As the two-year process to update Pleasanton's downtown plan nears its conclusion, naturally some key questions have arisen.
The task force is scheduled to meet April 23 to work through some of those points with final consideration by the Planning Commission and the City Council to come this summer. The council considered five issues at its meeting Tuesday. That was planned before they received a missive email from PleasantonVoters.com, led by Kelly Cousins.
The group condemned the draft plan for four-story buildings on the current civic center site, dubbing it "supersizing" Pleasanton. They also opposed further residential development downtown, citing Danville's approach with no housing downtown as superior.
Both Pleasanton and Danville are blessed with historic downtowns with a bunch of restaurants. The key difference is downtown Pleasanton is surrounded by historic housing and some transitional areas such as along Peters Avenue, while Danville has distinct separation between its core and most neighborhoods.
As downtown Pleasanton interests have pointed out, one striking omission in the plan so far is any commitment to public parking. Drive around downtown trying to find parking near lunch time, and you'll find virtually all of the lots are posted as private property with parking only for designated businesses and the threat of towing.
There's public parking along the former railroad right-of-way a couple of blocks off Main Street plus street parking. During the week, First Street can have parking if people are willing to walk. It's notable that Danville's key public improvements in its downtown area have been adding public parking, recognizing that people will walk a bit, but, as suburban residents, they are used to parking in shopping centers with ample spaces.
What's needed in Pleasanton is the commitment to build more public parking with designated locations and timelines. The former San Francisco property located across from the library is designated for parking for the ACE train to alleviate the jammed street parking in that neighborhood, but that will not help downtown.
There also are questions about the city micro-managing first-floor uses with a new "active uses" category for the ground floor. Property owners, residents and city officials alike all share the desire for retail uses on the ground floors. That said, there needs to be flexibility if a space cannot be leased after time on the market.
It's worth remembering that in an earlier day (pre-Hacienda Business Park), the city required all banks to have a location downtown. As needs for that industry have shifted and branches have gotten much smaller, there are several bank buildings downtown that are larger than ideal, but they have been challenging to transition to other uses. That reality points out why a special plan should be a guide with flexibility to be shifted as the market moves.
For instance, how will the gig economy and self-driving cars change the demand for parking and when?
Another potentially sticky issue is building height. Naturally, the public doesn't want to change anything -- although they should be reminded, is the Pastime Plaza with the Starbucks and Sabio an improvement over the bar?
Well-designed three-story and four-story buildings -- it's design that's the key -- can fit into downtown and enhance it. One key to a vibrant downtown is foot traffic and people living in the area jump start that.
Livermore has demonstrated that with several projects around the downtown area. The task force and staff have it right with more density clustered in the civic center site. This assumes it will be relocated to the Bernal property, a move that will take millions of dollars plus a public vote.
One real opportunity for significant improvement is the school district's willingness to discuss consolidating its operations and maintenance facility with the city's on Busch Road. That key corner at Bernal and First is under-utilized with the district operations and relocating some or all of those facilities could create millions for school site rehabilitation and improvements.
Incidentally, tracking sales tax revenue for nearby downtown Livermore is interesting. For decades, there was no "there" there for Livermore, but that's turned dramatically with the Bankhead and significant changes to First Street, including the re-routing of Highway 84 to the Isabel corridor and the diversion of through traffic to Railroad.
Since 2010, downtown sales tax revenue has climbed in Livermore from $1.46 million to $2.01 million in calendar 2018. The rate of growth has slowed in the last two years.