The approval for the development called Oak Grove followed more than two hours of public hearings by the commission and its sub-unit, the ad hoc Trails Committee. Several speakers told of wild nighttime partying on Hearst Drive, Benedict and Smallwood courts and other Kottinger Ranch streets that dead end at the proposed development.
"This area is at the end of a long street in a very remote location," said Carolyn Newton of Smallwood Court. "Already we are seeing people taking hikes into these steep hills to party and make campfires."
"We find cigarettes around our house all the time," she added. "We've had two fires in Kottinger Ranch and I'm afraid this plan will encourage even more juveniles to go there. I'm concerned about the increased fire risks."
Nevertheless, both the ad hoc committee and the fill commission approved the plan, which cuts the number of homes first proposed from 98 to 51 and turns the remaining 497 acres over to the city free of charge. If ultimately approved by the City Council, the land grant would be the largest ever to Pleasanton.
The project is being proposed by Jennifer Lin, Frederic Lin and Kevin Lin and James Tong of Charter Properties in Pleasanton. It marks the latest effort by the Lin family to develop the land, where they once proposed more homes and an 18-hole championship golf course that would have been open to the public. Although the City Council approved that plan in the 1990s, voters reversed that decision and denied the development in a referendum.
Although members of both the ad hoc committee and Parks and Recreation Commission listened carefully to the reports and public comments, their decision had, for all practical purposes, been decided three days earlier when some commission members and city officials met with the developers, environmentalists and the Kottinger Ranch Homeowners Association leadership to reach a compromise. By the time the private, closed-door meeting ended at the city's Operations Center, the group had a deal that will likely carry the proposal forward for approval by both the Planning Commission and City Council as early as next month.
No notice was given to the public about the meeting, including members of the homeowners association who went to the public hearing to object to the plan, only to find their leaders had already approved the deal.
Once approved, the developers could start work immediately, with one of the "deal's" provisions that the trails be completed and in place before the fifth home lot is sold.
The compromise agreement resolved differences over how hikers, equestrians and the public in general would reach the trails and open space, which Dolores Bengtson, retired Director of the Parks and Community Services Department, described as some of the most beautiful and scenic landscape in Pleasanton. In finally withdrawing its objections to the project, the Kottinger Homeowners Association had won a promise from the developers to restrict access to the public acreage to a trailhead off Vineyard Avenue to the north and near the Callippe Preserve on the south. No access would be permitted from Hearst Drive, although that will be the main roadway into the home sites.
Bengtson and other objected to that restriction, saying the proposed trailhead points were at the bottom of steep hills and only the most rigorous hikers could navigate the pathways to the hilltop acreage. The "deal" negotiated at the closed-door meeting scrubbed the restrictions, with Hearst Drive now designated as a major route to the first staging area, which could be the only one for several years until others are developed.
"I didn't know about this Monday meeting and I don't understand why the main access has shifted back to Hearst Drive," said Christy Budenbender of Hearst Drive. "I can't emphasize enough how many kids come up here or go up Smallwood and Benedict to party. We already are seeing 12 cars at night parked at the end of our street."
Megan Williams, who lives at the end of Benedict Court, told of nighttime traffic and partygoers who use her fenced yard as a garbage dump.
"I see pot being handed out car windows in front of my house," she said. "People are throwing things over my fence. I am picking up garbage on a daily basis. I've put traffic cones in the middle of the street because I clocked people traveling down Benedict at over 45 mph. They party wherever they can and the police aren't doing anything about it."
"We don't need a staging area or places for these people to build fires," she added."
Although the development may not be fully acceptable to some in Kottinger Ranch, former Councilwoman Becky Dennis said the wooded acreage and trails will be an asset to the population of Pleasanton as a whole.
Measures to control traffic, curb speeding and limit the park and trail uses to those wanting to hike, ride horses or just sit and enjoy the scenery included installing traffic signals and speed bumps on Hearst Drive, access gates that close off the area at sunset, more police patrols and closed-circuit television cameras.
The plan is scheduled to be considered at the public hearing before the Planning Commission on Feb. 14.