Pleasanton Weekly

News - April 30, 2010

City Council votes to settle, not fight housing cap ruling

Meeting with cap opponents to cut legal expenses, resume commercial permit process

by Jeb Bing

The Pleasanton City Council Tuesday night unanimously agreed to negotiate a settlement with opponents of the city's 29,000-unit housing cap who won a court decision last month that found the cap in violation of state law.

In his ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch told Pleasanton officials to remove any reference to the housing cap from its General Plan and other documents. He gave the city 120 days to comply or file an appeal of his ruling.

By negotiating a settlement, the council hopes to avoid costly future litigation or to simply accept the ruling that could open the city up to more involvement on land use issues by the state.

The negotiations, which have already been under way on an informal basis, will start with Urban Habitat, an Oakland-based affordable housing advocacy organization that first filed the suit in 2006. Council members would like to keep some limits on housing development while still agreeing to Urban Habitat's insistence that it allow for sufficient residentially-zoned land to meet state housing requirements.

If satisfactory, the negotiations with Urban Habitat and then with State Attorney Gen Jerry Brown, whose office joined in the Urban Habitat suit, could also settle at least two other related lawsuits.

Tuesday night's council decision authorizes City Attorney Jonathan P. Lowell, City Manager Nelson Fialho and a City Council subcommittee consisting of Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilwoman Cindy McGovern "to pursue settlement negotiations with the Urban Habitat plaintiffs and the Attorney General, reserving the right to pursue other options in the event settlement negotiations are not successful."

Lowell said Wednesday that the city has until early July to respond to Roesch on how it intends to proceed or to accept his decision.

"We think we'll find much earlier than that if we can reach a negotiated settlement," Lowell said.

The housing cap was approved in 1996 by 80 percent of those who voted on the special measure. At the time, the cap was considered necessary to stop runaway residential growth that could exceed the capabilities of the city's sewer, water and street systems to handle.

The need to act quickly on Roesch's decision, even ahead of the 120-day deadline, is being forced by another ruling Roesch handed down that bars Pleasanton from issuing any commercial building improvement or new commercial construction permits until the city gets rid of the housing cap.

Last week, Brad Hirst of Pleasanton-based Equity Enterprises told the council that the ruling has already sent a message to commercial developers that the Pleasanton is "closed for business" when it comes to new business development.

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