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By Roz Rogoff

Wagging the dog

Uploaded: Mar 8, 2012

I attended the Planning Commission Public Hearing on the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan and Environmental Impact Report for the plan. I am having doubts about the size, scope, and need for this Specific Plan as it is currently designed. I didn't speak on the EIR because I haven't read it yet, but if the plan is changed, the EIR would have to be changed too.

Two residents living near the plan area said the EIR was flawed because it didn't consider the impacts of traffic and noise, which they felt would be significant. One resident from Fostoria, which is technically Danville, but directly across from the northern area of the plan, commented on the proposed extension of Alcosta Blvd. to Fostoria and connecting the Iron Horse Trail at Fostoria.

After the discussion of the EIR, Commission Chairwoman Donna Kerger opened the Public Hearing on the NCRSP. I was the first to speak on it. After looking over Planner Lauren Barr's PowerPoint presentation, I now consider this plan to be too ambitious. It is trying to cover too much territory, some parts of which are not compatible with other parts.

I supported the zoning change in the General Plan, but that merely set the stage for a Specific Plan. It wasn't "specific," which of course the NCRSP is. Some of the specificity in the Specific Plan is too grandiose and unrealistic. I suggested dividing the whole 295 acres into two plans, arbitrarily putting a division between the north and south sides of Norris Canyon Road. This was hardly a planner's approach, but at least I recognized that this plan covers too much territory and assumes too much cooperation from property owners.

I am concerned about the increase in housing, the height of buildings, and traffic that the proposed big box retail would bring in from neighboring cities. Traffic and parking were major issues with speakers. The plan is supposed to be "smart growth," which presumes people who live near where they work won't drive much. This is one of those assumptions that has not panned out well in California in the last 20 years and there's no reason to believe it would in the next 20 years.

After the Public Comment closed, the Commissioners discussed the plan. Commissioner Harry Sachs questioned the traffic and the parking, and then he said something where I went, "Duh, why didn't I think of that?"

Harry said the whole northern most part of the Plan between Crow Canyon Road and Fostoria Way should be dropped. He said everything that's there is what we want there. Service Commercial is at the Eastern End, two big box retail stores, Office Depot and PetCo, are in the middle section, and two tower office buildings are on the west, next to the Crow Canyon Road freeway on and off ramps.

The plan calls for in-fill development in all of these sections. In-fill development is new housing within city limits to prevent sprawl development in open space outside of Urban Growth Boundaries. This is supposed to keep open space, like Tassajara Valley, open, which is what voters said they wanted when they opposed Proposition W.

But Harry is right that in-fill development makes no sense here. One of the goals of this Specific plan was to add more big box retail, so why take out two popular stores to put in housing, and why would anyone want to buy a house next to the I-680 on the West and Costco on the North? The City Council has been insisting that Service Commercial should stay, so why not leave it where it already is.

Donna Kerger mentioned that the owner of the office buildings recently remodeled them and is not interested in tearing them down. The Petco was also recently expanded. I shop there and at the Office Depot. I bought a $200 desk at Office Depot a few years ago. I'm typing this on that desk. That purchase added about $18 in sales tax of which the City received $1.80. These stores provide exactly the kind of sales tax income the City needs to get.

New housing would generate income for the City in permit fees and property taxes, but now isn't a good time to put in housing. Of course I keep saying this plan is for 20 years in the future, so housing wouldn't be considered until the real estate market picks up. But putting a housing overlay on properties usually increases the value, and developers might want to buy those properties in a depressed market and hold them until prices go back up.

The way this plan is designed, it presumes a domino effect on neighboring properties. Suppose the owners of the lots with the Petco and Office Depot decides to sell their properties to a housing developer. The office buildings and service commercial on either side will still be there. The proposed development would back up to Crow Canyon Road, which is the most heavily trafficked road in San Ramon. Why would anyone buy a home there?

That makes as much sense as when the Council, or was it the RDA it's always hard for me to tell the difference, closed the Recycling Center on Omega Road for low cost housing. This location is across the street from Morgan's Masonry, which is a terrible place to put housing. Some of the Councilmembers realize that now.

There's very little chance that anything will be built in that lot unless the Housing Authority, which the City reactivated last year to retain the two properties the RDA reserved for low income housing, determines that the property would be better off given to the Oversight Committee to dispose of. Then at least it could be used for non-residential development and the city could get some property taxes and sales taxes for a retail or service commercial business on that vacant lot.

My concern about the NCRSP is that the City Council is being driven by outside influences, such as ABAG and MTC. That's why the RDA tried to put a housing overlay on the Service Commercial businesses on Beta Court, but the Planning Commissioners wouldn't go along with it.

The Planning Commission is often the stopgap that keeps its head when the City Council is pressured into doing what these outside agencies mandate. Councilmember Dave Hudson often brings up Pleasanton's legal battle against ABAG's housing requirements.

Pleasanton's case was lost in Alameda, and we are in Contra Costa County. Pleasanton was sued by a non-profit housing developer in addition to ABAG, and it was based on a housing cap Pleasanton voters approved in 1996. Our situation is different. There's no non-profit or housing cap, but we could and should challenge ABAG's numbers.

I'm not naïve about the clout these regional and state agencies have, but we need to fight back in court or in the ballot box instead of making plans residents don't need or want to prove that we are in compliance with what ABAG and MTC want. I called it "The tail wagging the dog," and this dog needs to bite back.