These are only conceptual drawings at this stage, but it looks like San Ramon might really get a City Center in the next two or three years. Whoo-Hoo!