The view from the top of Pleasanton's southeast hills is magnificent. Down below to the north is the 215-acre Kottinger Ranch subdivision, which was the first part of the southeast hills that was peeled off from land bought by Jennifer and Frederic Lin and their family in 1977. Bought from the Lins by a developer, Kottinger Ranch today holds 156 custom homes.
Now the Lins are planning to offload the rest of their Pleasanton properties with a plan for 51 more custom homes at the end of Hearst Drive in a development called Oak Grove and by giving the rest of the land - 496 acres - to the city to be used a public park and open space in perpetuity. The 51 planned home sites are scattered downhill from the top of the hills, mostly in a series of cul-de-sacs that would be graded for 7,000-9,000-square-foot houses with one larger lot designed to hold a home as spacious as 12,500 square feet.
Depending on the source of the information, up to 10 of the homes would be visible from other hilltop developments, such as Grey Eagle at the end of Crellin Road, and from lower elevations in other parts of Pleasanton.
The plan was approved by the City Council in a 4-1 vote in the fall of 2007 after four years of public hearings and civic and community meetings. That decision brought objections from a citizens' group that collected more than the 3,800 signatures needed to force a referendum on the council's decision, which is what Measure D on the ballot Tuesday is all about.
Opponents to the Lin development include former Councilwoman Kay Ayala and council members Cindy McGovern and Matt Sullivan. Backing the plan are Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and council members Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne. Although Sullivan supported the Lins' plan when it was voted on by the council, he later changed his mind and has been an active opponent since Ayala and her citizens' group formed the referendum coalition, and more so after the Lins filed a suit in Alameda County Superior Court contesting the methods used in gathering signatures to force a referendum.
Opposition centers on building homes in the southeast hills that could be visible from other parts of Pleasanton. Support comes from those who believe this is the city's one chance to acquire 500 acres of future parkland and trails free of charge, pointing out that in their opinion 51 homes in a city with 27,500 others is a small number in return for what would be the largest land grant to Pleasanton ever.
For the most part, the campaign in support of Measure D - a Yes vote on Tuesday would allow the Lins to build Oak Grove - has been financed by the Lins with colorful mailers sent to voters over the past several months. Hosterman has signed some of the Lins' promotional materials that have been sent to homes. For the opposition, it's been a grassroots effort carried on at Farmer's Market on Saturdays and with yard signs stating "No on D" scattered throughout the city. Opponents also have voiced their reason for voting against Measure D at City Council meetings.
To say Measure D has become politically charged would be an understatement. But it could have been even feistier. The council majority of Hosterman, Thorne and Cook-Kallio insisted on placing the referendum question on Tuesday's ballot in conjunction with the statewide primary instead of waiting until the General Election in November, as Measure D opponents wanted. This avoided having the issue before voters at the same time the three also are seeking re-election.
When the Lin family bought the southeast hills property, much of it was grazing land for cattle ranchers who leased the site. Two large stock ponds provided water. Today, cattle still graze on the remaining undeveloped acreage. One of Pleasanton's water tanks is located on the southwest quadrant and is accessed from Benedict Court at the top end of Kottinger Ranch, which includes a padlocked gate that can be opened by city fire, police and maintenance personnel. Opponents of the Lins' plan say that water tank, which can be seen from the Bernal Community Park, is not quite as high as the rooftops of some of the homes proposed in the area, which would be even more visible.
When the council approved a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for Kottinger Ranch in 1984, it was intended as the first phase of the Lins' planned development of the hills leading to the upper reaches of their property, and the Lins' acreage was rezoned to accommodate this future development.
That "next phase" was Kottinger Hills, an 86-home development of more conventional homes similar to those being constructed in nearby Vintage Heights, along with an 18-hole golf course and approximately 237 acres of dedicated open space. The City Council gave its approval to this project on Oct. 20, 1992. Those who by then had bought homes in Kottinger Ranch were incensed and gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn the council's action. That referendum was approved on Nov. 2, 1993.
Four years ago, the Lins submitted a new development plan calling for 98 custom homes with a 5-acre neighborhood park and a new water tank, but no golf course. The remaining open space, about 200 acres, would be given to the city free of charge for public access to trails, equestrian paths and open space in perpetuity. With city officials and some in Kottinger Ranch, Vintage Hills and Grey Eagle Estates still concerned about more homes in their neighborhoods and traffic on their streets, the Lins, their development and legal representatives and community leaders started a series of meetings to determine what kind of development, if any, would be acceptable to all.
Hosterman and Councilman Sullivan, already partners in an effort to acquire an open space boundary around the south and east urban limits of Pleasanton, joined in.
Over the course of the last three years, these groups have met in homes, with the leaders of the Kottinger Ranch Homeowners Association, in public workshops and civic meetings. In the end, the Lins agreed to reduce the number of home sites planned to 51, down from 98, and to increase their gift of open space to the city to 496 acres. Accompanying this agreement was a pledge of $1 million to mitigate traffic and for street widening projects and even more school crossing guards. It seemed like a fair plan for all.
A citizens' group, headed by Ayala, disagreed. The result is a referendum that will ask voters to make the decision on June 8: Yes to proceed with the development and the gift of 496 acres to Pleasanton. No, to block the development with no land grant from the Lins, who will continue to own the property that is zoned for residential development.