Pleasanton voters will be asked to decide in June if the developers of a 51-custom home project at the end of Hearst Drive and atop Kottinger Ranch can proceed with their plans that the City Council approved more than two years ago.
The council, after three hours of deliberation Tuesday, voted 3-2 to send the proposal by developers Jennifer Lin and her brother Frederic to voters in a special referendum now scheduled during the statewide primary on June 8. The referendum, asking if the Oak Grove project should be approved, will be the only local issue on a ballot that will include political party nominees for governor, state Assembly, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Voting to place the Oak Grove issue on the ballot were Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and council members Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne. Opposed were council members Cindy McGovern and Matt Sullivan, who asked the council to vote to rescind its approval of the project based on petitions signed by as many as 5,000 registered voters in 2007 in opposition to Oak Grove. On that request, the council also voted down the Sullivan-McGovern bid 3-2.
The Lins, who acquired the hillside acreage in 1979 and developed Kottinger Ranch, at one time proposed an 18-hole public golf course and 98 homes on the hilltop site. That was rejected by voters in an earlier referendum. The current plan surfaced in the mid-1990s as a 98-home development without a golf course. In negotiations with city officials and staff, as well as civic organizations and the Kottinger Ranch Homeowners Association, the number of homes was whittled down to 51 with an agreement that 497 adjoining acres of the Lins' property would be given free of charge to the city of Pleasanton for trails, public parks, equestrian pathways and open space.
It was that proposal that the council approved in a 4-1 vote in late 2007, with only McGovern opposed.
Former Councilwoman Kay Ayala then formed the "Save Pleasanton's Hills" citizens' coalition and during the Thanksgiving holiday period in 2007 obtained enough signatures to force a referendum to reverse the council's decision. Lawsuits by the Lins and countersuits by the citizens' coalition followed, with Ayala's group finally prevailing late last year. Last Tuesday, the council took up the issue again and made its decision to let the voters decide the outcome.
At times, Tuesday's meeting was cantankerous with several opponents of Oak Grove accusing Hosterman of favoring the project because its developers and associates had contributed to her election campaign. Lee Fulton called the Lins' offer of a land grant to the city a "bribe" and urged the council to ignore it and kill the project.
Noting that the June balloting would cost the city up to $79,000, Ayala called the referendum a waste of taxpayers' money since enough voters had already signed her petitions to likely vote the Oak Grove proposal down. Along with Sullivan and McGovern, she asked that if a referendum was going to be placed on a ballot, that it be considered in the General Election on Nov. 2. The three said that would give Oak Grove opponents more time to prepare their arguments for voting down the measure.
By placing the referendum on the June 8 ballot, the deadline for preparing direct arguments is now March 15, with rebuttal arguments due by March 25.
Sullivan said those dates place pressure on the citizens' group to prepare voter information on the issue, giving an "unfair" advantage to the Oak Grove developers who have ample funds to print literature, send mailers and otherwise promote their development.
"If this goes in June, that's a huge advantage to the developer who has the staff and money to pump into the election, far outweighing what the citizens can do," Sullivan said. "Also, more people will be voting in November. That's the time to have it."
But Thorne disagreed.
"The November ballot will be chocked full of issues and candidates," he said. "If we want voters to focus on the facts of this issue, we don't want to mix this referendum with all of the state issues that voters will face on the November ballot."
Cook-Kallio, in supporting the June date for the referendum, also noted that municipal elections for the mayoral and two council positions will occur in November. By placing Oak Grove on the June ballot, it will keep the controversial issue out of those campaigns.