Council checks in on Downtown Specific Plan update process

Discussion focuses on early plan for how to redevelop Civic Center site

This month marks one year since city officials, business representatives and residents started work toward updating Pleasanton's Downtown Specific Plan, to bring the 15-year-old guiding document more up to date with modern priorities and future goals for downtown.

The City Council received a status report on the revision process last month, with the hour-long discussion centered mainly on the Downtown Specific Plan Update Task Force's early plan for redevelopment of the city's existing Civic Center site with new private and public uses in the years or decades ahead -- if the city services' complex is eventually relocated to the nearby Bernal property.

The conceptual map indicates where the task force would prefer to see future land-uses located if the city-owned 13 acres on the far south side of downtown is re-envisioned as an "Arts and Culture Square," including mixed-use commercial and residential buildings, a theater, boutique hotel, new roadways, parking structure near the ACE Train station and 0.86-acre town square.

"People need to keep in mind that this is a vision of what something might look like in the future," Mayor Jerry Thorne, one of two council representatives on the 10-member task force, said during the Dec. 19 meeting in the council chamber.

"These are strictly visions; this is not something that is going to happen tomorrow ... I mean financing this thing is another issue that we're going to have to deal with," Thorne added. "It's not a 20-year plan. It's a lot longer than that."

First adopted in 2002, the Downtown Specific Plan establishes policies aimed at improving the commercial and residential viability of downtown Pleasanton while also preserving its small-town character and scale, according to city officials.

The council in late 2016 formed a task force to update the specific plan with an eye on adopting the revised document by mid-2018. The ad hoc task force consists of two council members, two planning commissioners, two Pleasanton Downtown Association reps, an Economic Vitality Committee member and three at-large representatives.

Though it covers a wide range of policies and priorities for the downtown corridor, a key component of the plan update involves providing the framework for how redevelopment could occur in what areas, including the current Civic Center site.

The city owns nine acres of land bordered by Main Street and Old Bernal and Bernal avenues that houses the library, police department, city hall and administrative buildings, plus another four acres across Old Bernal acquired from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The council set the stage for future talks about Civic Center site redevelopment in November 2016 by endorsing a draft master plan for a proposed civic complex including a new city hall, library, police headquarters and a community center on a 27-acre site between Bernal and Valley avenues and backing onto the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

The city's downtown site would become open for private development, in part to help pay the costs of building a new civic complex on Bernal -- a project that would require voter approval, to amend the Bernal Property Phase II Specific Plan.

The task force, which meets on a near-monthly basis, in November developed its preferred conceptual land-use map for future Civic Center redevelopment, a layout ultimately subject to council approval as part of final adoption of the revised Downtown Specific Plan.

"The way that the plan would work is that this is the block pattern that we would like to create, and (private) development would come and fund that to make this happen," community development director Gerry Beaudin said when introducing the conceptual map to the council Dec. 19.

The proposed map features a mix of land-uses based on task force preferences and public input, according to Beaudin.

The long-range vision includes mixed-use office/residential in the central and western areas -- with a parking garage at the far west, near the train station.

Mixed-use retail/office is proposed at the north and south, with a theater and town square in the center and a boutique hotel at the east side, the corner of Main and Bernal. A new street would be created to connect Old Bernal and Main further west.

The task force also looked at key development elements like building height (one to three stories, up to 40 feet), overall commercial space (257,000 square feet) and total residential units (up to 124, with parking onsite).

City staff and consultant firm Economic Planning Systems concur that a mixed-use approach would help the city accomplish its goals of making downtown a destination and enhancing economic viability, but they acknowledge residential has the highest development value, followed by office space.

That means the city might need to consider public-private partnerships to achieve the variety of land-uses, public amenities and infrastructure the task force desires in the long run, Beaudin said.

"To get this mix of uses, we may have to acknowledge that the market demand for some of these uses is less than others, so that could affect land costs if we were selling the land or lease rates if we were leasing the land, or other arrangements around shared parking," he said. "There are a number of ways that we could be partners in the redevelopment of this area to get the kind of place we want it to be."

Council members were steadfast in opposing standalone housing on the Civic Center site while supporting mixed-use commercial/residential concept with housing on the upper floors.

"All downtowns that I've looked at around this state ... they have a residential component in the downtown, and we do as well. To totally rule out additional residential does not help the downtown, does not help the businesses," Vice Mayor Arne Olson said.

"I would prefer to see some element of residential here. Not go overboard, but I just think it's important to the viability of the downtown," he added.

"I'm not in favor of highest and best use being the determining factor for what goes in our downtown," Councilwoman Karla Brown said. "Yeah, residential housing will pay more for the land but that doesn't mean that's the right thing to put there. We're not for sale to the highest bidder."

"I like extending our downtown ... Our downtown is short when we compare it to some of our other adjacent cities," Brown added. "And I like the idea of government off of Main Street. I think we're sitting on some of the most valuable property in the entire city."

Brown also urged the specific plan update to encourage roof-top dining, relocate the hotel from the "gateway" corner to downtown and keep the existing, architecturally appealing library building on Old Bernal.

Resident Julie Testa told the council that though she likes many aspects of the proposed specific plan update, the conceptual map for the Civic Center site redevelopment is unacceptable. "I'm astounded by how unappealing this is, and how great the negative impacts and costs would be."

"I love the way it's marketed as an 'arts and cultural town square.' No, it's not. It's residential and office space," Testa said. "I think the threat is very clear: You had better be ready to accept more residential or there's going to be more demand for public investment. Why? Why do we want this?"

Thorne said he also wanted to see proposals soon for how Civic Center site redevelopment would be phased.

Relocating city offices would almost certainly be done piecemeal over the years, according to Beaudin.

One scenario could see the library operation move to a new building on Bernal and then some city operations moved initially and others staying, with administrative services relocated to the existing library and the decades-old city office buildings demolished and those parcels redeveloped.

Project phasing would also be part of the final plan update.

The task force is next scheduled to meet Jan. 23. City staff and consultants will also work on completing a traffic impact assessment, environmental analysis, civil engineering assessment, fiscal impact analysis and financial feasibility study based on the Civic Center redevelopment land-use map.

The goal is to release the draft plan update for public review in the spring and then present it to the council for final approval during the summer, pending the outcome of the environmental review, Beaudin said.

For more information on the Downtown Specific Plan update process or to comment, visit


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