The City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to approve the extension of Stoneridge Drive as a four-lane thoroughfare to El Charro Road and Livermore, completing one of its final policy decisions for Staples Ranch and giving the green light to a multi-million-dollar commercial, recreational and residential development on the now-vacant 124-acre property.
City planners will now move to start the review process fo an auto mall planned for the site, followed by a senior care facility, retail center and a two-story indoor ice rink on Staples.
The site, located at the southwest corner of El Charro Road and I-580, is now owned by Alameda County. Once development agreements are finalized, it's expected that the site will be annexed into the city of Pleasanton.
Tuesday night's vote came after more than four hours of discussion by members of the council and 24 speakers in a packed council chamber with standing room only for the first two hours of the meeting.
Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio led the argument to approve the extension of Stoneridge Drive from Trevor Parkway, where it is now barricaded, across the flatland east to El Charro, where it will link to Jack London Boulevard. Livermore has approved extending and widening that street to four lanes to El Charro from Isabel Road.
Voting with Cook-Kallio to approve the Stoneridge Drive extension were Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilman Jerry Thorne.
Council members Matt Sullivan and Cindy McGovern voted against the proposal.
The three-council member majority also prevailed in a petition by Sullivan to call for a citywide public vote on the proposal, and by McGovern to require a second vote on Tuesday night's approval two weeks later to allow anyone wanting to seek a referendum on the council's decision to have more time to gather signatures.
City Atty. Michael Roush said that because of Tuesday night's decision and McGovern's failure to gain approval to delay the action, the 30-day limit on gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn the council's decision would start Wednesday.
Both Sullivan and former Councilwoman Kay Ayala, who spoke at the meeting, indicated that the measure, called Option 3 by city planners, could face litigation and a voter referendum.
Matt Morrison, a tax research specialist, and Sierra Club activist, said the organization asked him to share its objection to the certification of the Environmental Impact Report as it relates to the overall Staples Ranch development, but not the Stoneridge Drive extension specifically.
"Furthermore, while the Sierra Club, of course, has the option of either joining or supporting a lawsuit over the Staples Ranch environmental documents, the Sierra Club would not initiate any legal action in this case," he said.
Morrison was part of a citizens' group coalition, Pleasanton First and Friends of Pleasanton, which submitted a joint statement earlier defining their "common interest in acquiring and constructing community park amenities on the Staples Ranch property, and to request a community process to plan what will be Pleasanton's fourth largest park."
In warning the council that its vote to extend Stoneridge Drive could lead to another contentious referendum, Ayala asked: "Why would you want to put the community through another referendum debate?"
Ayala is the founder of a citizens' group known as Save Pleasanton's Hills which collected signatures in late 2007 seeking a referendum to overturn the council's decision that year that approved a housing development called Oak Grove in the southeast hills. A Superior Court judge later ruled that the signature gathering was improper, a decision Ayala and the citizens' group is appealing in the state Court of Appeal.
The multi-million-dollar Oak Grove project has been on hold ever since.
For now, however, the council's settles years of discussion over Staples Ranch. At one time, a 300-home residential development was proposed there, which was rejected by Pleasanton. IKEA, the Swedish furniture story, also expressed an interest in the site, but chose available land I Dublin, instead. Later, IKEA dropped its plans for a Tri-Valley store altogether.
Along with Tuesday's approval of building the Stoneridge Drive extension, the council also approved a revised Staples Ranch Specific Plan that was needed before development could actually start. The major developments with their plans already in place are:
* Hendrick Automotive Group, which wants to build a new auto mall on its 37-acre portion of Staples, next to the junction of I-580 and El Charro Road, directly across El Charro from a 180-plus store outlet mall that Livermore has approved.
* Stoneridge Creek Pleasanton, a 45-acre senior continuing care community to be developed by Continuing Life Communities (CLC), with up to 800 units for assisted living, skilled nursing and independent living residents.
* Fremont Land, an 11-acre retail development, which would include various shops and also may include a food market, bank and restaurant.
