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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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The Pleasanton way: making the simple complicated

Uploaded: Mar 27, 2018
Trying to do something that seems simple with the city of Pleasanton invariably seems to turn into a complicated mess.

Take the Kay Hatsushi family and their residential lots on Vineyard Avenue above what is now Western Garden Nursery. Hatsushi and his wife immigrated to the United States, became citizens and ran the successful nursery business on Vineyard for years before selling out and retiring.

In 2006, they processed a development plan through the city that included five lots above the nursery and nine more lots on the nursery site. Leasing the site to the current operators has worked so well that the family plans to continue it.

That brings us to the current situation. Last October, attorney Peter MacDonald asked the city planning department to allow the existing five lots (with two homes) to form a separate entity with codes, covenants and restrictions. It’s now March—nursery founder Kay Hatsushi died on Christmas Day—and now his 86-year-old widow and other family members are still trying to deal with the city.

The issue centers on a detention basin and landscaping that the owners of the five lots are required to maintain under the city’s conditions of approval from 2006. The family, through MacDonald, was hoping for simple administrative adjustment by the staff to avoid the time and expense of going through the formation of a formal homeowner’s association. They believe the CC&Rs will serve the same purpose at a far lower cost.

In an email string with various city employees, MacDonald laid out the rationale for the adjustment and provided detailed arguments about why it would work. His analysis of the cost difference annually shows the declaration would cost $315, while the association will cost $1,875.

The city continues to insist on a formal homeowner’s association, despite the cost difference. Both City Manager Nelson Fialho and City Attorney Dan Sondergren have advised MacDonald of that position.

In an email, Fialho wrote, “…I hope you have advised your client that a maintenance agreement (versus an HOA for the 15 lot subdivision) is less enforceable in sustaining long-term obligations in the vineyard corridor area. This is the basis for the City staff position.

“I was here when the project was approved and developed and am very familiar with the situation on the property and what we’ve allowed to date. That said, if you/he wish to modify the PUD condition despite the City staff position on the matter, it requires a formal PUD modification; it will require approval by Planning Commission and City Council. We, of course, stand ready to accept the application and process it accordingly if that is something you/he chooses.”

Of course, that would entail additional expense with no guarantee that the Planning Commission and City Council would buy the Hatsushi’s view instead of the city staff’s.

Ralph Hughes, the Hatsushi’s son-in-law who lives on the property with his wife, wrote in an email to MacDonald, “In your five months of emails with City staff, all I see from them is edicts, never reasons. Why has the City staff treated the Hatsushi family in such a shabby and mean spirited way? My in-laws came here as migrant farm workers in 1955, became citizens, and became successful Americans due to their hard work. They lived in Pleasanton since the early 1970's.”

He goes on to note that his prior dealings with the city had been positive and asked what has changed.

Fialho described the situation as a professional disagreement with MacDonald and his clients believing one thing, while the city staff has taken the opposite view.

MacDonald did share the email string with members of the City Council.

He received a March 20 letter from the city attorney formalizing the city’s position and describing the three actions that the family would have to ask the city to take that eventually would require both commission and council approvals.

As one who, on behalf of my church, had to get formal approval for a temporary light to shine on a banner during the Christmas season—including an inspection of the extension cords—I wonder just what goes on sometimes in City Hall. ‘I’ve also seen city officials be quite reasonable, so I hesitate to draw any conclusions other than bureaucrats will be bureaucrats.

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Posted by yikes, a resident of Vineyard Avenue,
on Mar 27, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Wouldn't have been simpler to have just formed the formal homeowner's association within the last 12 years as they originally wanted to do? How many tens of thousands in legal fees have been spent to avoid forming the HOA association that will cost a mere $1,875.

Obviously there must be some reason that they hesitate in forming an HOA otherwise they would have done it a long time ago. HOAs are an entity that can be sued and held liable whereas that is not exactly true for a simple maintenance agreement.

How much as Peter MacDonald been paid? Probably a heck of a lot more than $1,875.

They have had 12 years to form one so it sounds like it is the developer that has dragged its feet in the manner. They need to form the HOA.

Posted by Grumpy, a resident of Vineyard Avenue,
on Mar 27, 2018 at 8:39 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

Tim, who are you again?

Wow...yikes is totally right. Why would they fight an HOA, when it cost so little and would have only a minor role? You presented absolutely no proof that the Hatsushis were treated anything besides courteously. They just didn't like being told they had to have an HOA, as the price of chopping up their land into a dozen homesites.

And living right by there, I can tell you that those sites are awfully odd. I always felt a distant warmth to the Hatsushis, since I like older land owners who sort of pioneered this area, and I like the nursery and respect that they didn't subdivide it. But I don't know them. I suspect you got a strange quote from an in law and then ran with this because you need to feel upset about something.

It's an HOA. It's cheap to create, and a totally fair request by the city for a dozen other reasons. So why are you so breathless about it?

Posted by John, a resident of Birdland,
on Mar 27, 2018 at 9:53 pm

Sounds simple to me. Do the right thing. Form the HOA, as originally approved. Why are you writing about this? Not newsworthy.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Mar 28, 2018 at 5:51 pm

CC&R's without an HOA to enforce the CC&R's is asking for trouble among neighbors. Much easier to enforce these restrictions through an HOA.

It sounds like the city is requiring them to do what is in the best long term interests of the future residents. Divided among the lots, the cost difference is negligible for homes that will be built.

That was the original agreement. I don't have any issue the city on this one.

Tim just likes the city when they give him special favors like his No Left Turn sign, and wonders whey they don't give special privileges to everyone.

Posted by Enforce the Rules!, a resident of Downtown,
on Mar 31, 2018 at 9:11 am

Some years ago circumstances caused the City to become aware of a garage/apartment that had been built without permits or variances and was not even close to being up to fire and building code. It nearly took an act of Congress to get the city to enforce the building codes, none of the rest was ever made right for all of the neighbors. Stop the violations BEFORE they occur. There are rules on the books for the safe enjoyment of everyone and those rules need to either be enforced -- EVERY TIME -- or they need to be changed.

Tim needs to stop advocating for his special interest causes. I have no idea what his particular interest is in these people but taking a position that the lawful rules should not apply is not ethical or responsible.

BTW, attorney Peter McDonald lost on the earlier case also. The law is the law and no amount of "it's just nor fair" should change it.

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