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By Tim Hunt

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.