|Councilman Matt Sullivan Tuesday criticized three of his colleagues on the council, including Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, of "going down the wrong road" by voting to place an initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot that would compete against a citizens' initiative aimed at restricting hillside development and strengthening the city's 29,000-unit housing cap mandate.
Nevertheless, the three voted to place a council-sponsored initiative on the ballot in an effort to gain voter approval of what they called a less strident measure.
Sullivan, with Councilwoman Cindy McGovern in support, sided with the Save Pleasanton's Hills citizens' coalition that is championed by former councilwoman Kay Ayala. The group began collecting signatures after Thanksgiving to place their measure on the ballot to restrict construction on ridgelines, hillsides with 25 percent slopes or greater and parcels within 100 feet of ridgeland.
At the same time, the group endorsed tighter controls over how housing units are counted toward the city's voter mandated cap, saying that some units were slipping through the system.
The council's initiative that was approved Tuesday is called the "Pleasanton Ridgelines and Growth Control Preservation Initiative." Its title and ballot language sounds similar to the citizens' measure but differs in that it calls for developing an ordinance that would restrict hillside development, a process that city staff and its proponents agree could take one or two years to complete.
"This is a mistake and it's disillusioning to me," Sullivan said. "This is a status quo thing to keep doing what you're doing. It's simply a plan to create a plan and undermines the citizens' initiative."
"This shows a dramatic lack of leadership on the council," he added. "It's a political trick. This is a trust issue."
One of the speakers at the public hearing, Richard Pugh, agreed.
"I'm concerned about the process we find ourselves in," he said. "I don't believe the City Council should be in a rush to respond to a citizens' initiative. By creating an opposing measure, you're sending a message that every time a group of citizens wants to challenge something of public importance on the ballot that they will now face the possibility of having it nullified."
The Save Pleasanton's Hills group is already facing major expenses as it appeals in state court a Superior Court ruling on the Oak Grove project. That's a 51-custom home project planned for the southeast hills above Kottinger Ranch and Vintage Hills. The developers and longtime owners of the land--Jennifer Lin and her brother Frederic--signed an agreement with the council as part of its project approval that gives nearly 600 acres of the heavily wooded land to the city free of charge.
The Save Pleasanton's Hills coalition obtained a sufficient number of signatures from registered voters to call for a voter referendum to overturn the council decision, but a judge tossed out their petitions for being improperly circulated. The Oak Grove project is on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.
It's also that project that spurred Ayala and several others to write the hillside protection initiative that is now on the Nov. 4 ballot. Even if it's approved, however, it would not affect Oak Grove unless the state Court of Appeal reverses the lower court ruling and eventually voters approve the citizens' coalition's initiative to overturn the council decision.
The three councilmembers who supported the council's new initiative Tuesday argued that the Ayala group had not sufficiently explained the ramification of the measure the coalition is now advancing. Hosterman said that because it would impose strict land use rules without ever giving property owners or the public a chance to review the proposal in a public hearing, and without any environmental review, "it would just be bad law."
"This initiative contains language that is set in stone so we can't change it," she said. "It would define a housing unit to include assisted living facilities and even extended stay hotels, such as a Residence Inn. It would hamper this council from moving forward on senior housing projects and affordable housing.
"For that reason, the council majority wants to give the community a chance to consider an ordinance with strong language to protect our hillsides forever but also written to implement it and safeguard our community with balance."
The outcome of Tuesday's vote on fielding so-called competing measures on the Nov. 4 ballot was well-known going in, so there were no surprises when Sullivan and McGovern sided with the citizens' coalition and Hosterman, Thorne and Cook-Kallio supported a similar-sounding measure for the same ballot.
The initiatives also will be debated during what is expected to be a hotly-contested City Council election. Sullivan has announced that he will seek reelection to a second term; McGovern, who is also eligible to seek reelection, has yet to announce her intentions.
Two others--businessman Jerry Pentin and former Parks and Recreation Commissioner Howard Neely--have said they will run for the council. So far, no one has filed papers to run against Hosterman, who has launched her campaign for a third two-year term of office.
Although McGovern spoke out against the council majority's support of a competing initiative, it was Sullivan who was most critical.
"In the last few months, we've seen two examples of citizens petitioning their government," he said. "One of their efforts is now stuck in the Appeals Court and now the City Council is taking action to overturn their other petition. These are the people we represent, who put us in office. What message does that send to the citizens of our community?"
Despite the urging of Sullivan and McGovern, the majority vote prevailed against their requests that the council at least impose a development moratorium until all of the hillside issues are resolved and an ordinance is in place, and also that a "poison pill" provision be removed from the council-supported initiative that would allow it to trump the citizens' initiative if it wins voter approval in November by even one vote.
initiative pleasanton council hosterman ayala
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