Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch made permanent yesterday his earlier tentative ruling that rejected a citizens' coalition's plea, led by former Councilwoman Kay Ayala, to block the proposed Oak Grove housing and land transfer project in Pleasanton's southeast hills.
The ruling, in effect, affirmed the City Council's 4-1 vote last November that approved the Oak Grove plan and gave the go-ahead for a public, 496-acre nature park and 51 custom lots at the end of Hearst Drive in the hills above Kottinger Ranch and Vintage Hills.
Councilwoman Cindy McGovern cast the lone vote against the project and threw her support to the Ayala coalition.
The plan evolved during a four-year public review process that included nine public hearings and was favored by the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, the Trails Ad Hoc Committee, the Housing Commission and the council
The court's decision came after a month of deliberation by Roesch that followed a Feb. 22 hearing on a suit by land owner and developer Jennifer Lin and her brother Frederic to invalidate a petition by Ayala and her citizen's group known as Save Pleasanton's Hills. The petition, signed by more than 6,000, with more than 4,000 of the signatures verified as registered Pleasanton voters by the county Registrar's office, called for a voter referendum to overturn the council's decision.
The referendum was initially planned to go to voters during the June 3 state primary balloting.
But the Lins, through their attorneys Andrew Sabey and R. Clark Morrison of the San Francisco law firm of Cox, Castle & Nicholson, filed a suit in the Alameda County Superior Court to toss out the petitions on grounds that the signature-gathering process violated state laws.
It's that plea by the Lins that Roesch accepted in his ruling, made public Friday. He ruled that Ayala's group, while having copies at hand during their signature-gathering efforts of the home development and land grant ordinance and development agreement, should have had much more, including the project's design guidelines and a map showing the various lots, their sizes and locations. Because these were lacking, he ruled that the coalition's effort was "non-compliant" with state law, thereby nullifying the effort.
On Friday, immediately after Roesch's ruling, Ayala's attorney Christopher Lagras of the Palo Alto law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, filed a notice of appeal. If the appeal proceeds, it would eventually be heard by the First Appellate District Court in San Francisco, a process that could take more than a year and cost up to $50,000. In the meantime, the Lins cannot proceed with building their proposed development or turn the 496 acres over to the city of Pleasanton.
"Essentially, with the appeal being filed, it basically keeps everything in a holding pattern in terms of what happens to the referendum petitions and the project," explained City Attorney Michael Roush. "This could take a year or longer to resolve."
Last month, Ayala and coalition co-leader Alan Roberts, a homeowner in the gated community of Grey Eagle that is adjacent to the proposed Oak Grove housing site, asked the City Council to file an appeal if Judge Roesch ruled against the citizens' petitions in favor of the Lins' development plan. Ayala said the city should pay for the appeal.
Roush said that at some point the council will weigh in on whether it wants to appeal the decision.
However, with four on the council having approved the Lins' project, it's questionable if they would vote to appeal a ruling that went in their favor.
Besides ruling against Ayala and her petitioners, Roesch also denied her bid to have the Lins pay the costs of her signature-gathering efforts and legal fees. It's unclear what those costs are. The coalition bought newspaper advertisements, printed banners and brochures and copied thousands of pages of documents. Unless it worked on a pro bono basis, the Palo Alto law firm that Ayala used also must be paid.
Ayala has not filed any documents showing the contributions and expenses of the Save Pleasanton's Hills effort. Jerry Pentin, chair of a group that campaigned against Ayala's signature-gathering drive, said his group filed the necessary paperwork with the City Clerk's office as required by law, and called for Ayala to do the same.
The Lin family has owned the Oak Grove property since 1977. The site was zoned for residential development of up to 98 homes in 1991, and designated again for residential development when voters approved the city's Urban Growth Boundary ordinance in 1996. The city's 1996 General Plan, which is still in effect, and its voter-approved 29,000-unit housing cap also allow for up to 98 homes on the property.
Atty. Marty Inderbitzen, who has represented the Lins on their Oak Grove request, said, in a statement:
"The construction of this project will fulfill the General Plan goals and objectives by clustering large-lot, custom homes, preserving large open space acreage and acquiring a public park system and trail rights-of-way through developer dedications. (If this project is denied), the property owner will continue to propose projects for this property until one is finally approved and built, with or without a park."
The 51 lots would occupy 62 acres and another 4 acres would be developed with roads and services to support the lots, so 66 acres--or 12 percent--of the property would be dedicated to residential development and 496 acres--or 88 percent--would be given to the city at no cost.
The Oak Grove park would be Pleasanton's largest park at twice the size of Augustin Bernal and three times the size of the new Bernal Community Park. As planned, it would include natural open space, an 11-stall staging area with bathrooms and miles of trails that could eventually link the Callippe Preserve Golf Course to Shadow Cliffs Regional Park.
The Development Agreement approved by the council also requires the Lins to build the trails, staging area and public bathrooms by the time the fifth home lot is sold. The agreement stipulates, too, that the Lins will contribute $1 million to mitigate traffic and other impacts on the city.