Pleasanton Weekly

Column - May 7, 2010

What they're saying about our town

by Jeb Bing

In back-to-back presentations to the Valley Real Estate Network, a Tri-Valley real estate group, City Manager Nelson Fialho and Economic Development Manager Pamela Ott said recent signs of an economic recovery bode well for both the city's retail and restaurant sectors and city finances as well. Several downtown stores are expanding, a new and different fish and meat market is about to open at Spring and Main streets, a new restaurant will take over the old Mahalo Grill. In other words, business is picking up.

More on the downtown: The vacancy rate is about 7 percent when not counting the large and vacant Domus store. A new survey shows shoppers want more women's and children's stores and activities, which could be on the way along with a new executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association. Shoppers also want Peet's Coffee, which is fine with Ott who says there's no restriction on chain businesses downtown. Larger chains, such as Gap Jr., which some want, probably won't move downtown for lack of building space to accommodate them and a lower-than-mall shopper density.

More surveys and promotions are under way by the city, with questions also being asked of those who say they go elsewhere for what they need. Those results will be tabulated and used in a Shop Pleasanton campaign to be financed by the city shortly. Along with the survey, Ott's department also will launch a series of seminars starting May 25 that will be open free of charge to all retailers. The discussions will be geared toward marketing with experts in the field talking about how businesses large and small can make their promotions more powerful and proactive.

Fialho said that while he saw the retail market still shrinking just a few months ago, he sees pent-up demand now swinging the other way. Investors with cash in hand are searching for available locations to move their businesses from other cities. Several hotels have recently changed hands and a potential investor is looking at the Washington Mutual operations complex on Franklin Drive that's been vacant since that banking institution was sold. Investors, according to Fialho, consider Pleasanton a top location with great amenities which also has a "uniquely Pleasanton people" participation that elevates the city every time a business surveys its advantages.

Fialho also talked about Pleasanton's 29,000-unit housing cap and a recent court ruling that declared the 1996 voter-mandated law illegal. Voters approved the cap by an 80 percent margin of those voting which required the city to defend the law when it was challenged by Urban Habitat, an affordable housing organization, and Attorney General Jerry Brown. Fialho said that city leaders knew that the cap could someday come into conflict with increasing state housing mandates, which are issued on a five-year rolling period to make sure cities have their "fair share" of affordable as well as market rate housing. With 25,500 housing units now built, and a total allocation by the state for sufficiently zoned land to accommodate at least another 3,500, Urban Habitat won a court order based on the city's inability to meet its state obligations under the cap. The City Council has agreed to negotiate a settlement with Urban Habitat and Brown that will end further, costly litigation, settle other outstanding suits and allow the city to continue restraining future development through its growth management laws which have not been contested.

In response to questions from the VREN audience, Fialho said that when the state's allocation of 3,500 new housing units are built, about 1,200 would be earmarked for those with low- to very-low-income levels, units likely to range in size from 800-1,000 square feet. Pleasanton's requirement under the court order is to rezone enough land to allow residential densities that accommodate those units, land that will typically be zoned for 30 units per acre. That's slightly more than Archstone and other apartment complexes that offer affordable rentals, but far less than the much-higher densities that have been built across I-580 in Dublin.

Asked about municipal finances, Fialho said Pleasanton's budget is balanced although the state continues to "shift" $4 million to $5 million each year out of city property tax revenue to held pay down California's debt. That "robbing Peter to pay Paul," as Fialho put it, started in 1992 and has now cost Pleasanton $100 million in tax revenue. At the start, the money was to be used to help the state pay its education obligations, but we know not a dime of it ever found its way back to the Pleasanton school district.


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