The City Council Tuesday night agreed to schedule a series of public discussions March 4 on the controversial Oak Grove project, a multi-million-dollar luxury home and open space plan it approved last fall for the hills above Kottinger Ranch and Vintage Hills.
With the clock running toward a March 7 deadline for scheduling a possible referendum on Oak Grove on the state primary ballot on June 3, Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio said she wanted everything in place if legal disputes affecting Oak Grove are resolved Friday, as expected.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch has scheduled hearings on Friday morning on a request by Oak Grove landowners Jennifer Lin and her brother Frederic to declare invalid signatures gathered by former Councilwoman Kay Ayala and her citizens' coalition Save Pleasanton's Hills. Ayala and the organization collected more than 4,000 signatures from registered Pleasanton voters last fall seeking to overturn the council's decision that approved the project.
Another Superior Court Judge, Ken Burr, substituting for Roesch at the time, granted the Lins a temporary order restraining the County Registrar from certifying the signatures until the Lins' suit could be heard in full by Roesch, as scheduled on Friday. The Lins are arguing that Ayala and Save Pleasanton's Hills used deceptive tactics and failed to adhere to other rules in seeking voter signatures. They want Roesch to grant a permanent injunction that would invalidate the signatures so that they can get on with their project.
Ayala countered with a motion also filed in Superior Court that seeks the dismissal of the Lins' suit on grounds that it violates a state statute that protects individuals from "Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation, known as SLAPP. Roesch is expected to decide that claim on Friday also.
At issue is the council's approval for the Lins to develop 51 large custom homesites on 77 acres of the nearly 600 acres of wooded hilltop land the Lins own. As part of its approval, the council also approved a development agreement with the Lins that would turn the rest of their property over to the city at no charge.
Pleasanton intends to use the acreage for trails, picnic grounds and equestrian paths. The council also will seek similar agreements with other adjacent landowners to create a 2,000-acre swatch of open space along the southeast hills of Pleasanton.
If Roesch decides Friday that the Lins' suit has merit and cancels the Ayala signature-gathering results, his decision would effectively end the dispute. If the Lins lose in court, however, then the County Registrar can certify the signatures collected by Ayala and her group as sufficient in numbers to call for a referendum.
In that scenario, the council, at its March 4 meeting, would likely consolidate its response to the citizens' coalition in four steps:
• Certify the signatures, as counted by the Registrar's office.
• Vote to rescind its approval of the Oak Grove project or vote to place the measure on a public ballot on June 3.
• Adopt ballot language prepared by City Atty. Michael Roush formally describing the referendum and asking voters to approve or not approve an ordinance rescinding the council's action.
• Establish a referendum document containing Roush's formal language of the measure, with others writing arguments for and against the referendum.
At their meeting Tuesday night, council members noted the many variables that could affect their plan to move forward on March 4. But by officially placing the Oak Grove project on its agenda, the council can postpone or extend its four-part vote on the measure right up to the March 7 deadline.
If the council would decide to rescind its approval of the project, the issue would end without a referendum and with the Lins unable to build Oak Grove. The developer agreement between the city and the Lins for the 496-acre land grant to Pleasanton also would be cancelled.
Although most on the council appeared to favor placing the referendum on the primary ballot on June 3 if the referendum survives the Superior Court decision Friday and the council's action on March 4, Councilwoman Cindy McGovern said she wouldn't mind seeing the issue voted on at the General Election on Nov. 4.
That would move the Oak Grove debate into the municipal election campaign as well. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilman Matt Sullivan, who have announced that they will seek reelection to their posts, favor Oak Grove. McGovern, who is also eligible to seek another term on the council but has not yet announced her candidacy, opposes the project.
Roush said state law requires that a referendum on a local issue such as Oak Grove be placed on the ballot at the next election, or as part of the state primary on June 3. The council also could pay for a special election, or could wait until the Nov. 4 General Election.
All parties involved in the Oak Grove dispute could also appeal any Superior Court decision, a process that could take a year or longer as that appeal goes through the courts.