* Sharks Ice Center, a two-story, four rink facility to be built by San Jose Arena Management, a subsidiary of the San Jose Sharks, with the facility to occupy about 10 acres of a 17-acre public park that the Sharks would also develop for the city.
Each of those developments will still need specific approvals of their site plans and subsequent building permits, which will require more discussions with city planners, the Planning Commission and finally again with the City Council.
There were few surprises at the Tuesday night public hearing, which was a special council meeting to give everyone a chance to express their views on the Stoneridge Drive extension proposal. Comments had already been heard Feb. 3 on an earlier hearing on the Staples Ranch Specific Plan, itself.
With the council chambers filled, most s
seakers limited their comments to 3 minutes with the 24 speakers evenly divided in favoring or opposing the roadway extension. And, although most who spoke against extending Stoneridge came from the Mohr-Martin and Mohr Elementary School neighborhoods, speakers came from other parts of Pleasanton as well. Some said an extended Stoneridge would give them a faster route to Livermore or to some of the new businesses planned for Staples, sparing them the possible delays and longer distances of having to use the freeway.
Richard D. "Rick" Aschenbrenner, Chief Executive Officer of Continuing Life Communities in San Diego, which will build and operate Stoneridge Creek Pleasanton, said more than 100 applicants for the independent and assisted living nits have already placed deposits and he's had inquiries from 400 more.
Asking for a show of hands, more than 50 raised theirs to say they were among those waiting to move into the development.
He urged the council to complete its work on the overall Staples Ranch plan, including deciding whether to extend Stoneridge Drive, so that CLC can get on with starting construction, which it plans to do later this year or early in 2010.
City Manager Nelson Fialho said Hendrick Auto has also submitted development plans and could start building its new and expanded auto mall in 2010 or 2011. Fremont Land also has the funds to start construction, he said.
City officials are still negotiating a land lease with the San Jose Arena Management for the ice rink, with those details to be announced shortly, Fialho said. With Stoneridge Drive now approved, the Sharks affiliate can proceed to develop specific building and parking lot plans.
Although the public hearing went smoothly, it was more of a struggle for Councilman Sullivan who accused the county of reversing itself on the need for the Stoneridge Drive extension to be part of the overall Staples Ranch agreement.
"I am very troubled by this process and how we got to this point from where we were when we agreed to the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the county," Sullivan said.
"I'm concerned with the lack of transparency about the regional framework that was supposed to be the linchpin for extending Stoneridge, about the undue influence by the Chamber of Commerce and by a council member who has gone back on her word on the Stoneridge Drive issue."
Sullivan was apparently referring to Hosterman, who at one time said Stoneridge Drive would be extended "over her dead body." But that was four years ago, she explained, and the situation has changed. She's in agreement now with the mayors of neighboring communities and the counties and assured that along with Pleasanton's approval of Stoneridge Drive, they will also support widening State Route 84 over Pigeon Pass to provide a throughway for commuters between I-580 and I-680 that would reduce cut-through traffic on Pleasanton streets, including the planned extension of Stoneridge Drive.
Sullivan also tangled verbally with Pat Cushman, director of the Alameda County Surplus Land Authority, which owns Staples Ranch and is considered the developer of the site.
Cushman said the MOU Sullivan referred to had been modified because "circumstances change," and now includes a requirement to have an extended, four-lane Stoneridge Drive extension as part of any development plan if Staples Ranch is to be developed and annexed to Pleasanton.
Sullivan said he and possibly others on the council and in the community would never have agreed to the MOU if they had known the extension was part of the development requirements.
Former Councilwoman Becky Dennis said that if the council couldn't meet the Stoneridge Drive extension commitment, then perhaps it should abandon plans to annex the property and let Livermore or Dublin take over Staples and develop it.
One woman, who has lived in Pleasanton for 35 years, said she has agreed to buy an independent living unit at the CLC retirement community.
"I'm hoping you will approve this plan so that when I move into my new home, I will still be living in Pleasanton.