Phil O'Loane speaks out on Measure W | The Observer | Roz Rogoff | |

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By Roz Rogoff

Phil O'Loane speaks out on Measure W

Uploaded: Nov 26, 2010

It was nice seeing Phil O'Loane looking relaxed and cheerful at the November 23 City Council meeting. He read a prepared comment on the defeat of Measure W. O'Loane opposed Measure W and said he was the first to vote "No" on it in his role as Chairman of the Planning Commission. O'Loane was not reappointed to the Planning Commission, which he and many others attributed to his opposition to Measure W.

Phil greeted me with a smile and a nudge, which I appreciated. I like Phil and respected his work on the Planning Commission, so I'm glad he hasn't held my opposition to his opposition against me.

Here's an outline of what Phil said about Measure W and why the City Council needs to change how they do things.

1. The vote against Measure W was a repudiation of City Leaders.

2. People do not want UGB broken. People are tired of growth and want to slow it down. They want agriculture and open space preserved and believe that San Ramon doesn't need to control Tassajara Valley to protect it.

3. There are no "haters" in San Ramon. People who speak at meetings should be listened to and respected and not just tolerated. People who disagree should not be scoffed at or dismissed.

4. Small businesses were extremely nervous about changes in zoning. The City should reach out to them and not simply notify them about meetings. The City's plans should be more transparent. Residents should be told what is being planned.

5. On a personal basis O'Loane asked the Council to stop trashing Dougherty Valley and take credit for its voluntary involvement in the development of Dougherty Valley. He said the City takes credit for Bishop Ranch, which was also planned in the County.

I agree with a lot of what Phil said, but I also question some of his conclusions and here are my reasons why.

1. Measure W was a repudiation of City Leaders

Phil opened with some numbers about the vote on Measure W. He said that 72% of voters voted No, which is the published figure in Smart and other sources. He said that the No vote was not less than 60% in any prescient and 75% in Dougherty Valley. I'm not going to challenge any of these numbers because they are probably correct or close enough.

Phil said more residents voted No than for any elected city official, but does that make the No vote on Measure W a repudiation of City Leaders? I'm sure other readers will weigh in on this question, but here's my answer based on past history.

Measure W was voted on in an even year election when more voters generally go to the poles. San Ramon's city elections are held in odd years and typically only motivated voters go to the poles. Measure W received (based on Smart a total of 19903 votes combined. Measure P in 2008, to allow the Mayor's salary to be set by the City Council, had a total of 25,391 or 21.6% more total votes than Measure W. Measure P and Measure Q were both defeated that year, but Dave Hudson and Jim Livingstone who supported those measures were both re-elected the following year.

In 2005 Mayor Abram Wilson ran unopposed. He received 11,380 votes to 420 write in votes. So Abram Wilson took over 96% of the vote, which is a much higher percent than Measure W was defeated by. No on W received 14,258 votes in an even year with a gubernatorial and a senatorial race. Wilson ran unopposed so it wasn't even necessary to vote for him, yet his vote total was only 20% less than the No votes on Measure W.

The Council race that year had three candidates running for two seats. Dave Hudson was the highest vote getter with 9598, Jim Livingstone with 7681, and Ellen Rosenbluth with 3995. Combining the lowest and highest votes comes to 13593, which is only 665 votes less than No on Measure W received, and this was an odd year election with little else to bring out voters. Hudson got 81% to Ellen Rosenbluth's 19%.

Clearly name recognition and incumbency were major influences in the vote in 2005, but another factor was the disparity in money spent on the election, which was almost 8 to 1 for Hudson and Livingstone, who ran as a slate. The money was used to discredit Ellen with innuendo and guilt by association.

The financial disparity from No on Measure W to the Yes campaign was more like 30 to 1, with more than 80% funded by professional environmental organizations outside of San Ramon. So to me at least, this was a bought and paid for election more than a repudiation of the City Leaders.

My conclusions, that money buys elections and negative campaigning works, are hardly new ideas. This appears to be the major factor in the overwhelming defeat of Measure W.

2 - 3. Everyone should be treated with respect by the City Council. People are tired of growth and want to slow it down (see more on #2 at the end).

I agree with Phil about calling anyone who opposes the City Council "haters." Harry Sachs used that term in one of my blog commentaries, and I chastised Sachs for using it. However, I recall having a conversation with Jim Gibbon about two years ago. If I don't remember it correctly I'm sure Jim will correct it (please do). He was telling me about his organization, San Ramon for Open Government, which incidentally is a closed group. He said, and I think this is the wording he used, "I hold meetings at my house for people who have been screwed by the City."

