The lifelong Californian who moved to Pleasanton in 1983 with her husband Dan and their two children became quickly involved in the schools they attended. At Amador Valley High School, she resuscitated a dormant parent-teacher organization and with the Boosters Club started the still popular Pigskin Roast that marks the start of the school's annual football season.
From then to today, when she is leading the "No on Measure D" campaign to block development in the southeast hills--a project known as Oak Grove--Ayala has been active in local politics, including serving two terms on the City Council (1996-2004). In 2004, she trailed Jennifer Hosterman in vying for the mayor's post and decided to "retire" from elective office. Friends, including hundreds who are supporting her anti-Measure D campaign, are urging her to try again.
Measure D, the referendum on the June 8 ballot, asks voters to decide if Jennifer and Frederick Lin should be allowed to build 51 custom homes on hillside lots at the end of Hearst Drive, above Kottinger Ranch. A Yes vote would allow them to proceed with their plan, which the City Council approved in 2007. A No vote would scuttle the project along with the Lins' developer agreement with the council to give 496 adjacent acres that they own to the city of Pleasanton.
Ayala, who learned about the project in 2006 as the proposal was moving through public hearings before the Housing and Planning commissions, has long fought hillside development.
As a member of the citizens' committee appointed by the late Mayor Ben Tarver, she worked with others to update the 1986 General Plan, eventually delivering a new version which became the 1996 plan. At the time, she helped insert language in the plan that the council should adopt an ordinance to ban development on hillside slopes greater than 25 percent.
A minority report by others on the General Plan committee refused to endorse the new plan because that requirement wasn't written into the 1996 document.
"I'll admit that I was duped into thinking that city staff would prepare that ordinance, but nothing happened," she said.
Two years ago, she pushed for voter approval of Measure PP, which won in the 2008 municipal election and is now a city law and also part of the new 2009 General Plan approved last year. It blocks development on steep hillsides.
But its passage may have come too late to affect Oak Grove, which ws approved by the City Council before Measure PP was adopted. If Measure D passes, opponents of the project are likely to seek a legal opinion on whether PP trumps the older approval.
As a member of the City Council, Ayala worked to wrest control of the 510-acre Bernal property from the city of San Francisco, which had owned the site since the 1930s. San Francisco had sought approvals from Pleasanton on different occasions for large housing developments there, ranging from more than 3,000 homes at one time to 1,600 with a golf course thrown in. Ayala consistently opposed the San Francisco plan on what she called the city's "field of dreams" as open space and a park.
In 1999, she backed a bond measure (Measure I) that would have provided $50 million to be used to buy much of the Bernal site. Campaigning for voter approval, she saw her measure lose by 3 percent age points from the 2/3rds majority vote required for approval.
"Still, that turnout of voters registered with San Francisco and started the process of considering other offers," Ayala said.
In 2000, Greenbriar Homes in collaboration with other developers bought the property from San Francisco for $126 million under an agreement that gave 318 acres to Pleasanton free of charge in return for permits to build 530 homes and apartments, which have since been constructed.
"The bond measure, although it failed by a narrow margin, convinced San Francisco officials that we would never approve the size of residential development they wanted on Bernal," Ayala said.
As a councilwoman, Ayala also battled the school board over its plan to rewrite the developer gift fee agreement Pleasanton had enjoyed during the building boom of the 1990s. The school board said it had a contract with Signature Properties to build a 10th elementary school in the Vineyard corridor--to be called Neal Elementary--that would serve Signature's Ruby Hill homeowners.
By reducing Signature's fees by $2 a square foot on new construction from what other developers had agreed to pay, the school board said Signature promised to build Neal at an estimated cost of $8.5-million and to cover any additional construction funds required.
Ayala disputed the agreement, arguing that the contract had too many loopholes. Others on the council disagreed and voted in favor of the school board's request to grant Signature the exemption.
Today, the school district still faces legal fees after an Alameda Court judge ruled the contract for Signature to build the school was invalid. Neal School was never built.
Ayala's main beef with the proposed Oak Grove project is with the extensive grading that is being proposed in the southeast hills to accommodate large homes that will be visible from miles away. In addition to the homes, homeowners below Oak Grove also could see large retaining walls "if this devastation is allowed to go through."
She said the project never gained the approval of the city's Planning Commission, yet was approved by the council. After that, she formed a citizens' group called "Save Pleasanton's Hills," collecting more than 3,800 signatures from registered voters to require a referendum to reverse the council's decision.
"We had just 30 days to collect enough signatures, and that was during Thanksgiving week in 2007," Ayala recalled. "I thought it would be difficult, but actually we found more people than usual at the stores and Farmers Market and met the deadline without a problem."
The referendum was tentatively set for early 2008.
Then the Lins filed suit in Superior Court to stop the County Registrar from certifying the signatures on the grounds that Ayala and her citizens' group failed to show voters enough of the development agreement documents before asking them to sign. Although Judge Frank Roesch of Superior Court sided with the Lins, the state Court of Appeal later reversed that decision, which meant the signatures could be approved and the referendum could be held.
On June 8, voters will finally have a chance to vote on a project that the Lins advanced six years ago and Ayala and her group have been battling for the last three years.