Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - June 11, 2010

It's over! Now what?

By a wide margin, Pleasanton voters last Tuesday defeated Measure D, a referendum that would have approved the City Council's action in 2007 that authorized landowners Frederic and Jennifer Lin to build 51 custom homes on property they own in the southeast hills above Kottinger Ranch. As part of that development agreement, the Lins also contracted to give the rest of their Pleasanton holdings -- some 496 hilltop acres -- to the city of Pleasanton free of charge to be used in perpetuity as open space and parkland. Along with scuttling the Lins' housing plans, Tuesday's vote also canceled what would have been Pleasanton's largest land grant ever.

Former City Councilwoman Kay Ayala and her Save Pleasanton's Hills citizens' coalition deserve credit for waging a long and successful campaign against Oak Grove, a campaign that generated 6,065 votes in opposition to Measure D in an otherwise lackluster primary election of interest mostly to Republicans. Ayala and her group also spent very little --$6,915, mostly for advertising and colorful yard signs. That compares to $514,000 spent by the Lins, which included advertising, four-color brochures and maps that went to many Pleasanton voters. But that's not all. In the nearly three years running up to Measure D, the Lins also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in unsuccessful litigation aimed at blocking Ayala's referendum campaign.

Tuesday's vote is likely to have political and financial fallout for Pleasanton in the months -- and possibly the years -- ahead. We have already seen the willingness of the Lins to litigate when they believe their property and development rights are threatened. Although they waited after suffering a similar defeat in a 1993 referendum before approaching the city with another hillside project, they also agreed to downsize their recent proposal for 98 homes to 51 and to offer the 496 acres as a public land grant. Encouraged by four members of the City Council, they instructed their representatives to work with neighborhood, civic and business organizations to refine their Oak Grove proposal, a four-year process that appeared on track before the Ayala citizens' group protests. Strengthened by a recent court ruling that invalidated Pleasanton's housing cap and litigation by an affordable housing coalition and state Attorney General (and now Democratic nominee for governor) Jerry Brown who are complaining that Pleasanton is out of step in meeting its state-mandated housing obligations, the Lins may see this as their opportunity to link arms with those who fault the city over development rights. The city of Pleasanton recently settled a lawsuit with the owner of Vineyard Villa Mobile Home Park over developer rights for $750,000, avoiding a full-fledged court case that could have cost the city as much as $20 million. If the Lins sue the city successfully for denying them development rights in the southeast hills, estimates for land acquisition costs and penalties range in the $50 million to $100 million range.

On the political front, the three principal backers of Measure D were Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and council members Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne. All three are facing re-election on Nov. 2. All three voted to place the Measure D referendum on Tuesday's primary ballot at a higher cost to taxpayers so that it would not face voters -- along with each of them -- in the General Election. Ayala and a group of co-campaigners expressed their outrage at this decision during council meetings, a move that council members Cindy McGovern and Matt Sullivan also opposed. So far, no one has expressed an interest in vying for the mayor's post or a seat on the council to replace one or all three of the incumbents.

The filing date for candidates opens July 12 and runs through the close of business on Aug. 6. Candidates must have 20 to 30 signatures of registered voters on their filing forms along with $25 for the filing fee. Important to remember, though, is that despite the high margin win for opponents of Measure D, the turnout was quite low. So far, just over 11,000 voted in Tuesday's referendum. That number could increase as late absentee and challenged ballots are counted. Compare that turnout to a total of 40,452 registered voters in Pleasanton as of May 26. In the hotly contested state and national races and more state issues to be decided in the upcoming General Election, more voters are expected to cast ballots. How that will affect the local City Council and Pleasanton school board elections as well as future dealings with the Lin family and their property -- may not be known until the polls close Nov. 2.

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