“There’s a deadline, so you should sign the petition now and get it on the ballot. Then you can research it and vote.”
This is what one of the many signature gatherers strategically placed throughout Pleasanton said. He and the others want Pleasanton voters to sign a local initiate to, according to a signature gatherer outside the Safeway on Bernal Tuesday, “stop the City from giving away $21 million to Costco so they will build a store on Johnson Drive,” which “the city council wasn’t authorized to do.”
The signature gatherers are most likely paid per signature, and are not unbiased as their goal is to get Pleasanton residents to sign so they are paid. We say “most likely” because we have asked Matt Sullivan of Pleasanton Citizens for Responsible Growth, the driving force behind the petition signing effort, and he has not answered who is paying them.
There is nothing illegal about having people paid per signature; the petition says it’s the potential signers right to ask.
But there is misinformation, and missing information, that every Pleasanton taxpayer should know before signing. And it won’t be offered up by these people who are paid per signature.
Here is what you won’t hear.
If 10% of registered Pleasanton voters – 4,374 - sign this petition, Pleasanton could be headed for a second citywide vote in less than a year concerning a Costco warehouse store being developed on the former Clorox site near the I-580/I-680 interchange, known as the Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone (JDEDZ).
To quote Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Signatures are currently being collected for a ballot measure regarding city officials' effort to rezone land in the JDEDZ to accommodate new development including a Costco club store, two new hotels and other retail areas.
The initiative, led by Matt Sullivan, who served two terms on the council from 2004 to 2012, would place the measure on the ballot in the statewide primary election ballot June 5, 2018, with an estimated cost to the city (taxpayers) of $250,000, according to city staff.
This is basically what we have already voted on, and we don’t want the expense or the delay of another ballot measure.
Measure MM voted on last year would have limited retail uses to less than 50, 000 s.f. and was, for all intents and purposes, aimed at stopping the development of Costco. That measure, launched and funded primarily by Citizens for Planned Growth (not to be confused with Sullivan’s group) and Bill Wheeler of Black Tie Transportation, cited ” traffic impacts and related air quality impacts,” and was defeated 63% to 37% when it went before voters during the general election Nov. 8, 2016.
This ballot measure is also to stop the development of Costco, but takes a different tack – arguing rezoning instead of building size.
Sullivan’s main arguments concern “secret negotiations for unprecedented subsidies” and what he claims are false environmental and traffic impacts in the certified EIR, all of which “deviates from our long history of transparent public participation in city decision making” and that if voters were” fully informed of these facts last November, the outcome of Measure MM may have been much different.”
Sullivan is correct that the voters did not know of the final infrastructure financing agreement at that time. The project was put on hold until after the vote. But the options for financing were made known to the public before the vote and again well before the Council vote to approve in September.
Let’s address some of Sullivan’s other criticisms:
“Secret negotiations for unprecedented subsidies”: Sullivan filed a public records request for emails and other communications between city staff, Nearon and Costco representatives. After reviewing these documents, the editorial board finds nothing untoward or startling. One document that contained three emails was titled “Let’s meet privately,” but that statement is nowhere in the document.
Let’s be clear that it is the role of a city manager and staff to meet with and negotiate agreements like this that are presented to the public and the City Council. It is the duty of the public and the Council to review what is presented.
The JDEDZ was discussed at three council meetings since August, and Sullivan spoke at none. It was also discussed at an Economic Vitality Committee meeting in October. The agreement the Council approved 4-0 is the same one discussed at length during these public meetings.
These tax-sharing agreements are not common, but they are not uncommon. Actually, an agreement like this was done when the San Francisco Premium Outlets were built in Livermore. And, while using Transportation Impact Fees (TIFs) collected for traffic mitigation for other developments is not common, it is not uncommon or illegal.
False environmental and traffic impacts: Sullivan contends that the certified EIR is incomplete and flawed. The EIR presented to Council Nov. 7 is unusual in that it concludes there would be significant and unavoidable impacts on two areas - transportation and air quality - but this is because the study was completed with numbers representing the area at build out. If anything these numbers are overstated for the Costco project because it includes traffic expected to be generated by the two hotels and the other retail when development is complete. However, the document concludes that, the JDEDZ project can establish mitigation measures to reduce the project's impacts on a range of environmental conditions to a less-than-significant level.
In summary, if 4,374 signatures are collected, this initiative will most likely go on the ballot in June. This will further delay the project and cost Pleasanton taxpayers an estimated $250,000 for something that has, basically, been voted on: A Costco on Johnson Drive and the start of a thriving economic zone.
Think twice before signing.