Opinion - March 14, 2014
Council makes right decision on east side planning
The Pleasanton City Council's decision to continue the work of the East Pleasanton Specific Plan task force even after learning that its court- and state-imposed housing numbers have been satisfied was a good one. Evaluating and eventually planning for how the largely-still vacant 1,000 acres of land east of Valley Avenue has been part of the city's General Plan since 1996, and even before. This is an area east of the Pleasanton Garbage Company's recycling center and extending to Livermore, property that was part of undeveloped quarry land and consisting of only about 400 acres of land suitable for development. The rest are the lakes owned and managed by Zone 7 that could be made available to the public for scenic and trail opportunities, while also serving the operational needs of Zone 7 for ground water recharge, storm water run-off, and recycled water storage. Over the last two years, the city staff scurried to meet numbers imposed by the state's Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) and requirements by a Superior Court judge and state housing authorities to build high density housing to accommodate so-called workforce housing needs and those in the very low, low, medium and moderate income brackets. An Oakland-based affordable housing coalition won its suit against Pleasanton that the city and its 29,000-unit housing cap discriminated against those who want to live here but couldn't find affordable housing. As a result, the council, following the recommendations of task forces, the Planning Commission and city staff, rezoned 70 acres in different parts of the city for high density apartments. That was done to meet RHNA's housing numbers for Pleasanton of approximately 3,000 units, set for the RHNA cycle years of 2007-2014. At the same time, the council created the East Pleasanton Specific Plan task force to put together a plan for the 400 undeveloped acres that could also help to fulfill RHNA's numbers in the 2014-2023 cycle now in place, while also planning a mixed-use development of homes, apartments, commercial and offices that would pay for all the parks, streets, water and sewer lines and other infrastructure the new development will require. This would include extending Busch Road to El Charro Road, which also would be extended from Stoneridge Drive south to Stanley Boulevard. At the end of the day, the development would meet RHNA housing numbers and cost taxpayers nothing for the improvements. But RHNA's new numbers for the current housing cycle are 1,000 units less than before, leaving Pleasanton with ample acreage or inventory of already-zoned land for RHNA at least through 2023 and now no hurry on developing the east side. This is actually good news in that it gives the task force more time to carefully plan for this last large piece of undeveloped land in Pleasanton, a planning process envisioned since the 1990s without the pressure of state mandates. In other words, we get to do it our way. It's unlikely that the task force planning, which has been underway for nearly two years, will include 2,700 housing units as once considered, or even 1,000. But with the RHNA housing mandate pressure off the table, the process now can include a community discussion as to what we want to see on the east side, although the final plan will need to be financially feasible to include enough development to pay for the Busch and El Charro extensions and other amenities. Without a development plan that would allow this land to eventually be annexed into Pleasanton, the current property owners could continue using it for light industrial land uses, including tilt-up buildings to house heavy machinery or similar uses. That's not our vision for east Pleasanton. The City Council's message to the task force: slow down in your planning deliberations now that there's no pressure. Engage in community outreach and solicit thoughtful input. Develop a plan over the next year or so that everyone will like because they had a part of the process. We look forward to the discussion.