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By Roz Rogoff

Is the public ready for some change?

Uploaded: Aug 18, 2011

Phil O'Loane is running for City Council to bring an independent voice to the Council. We met at Peet's on Crow Canyon Road on Tuesday evening when there was still a remote possibility that someone else could file for City Council.

I asked Phil about his connection to the No on Measure W campaign and whether he considered running as a slate with other slow-growth advocates. "I'm running as Phil O'Loane," he said, "I'm an independent thinker. There's no slate I'm part of, nor does there need to be. I think the public is ready for some change." He's for balanced growth, supports the police and believes "a solid financial base is important."

Phil is concerned about the City's finances, which he says are not as rosy as presented by the City Council. The City ran a deficit in the last fiscal year, and O'Loane wants to close that gap. I asked if this wouldn't reduce some City services, and Phil said, "You have to look at all potential alternatives. There hasn't been another voice asking about them."

I asked Phil about the tax revenue the City is losing from Norris Canyon Estates. With the defeat of Measure W, the expansion of the Western UGB was killed too. Phil said Norris Canyon Estates was approved a week before the County UGB went into effect; otherwise it would not have been built. He said, "There are other risks with expanding the Western UGB greater than the incremental tax revenues."

His position now seems to be in contradiction to his earlier support of moving the Western UGB. O'Loane and representatives from several environmental groups said they wouldn't oppose anything else in the General Plan, including moving the Western UGB, if moving the Eastern UGB into Tassajara Valley was put into a separate measure. This would have been a sensible thing to do and I was leaning in favor of taking Tassajara Valley out of the General Plan too, but the City Council kept everything bundled in Measure W.

The North Camino Ramon Specific Plan (NCRSP) was another element of the General Plan that was unopposed until the No on Measure W campaign started using it as a scare tactic against Measure W. I asked Phil why he went along with Seth Adam's claim about multiple "Transamerica Towers," in the NCRSP? Phil was on the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) at the time the plan was developed. Phil said Adams was simply equating the additional square footage in the NCRSP with the Transamerica Tower and not implying there would be skyscrapers there.

Phil said when the NCRSP was developed in 2005-06, he made an upward gesture with his hand to indicate the growth in the economy. When the General Plan was being developed in 2009-10, he made a downward gesture to indicate the economic decline.

One of the reasons for the NCRSP was to provide infill housing to meet ABAG's housing requirements. O'Loane told me ABAG dropped its housing numbers for Northern California this year from 900,000 to 600,000. O'Loane feels the City has been moving too quickly to meet the older ABAG housing numbers. "If there's not a strong reason to do something, let it play out a little longer," he said about the housing numbers planned for during a downtown.

"My issue with the NCRSP is why not wait and get more information before changing the zoning?" He pointed out that "There's been three or four Specific Plans so far and not a shovel of dirt has been turned yet."

Actually that was one of my arguments in favor of the NCRSP when O'Loane's supporter, Kevin L'Hommedieu, complained that small businesses such as his would be driven out of that part of the City if Measure W passed. There had been no opposition to the NCRSP before Mr. L'Hommedieu complained about it. L'Hommedieu is providing space in his auto repair shop for Mr. O'Loane's campaign headquarters.

I spoke to Debbie Chamberlain, Planning Manager, to ask about the zoning change for NCRSP. She said that there's a difference between a Land Use Designation, which is what is in the General Plan, and a zoning change. Zoning is more detailed in setting building height, setbacks, and other specifications on buildings. Land use in the General Plan simply identifies the zoning the land owner can apply for. Until the property owner plans to change it, everything already there is grandfathered in.

I asked Chamberlain what effect ABAG's reduction in housing would have on San Ramon's housing numbers. She said these changes are part of ABAG's Sustainable Community Strategies . "I have no idea what the numbers are going to be. ABAG's Housing Methodology Committee meets in September, until then I wouldn't even try to guess," she said.

O'Loane ran for City Council in 2001, but dropped out after the sale of his business fell through. Now he works full time for Kaiser Permanente, where he travels around Northern California.

I asked how this would impact his ability to serve on the City Council. He pointed out there are "a lot of modern ways of getting information that's more efficient. The Council sets policy. Staff carries it out. You don't have to be there all the time. It's better if you're not and let them do the job."

That last comment might be a left-handed reference to Abram Wilson, one of Phil's opponents in the City Council race. Abram proudly boasts of being at City Hall "24/7," which some observers have said is overstaying his welcome. I plan to ask Wilson about that in my interview with him for my Monday San Ramon Observer blog.

While Phil opposed the current City Council on Measure W, he's a known quantity to Councilmembers and Staff. He's paid his dues by serving on the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) for four years, and the Planning Commission for another four years. He describes himself as an "Independent thinker who understands how the city functions."

Phil was not reappointed to the Planning Commission last year, which he and some of his supporters believe was "punishment" for not supporting Measure W. That may have influenced how some Councilmembers voted, but the decision wasn't 100%. Carol Rowley and Dave Hudson voted to reappoint Phil, and his replacement, Jeanne Benedetti, has excellent qualifications to be on the Commission. The decision wasn't as lopsided as the No on Measure W campaign portrayed it.

Phil signed the pledge to keep spending under the voluntary $42,368 limit. To keep his campaign spending down, Phil is planning a grass-roots effort by handing out fliers and spreading the word.