Opponents of a City Council-approved plan to allow the construction of 51 estate homes on the hilltop above Kottinger Ranch and Vintage Hills will be making a final dash today to make sure they have enough signatures to force a vote on a referendum to overturn that decision.
At least 75 members of a group called "Save Pleasanton's Hills" have been canvassing neighborhoods and walking the streets of downtown Pleasanton gathering signatures on petitions. They need 3,672 signatures--or 10 percent of the 36,720 who voted in last November's municipal election---to qualify their measure for the ballot box.
"We will have many more than that by (5 p.m. Thursday) Dec. 6 when we have to submit our petitions," said former City Councilwoman Kay Ayala, who is leading the effort with Karla Brown, vice president of the Kottinger Ranch Homeowners Association.
Ayala and many of her volunteers sought signatures last Saturday during the city's Holiday Parade, drawing criticism from some who thought their solicitations were improper during a family-focused event to celebrate Christmas.
Also seeking support for their "Do not sign" campaign at the Holiday Parade were volunteers for a group known as "Keep Our Park."
Working with this group, which is chaired by businessman Jerry Pentin, are political, civic and business leaders, including former Mayor Tom Pico, who has been standing on street corners where he used to wave to motorists in his political campaigns. A paid consultant to the Lin family and its Oak Grove project representatives, Pico now waves "Do not Sign" and "Keep Our Park" banners instead.
At issue is a plan that the council approved to allow three offshore developers--Jennifer, Frederic and Kevin Lin--to build 51 homes on 77 acres that they own at the end of Hearst Drive in Kottinger Ranch, an upscale neighborhood that the Lin family also built in the 1990s.
These new homes, because of the large lots they would occupy, could range in size from 8,000 to 12,000 square feet and would be among the largest homes in Pleasanton. Plans for each house, before being built, would have to undergo design reviews by the city planning staff and the Planning Commission, and possibly the City Council.
As part of the agreement approved by the council, the Lins would give the rest of the hilltop land they own--496 acres--to the city of Pleasanton. The city, in turn, plans to build hiking trails and equestrian paths on the land, along with a staging area, parking lot and restrooms. Except for the trails and an emergency fire and evacuation road, the hilltop acreage would be left as open space.
The Lin family developers would pay for the trail construction and other amenities once the fifth home is sold, according to the agreement. The Lins also have agreed to pay $1 million into a contingency fund to Oak Grove-related improvements, including traffic lights and a school crossing guard on Hearst for students heading to Vintage Hills Elementary School.
The City Council plans to make the 496 acres of open space part of a 2,000-acre swath of permanent open space stretching from the Callippe Preserve Golf Course to Shadow Cliffs Regional Park.
Ayala has opposed the Oak Grove project from its start, arguing that it violates various stipulations in the 1996 General Plan, which she helped write and which is still the controlling land use document guiding development in Pleasanton. Although the council is working on an update of the General Plan, that effort, now more than three years old, won't be completed until next spring at the earliest.
That's why Ayala also is seeking signatures on a second petition, which calls for an initiative which would also be decided by voters to restrict building on slopes that are 25 degrees steep or greater. If in place now, which Ayala said it was supposed to be, the ordinance would rule out the 51-home development on the Kottinger hills.
However, her proposal as well as a similar once being advanced by the council would exempt developments of 10 houses or smaller, an exemption designed to protect small landowners along Foothill Drive who have yet to develop their acreage.
Once the packets of signatures are submitted on Thursday, City Clerk Karen Diaz will review the petitions to make sure they are in order. If the numbers total at least 3,672, she will then forward the packets to the Alameda County Registrar's Office for an official count. That office must determine that at least 3,672 of the signatures are currently registered voters in Pleasanton.
If certified, the Registrar will advise the City Council which must decide whether to rescind its approval of the Oak Grove development and land gift agreements or let the measure go to a vote. That decision will likely be made at the council's second meeting in January or its first meeting in February. If the decision is to ask voters to decide, the issue is expected to be on the California General Election primary ballot on June 3, 2008.
Last month, the City Council voted to approve the Oak Grove proposal along with certifying an Environmental Impact Report after more than three years since the project was submitted.
At first, the Lins had asked for permits to build 98 homes on their total acreage, but gradually reduced that number to 51 and, in a compromise reached over a series of community and neighborhood meetings, also agreed to make the 496-acre land gift to Pleasanton, the city's largest land grant ever.
"I am proud of the process that created Oak Grove," Mayor Jennifer Hosterman said. "This PUD allows the city to get something spectacular for the community: a gift of 496 acres of open space preserved in perpetuity."
Three others joined Hosterman in approving the project: Council members Matt Sullivan, Jerry Thorne and Cheryl Cook-Kallio.
However, Councilwoman Cindy McGovern voted against the proposal, arguing that she is concerned that there won't be adequate access to the 51 homes in the event of a hillside fire or other emergency. She also opposes the large size of the proposed homes that she believes will be visible from other parts of Pleasanton.
"I think the trade-off on this is too great," McGovern said, referring to the developer agreement to allow the homes in exchange for the 496-acre land grant to Pleasanton.
"More people will be looking at the ridges (those homes will be on) than walking them," she added. "I don't want this to be my legacy 10 or 20 years from now when people look up and see those homes and think that I was a part of that."
McGovern also has been urging residents to put their names on the petitions to force a referendum, which she hopes will lead to overturning the council's decision.
E. M. (Gene) Abernathy, a Pleasanton voter and retired Navy officer, signed the petition at McGovern's urging at Farmer's Market two weeks ago.
"I think Pleasanton has had the one thing in the Tri-Valley area that all of the other cities haven't had, and that is an appropriate way for growth," Abernathy said. "The one thing we don't want to negate is the persona and beauty of this little city."
"We are being surrounded by uncontrolled growth," he added. "Dublin and Livermore have gone out of sight. Pleasanton still maintains that controlled aspect. We've got enough homes around here. Our infrastructure can't accommodate any more in my opinion."
Added Karla Brown, co-sponsor of the "Save Pleasanton's Hills" measure from a signature-gathering booth nearby: "We don't have a lot of time, but we are working very hard and we have passion on our side."
But Becky Dennis countered that these seemingly sincere petitioners, while passionate about their cause, are woefully ignorant of land use and property rights law.
"Nonetheless, they get signatures by appealing to residents' desire to save open space," she added. "For instance, while showing pictures of what look like office buildings on a hill (definitely not approved for Oak Grove), they hastened to assure me that Pleasanton would still get to keep the park if their ballot measures were successful."
"They explained their strategy to pass laws that will make it impossible to develop the property, thus forcing the property owner to give all their land to Pleasanton in order to avoid having to pay taxes on their now worthless property," Dennis said.
"This is both unlikely and illegal," she explained. "Far from saving open space, their petitioning jeopardizes over 15 years of work by environmental, open space, and trails advocates to protect our southeast hills."