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By Roz Rogoff

Lunch with Lou

Uploaded: Sep 28, 2012

Louis Dagen left a message on my answering machine at 2:49 pm on 9/13. Unfortunately it kept fading in and out, so I couldn't understand what he was saying. He was trying to tell me about the presentation he gave on the status of the City Center at the September 11th City Council meeting. I missed the meeting, but I read about it in Glenn Wohltmann's story in the Express.

I called Lou to apologize for missing the meeting and he invited me to lunch to go over his presentation with me. I thought that would make a good blog, so we met at Pasta Pomodoro at noon on September 27th.

I usually like Pasta Pomodoro, but I was disappointed with what I ordered. It was penne pasta with eggplant in spicy tomato sauce. That sounded good on the menu, but wasn't what I expected. One of my old Rozisms, which isn't in the list I posted two years ago, is "The one with the expectations is the one who gets hurt," or in this case, disappointed.

Lou said he was sorry. He said that a lot during lunch even though it wasn't his fault. He also offered to share his salad and pasta with me. He told me all this sharing is part of his Buddhist beliefs. That's when we got to talking about religion and a variety of other subjects.

We talked for over two hours on many things, except cabbages and kings or the City Center. Lou gave me his speaker notes to read and I finally settled down and read them all. He also suggested I view the video of his presentation at the September 11th Council Meeting. I'm viewing it on and off now, and he is following his speaker notes to a T.

Here's what I know or recall about the City Center. The original City Center was planned for San Ramon Valley Blvd. at Crow Canyon Road. This was back in the early '80s when the city was incorporated. That doesn't seem like the geographic center, but that was before I moved here so maybe Mary Lou Oliver, who reads my blogs, can explain why it was originally planned for there.

I moved here in 1997, but I had a full-time job and didn't pay any attention to city politics. I was like a lot of other San Ramon residents. I just lived my life and let whoever was in charge run the city. I recall something about a proposal for a City Center on Bollinger Canyon Road that Alex Mehran offered to develop, but a group of residents didn't want a privately built City Center. They protested Mehran's plans and ran a slate of candidates for City Council in 1999.

Nancy Tatarka and Ron Raab won two seats that year. Abram Wilson won the third seat. Two years later Jerry Cambra was elected to the City Council along with Donna Dickey who replaced Ron Raab after he moved away. Tatarka, Dickey, and Cambra came up with a new plan for a Civic Center, which would have cost over $160M to build and another $2M a year to maintain. They wanted the City to have complete control over planning and building this Civic Center.

After Dickey and Tatarka chose not to run in 2003 and Cambra resigned for family reasons, their plans for a City Center went into storage and the new Council didn't get around to considering it again until 2006-2007 when Alex Mehran proposed a revised version of his old 1998 proposal.

This time there was a more sympathetic Council and less vocal opposition, so they jumped at the chance to take it. Everything was on track to get started in 2010 when the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008. I asked Mehran at that time when he thought the City Center would get started. He said he needed to secure anchor stores, but he thought the recession wouldn't last very long and they would be able to get started in a couple of years.

The Ad Hoc Committee's report estimates an optimistic two years, but Mehran's preferred anchor stores are not interested in San Ramon. The price tag has increased from $750M to $850M and will probably go up again. Lou says it's from increases in the cost of materials.

The Ad Hoc Committee wants to replace the "Coming Soon" sign on Bollinger Canyon Road with something a more appropriate. It's been "Coming Soon" for five years now.

However, Lou told me the bicycle and pedestrian over-crossings on Bollinger and Crow Canyon Roads will be started soon. Measure J transportation money can be used to start designing them now.

I've never been a big fan of the City Center. I consider it a 19th century model from the horse and buggy days when farmers lived out in the country and would come into the center of town for shopping or Church. San Ramon is a modern city laid out for easy automobile access to shopping and employment hubs.

Alex Mehran designed the roads around Bishop Ranch to minimize the impact of traffic to and from the business park. Some residents complain about the traffic down town (and yes, Bishop Ranch is our Downtown), but if you consider that 40,000 people are coming and going from there most weekdays, the traffic flow is handled quite well.

Lou replied, "I think there is a place for some kind of central area in San Ramon," and that's what residents want – a gathering place or focal point with shopping and restaurants and a new library and City Offices. We certainly need a new and proper City Hall. So let's hope the Committee's projection of two to three years is on target this time.