So even though the word "hater," is inappropriate, there is a distinct minority of residents who do not like what they perceive as the pro-growth city council. As Phil said, they are tired of growth and want the city to slow down. However, when a majority of slow growth candidates was elected in 2001 and dubbed "The Gang of Three" by the Contra Costa Times (not me, I just echoed it), that Council majority nearly bankrupted the city. San Ramon voters repudiated their attempt to extend their terms in office by a year by voting 54% to 46% against Measure H in 2002.

I also agree with Phil 100% when he said, "People who speak at meetings should be listened to and respected and not just tolerated. People who disagree should not be scoffed at or dismissed." I've been on that side of the fence myself at past Council meetings. I'm sure this commentary will be dismissed by online scoffers who disagree with me.

One of Mayor Wilson's favorite sayings is "We can disagree without being disagreeable," yet he is often disagreeable with anyone who comes to a City Council meeting to oppose something he is for. If the speaker is from outside of San Ramon, Wilson can be downright hostile.

4. The City should reach out to small business and make its plans more transparent.

Phil is correct in saying that the City should reach out to these small business owners. The October 27th workshop on the draft of the City's Economic Development Strategic Plan lists the individuals and businesses that were contacted about the proposed zoning changes for the NCRSP. These are all property owners in the NCRSP area. It is necessary to inform property owners of potential zoning changes, but it is left up to the property owners to notify their renters about proposed changes yet many don't.

The City should notify all businesses in an affected area to get their input and not treat renters as second-class citizens, but the No on Measure W campaign used scare tactics to manipulate these business owners into believing the worst.

The January 19, 2010 Staff Report on the NCRSP states "It is clear that Automotive and Service Commercial uses are important resources to the City. The NCRSP is a long range plan and there is no intention to force any business out and the existing automobile service uses can remain." Nobody from the City, or No on Measure W, told these businesses not to worry.

5. Stop trashing Dougherty Valley

Phil wrapped up his comments by defending the design of Dougherty Valley, where he lives. The highest percent of votes against Measure W came from Dougherty Valley. Phil said the City should stop trashing Dougherty Valley and take responsibility for their input into the planning and design of the development there.

The City does take responsibility for whatever is good about Dougherty Valley: the Performing Arts and Swim Centers at DV High School, attractive landscaping of roads, the high number of parks. The County didn't welcome the City's input with open arms. The City had to sue, and the County was required to cooperate with the City as part of the Settlement Agreement.

The City is still blamed for what is wrong with Dougherty Valley, but these deficiencies were all managed by the County: Increased traffic, the lack of shopping and commercial centers, the concentration of low income housing in high density rentals, the chopped off ridgelines and houses on small lots to allow for 2000 more units than the City would have approved.

I disagree with Phil's comparison between the development of Bishop Ranch and Dougherty Valley. Bishop Ranch is a business park while Dougherty Valley is residential. Bishop Ranch was developed by Sunset Development and Alex Mehran. Dougherty Valley was developed in part by Tom Koch, who was allowed to build a lot more units by the County than the City would have permitted.

Contra Costa County mandated that Dougherty Valley be incorporated into San Ramon. The County received the permitting fees and property taxes from developing Dougherty Valley, but the City must pay to provide services to those parts of Dougherty Valley that are still in the County.

When Alex Mehran began developing Bishop Ranch, he wanted it to be incorporated into Danville. According to Diane Schinnerer, who was the first Mayor of San Ramon, San Ramon's City Councilmembers incorporated all of the properties around Bishop Ranch to enclose it inside San Ramon. This was a brilliant move on the part of our early City Government, since Bishop Ranch has been the financial engine that makes San Ramon such a nice place to live. The number of jobs provided by Bishop Ranch is the reason the State of California keeps forcing more development on the city.

2 (continued). People don't want more growth and San Ramon doesn't need to control Tassajara Valley to protect it.

Phil says residents don't want more growth. Our City Council doesn't want more growth either. The City is forced to add more housing by the State, and it was forced to incorporate Dougherty Valley by the County.

The city needs income from retail businesses to support all of the amenities residents of San Ramon like. I don't want to go back to the Gang of Three days where all they did was spend city money and not bring in any new revenues.

I'm sure Phil and many of the people who voted against Measure W do not want to see San Ramon in financial trouble. Look at San Ramon and look at Contra Costa County. Which one is doing a better job in difficult economic times? Let's not put our trust in the County because they don't do things as well as we do here.

Moving the UGB was intended to prevent Contra Costa County from controlling development in Tassajara Valley. Does that mean the City was planning urban development in Tassajara Valley? I don't know, but they wanted to be sure that the County wouldn't do it.

I agreed with Phil, that it wasn't necessary to include moving the UGB into Tassajara Valley as part of the 2030 General Plan submitted to the voters in Measure W. There was and still is a lot of confusion about what was in the 2030 General Plan and what was being voted on.

The City Council did a poor job of presenting this measure to the voters. They have to come down off their high horses and listen to what other people are saying at these meetings, and they have to explain what they are doing a lot better than they did with Measure W.