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February 18, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 18, 2005

Editorial Editorial (February 18, 2005)

Pico puts negotiator's cap on again Pico puts negotiator's cap on again (February 18, 2005)

Tom Pico's political foes may not agree, but we think the former mayor's new role as a paid consultant to help resolve the often-rancorous dispute over how to develop the hills above Kottinger Ranch will help to finally decide the future of this prime piece of privately owned, undeveloped real estate. Over the years, Pico has mellowed in his once harsh rhetoric toward developers and pro-growth advocates. Even early on, he was recognized as a good listener and fair in his dealings at the bargaining table. Vehemently opposed to allowing Ruby Hill to be developed as a Pleasanton community, he nevertheless was the first off the legislative platform to congratulate the developers and welcome them to the city when their annexation proposal was approved. Later, although opposed to the sale of choice acreage to Applied Biosystems for its new research center at Sunol Boulevard and I-680 unless the company would turn over its picturesque campus lake to the city, he again led the welcoming committee when he lost that fight, joining the company both at its groundbreaking and opening day ceremonies.

Pico's negotiating skills were proven again in his dealings on two separate development projects, one involving the 510-acre Bernal property and the second the 92-acre Pumpkin Patch across town. His hard-driving, late-night bargaining efforts led to a purchase agreement where Greenbriar Homes and allied investors paid the city of San Francisco $126 million for the Bernal land, with Pleasanton allowing developers to build 581 homes and apartments - down from the 2,500 San Francisco had once proposed - with a gift of 318 acres free of charge to the city of Pleasanton for sports fields, parkland and other public amenities.

Again, picking up the pieces after a bitter standoff by residents in the Mohr-Martin neighborhood over a plan by Ponderosa Homes to build 300 homes on the adjacent pumpkin field, Pico brought both sides together in a series of neighborhood meetings and public workshops to hammer out an agreement that satisfied both sides and city officials. The result is the new community of Ironwood that is now under construction, featuring 193 homes, several apartment buildings far from Mohr-Martin with 172 units for seniors, a six-acre site for a new Presbyterian church, and a 23-acre site that the Pleasanton school district has an option to buy for future use.

Pico surprised members of the City Council and Planning Commission at a workshop last week when he announced that he has been hired as a consultant by developer James Tong of Charter Properties and Jennifer, Frederic and Kevin Lin who own the hilltop acreage at the end of Hearst Drive in Kottinger Ranch. City officials remembered how vehemently Pico had opposed the Lin family's development plans for homes and an 18-hole golf course that would have covered much of the 562 acres. He supported a 1991 referendum which voters approved to defeat the plan.

But Pico believes the Lin family now has a better plan. And, like the Bernal property where many had hoped there would never be any development, Pico is realistic and believes that someday, if not soon, the hilltop acreage now called Oak Grove will be developed. He sees this opportunity as one even better than Bernal, with the developers committed to preserving 495 acres for trails, open space and woodland, while building the 98 homes on wooded lots less conspicuous on the hillsides and architecturally designed to blend in with the terrain. With Kottinger Ranch homeowners and many on the council and Planning Commission opposed to any development in the Oak Grove hills, and James Tong and the Lin family insisting that they have a legal right to build on their property as allowed in the current General Plan, Pico's skills as an experienced land use negotiator will be put to the test once again.


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