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April 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 02, 2004

Council OKs, but scales back waterpark expansion Council OKs, but scales back waterpark expansion (April 02, 2004)

Work starts Monday on $6 million project

by Jeb Bing

Victorious after a year-long bid to gain city approval to expand his waterslides at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, owner and operator Glenn Kierstead said he will start work Monday to prepare his current four waterslides for opening in mid-May while also moving quickly to build his larger $6 million waterpark in time for opening in May 2005.

Called California Splash, the new facility has been approved to add four more waterslides and ground level water activities, including a Lazy River water ride, children's wading and swimming pools, a more challenging wave pool and a corporate picnic area that will have its own water-related amenities.

Kierstead's move to prepare the waterpark for opening next month came after the City Council overturned a Planning Commission decision and approved a conditional use permit that allows him to expand the facility. The controversial bid, which has seen supporters and opponents jostle at numerous meetings over the last nine months, was backed by the East Bay Regional Park District, which owns and operates Shadow Cliffs. It expects to raise up to $400,000 as its share of fees from the expanded waterpark operations.

Mayor Tom Pico called the family-focused waterpark an asset to the community. With the support of council members Kay Ayala and Steve Brozosky, Pico prevailed in a 3 to 2 vote to allow the California Splash project, although the approval was conditioned on Kierstead scaling back the expansion by eliminating three high-platform "thrill" waterslides and to adding the four new slides on the same slide hill that holds the current four.

Council members Matt Campbell and Jennifer Hosterman voted against the project.

The council's decision also stipulated that as part of its approval the East Bay Park District must lease an adjoining site to Pleasanton, which will build and operate a BMX motocross track there.

Hosterman called on the council to reject the waterpark and to ask voters to consider it in a referendum this fall, instead. But Brozosky said it was a decision that elected council members should make, and after back-to-back public hearings, he was prepared to make it.

Hosterman also objected to the specific scaling back of the waterpark proposal by Ayala, Brozosky and Pico, arguing that they were making those decisions without experience or advice from experts.

"We our putting ourselves in the position of scaling back and redesigning this waterpark ourselves," she said. "I'm not a waterpark expert, I'm not a waterpark developer, and I'm not a waterpark architect. I think it's inappropriate to put a plan together that the five of us think might be all right with the community instead of letting the public vote on the project."

Campbell said he liked the waterslides the way they are, and that he is concerned the expansion and construction work will disturb the natural habitat adjacent to the slides, including nesting raptors. Agreeing with his concerns, Pico ordered Kierstead to hire a professional naturalist to monitor the habitat and wildlife as the expansion project proceeds.

The council's decision, which brought smiles and handshakes from Kierstead, park district officials and consultants in the front rows of the council chamber Tuesday night disappointed another 80 who had been part of a "No on Water Park" coalition. More than 100 spoke on the issue during two lengthy public hearings before the council on March 16 and March 23, many of them against the expansion.

On its Web site at www.NoWaterPark.com, just minutes after the council's decision, the group headlined a one-paragraph announcement: "City Council 'Caves'...Mayor Pico, Council members Ayala and Brozosky APPROVE expansion. The message follows:

"Less than 30 minutes after Mayor Pico, Council Member Ayala and other members of the City Council said that the proposed expansion would be soundly REJECTED by Pleasanton voters, the City Council still approved a 'reduced' expansion of the water slides. Only Council Members Campbell and Hosterman voted no. The developer will be allowed to add all ground level projects they wanted and 'only' four new slides."

In an interview, waterslides opponent Stacey Ristow said: "I'm disappointed by the approval of the scaled down version just because I didn't feel it was really mapped out as to what this new version is going to be. It sounds like all they cut back were three high slides. I don't know how much the loss of three slides is going to cut down on the amount of visitors that we have, which has been our main concern."

Briana Scherer, another No on Water Park team member, agreed.

"We just don't know if it's scaled back enough, if what was approved won't attract the crowds from outside the area that the earlier project might have," Scherer said. "Frankly, I'd prefer that the area stay the way it is, but I recognize that he (Kierstead) is a businessman who is entitled to try to make a profit. But I'm glad it won't be built to the scale that was originally proposed."

Cameron Sullivan of the Country Faire neighborhood, complained that the city is now in the position of rewriting a proposal for a waterpark and then deciding on its own, without public input, what will be acceptable. "It's obvious they are going to need the input of the applicant, but it remains to be seen how much input, if any, that we'll have," she said.

All praised the council and the Planning Commission for devoting so much time to hear the views of residents and to read the hundreds of e-mails that were sent to council members and commissioners. For many, it was the first time they had attended a City Council meeting, which also brought praise from Councilwoman Kay Ayala, who complimented them on voicing their concerns.

"It's been an interesting process and a wonderful civics lesson in action," Sullivan said. "I just hope that the huge turnout on this issue has an impact on what they allow in this scaled-back park."

Glenn Kierstead, who built the waterslides in 1981 and has operated them ever since, sat through all of the hearings and held a number of meetings with those opposed to the project.

"I heard everyone, too," he said. "I probably will be cutting back on some of the ground level activities on my own to make sure that we don't change the character of Shadow Cliffs, which has been one of Councilman Campbell's concerns. Already, I'm planning to cut back on the decking and increase the grass area by more than 75 percent over what we have now."


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