Spirit of open meetings fades with Oak Grove
We've been criticized loudly, and rightly so, for reporting in a news story last week on plans for the near-600-acre Oak Grove development in the southeast hills ("Parks group OKs Oak Grove homes, public trails," Jan. 26) that members of the Parks and Recreation Commission attended a private meeting of city officials, developers and others in advance of their vote to approve the project. That information came from a former elected official who was at the meeting, who now says that was wrong. No member of the commission was at the meeting nor were commissioners, the media or anyone else in the public invited to attend. However, Joe Jones was there. He's a member of the commission's ad hoc Trails Committee. There have been small meetings before between Kottinger Ranch homeowners who will be most directly affected by the Oak Grove project and Attorney Marty Inderbitzen, who represents the developers Jennifer Lin, Frederic Lin and Kevin Lin and James Tong of Charter Properties. In a recent meeting, for example, the developers agreed to close off access from Hearst Drive to the 497 acres of open space and trails that the Lin family plans to give the city in return for permits to build 51 luxury homes nearby. In fact, it was that decision at this neighborhood meeting that riled others in the community who said it would leave hikers, equestrians and even bird watchers with no viable access to the trails. The plan seemed doomed to defeat by Parks and Rec before it ever reached the Planning Commission, where it is now scheduled for a Feb. 14 public hearing.
So project proponents called for another meeting to revise the plan again. But this was no fireside chat among a developer and disgruntled neighbors. It was a large-scale meeting involving thought-leaders from across the Valley. Its closed doors smacked of secretive cigar-filled backrooms of the past where special interest groups made deals that benefited the few. Those at the meeting included Inderbitzen; Bing Hadley, president of the Kottinger Ranch Homeowners Association; City Manager Nelson Fialho; City Attorney Michael Roush; Planning Director Jerry Iserson; Jim Wolfe, Director of Parks and Community Services: Marion Pavan, city staff planner in charge of the Oak Grove project plan; Mike Regan and Jon Harvey, both of the Kottinger Ranch HOA; Dolores Bengtson, former director of Parks and Community Services; Becky Dennis, former councilwoman; Dick Quigley, chairman of the Vision 2010 Agriculture and Open Space Committee; David Lun, Vision 2010 Agriculture and Open Space Committee; Jocelyn Combs, former board member of the East Bay Regional Parks District; Rich Cimino, Audubon Society, and, of course, Joe Jones of the Parks and Recreation Commission's ad hoc committee. Although the meeting apparently didn't violate the Brown Act since no elected officials were there, it fell far short of the spirit of open meetings that Pleasanton has long fostered. We know that at least one deal was struck (or compromise reached, as one city official insists on telling us) and that was to make Hearst Drive the primary access route to the new hilltop park and trails. At the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, however, several homeowners said they did not know this agreement had been made, that they oppose it, and questioned if any traffic study has been made on its impact on Kottinger Ranch.
Compare the Oak Grove closed-door meeting to proceedings of the Happy Valley Blue Ribbon task force, which faces the daunting task of determining where a bypass road should be routed to the city's new public golf course. Everyone's invited to these city-promoted meetings and many come. It's democracy at its best. The same should have happened with the Oak Grove developers' meeting. At least then we and the members of the Parks and Recreation Commission, who approved at first glance the "compromise" plan that came out of that meeting, would have known what else, if anything was discussed and decided.