Pleasanton council endorses Downtown Specific Plan updates

Impassioned debate caps public hearing cycle; final ordinance adoption due next month

The Pleasanton City Council has signed off on updates to the Downtown Specific Plan and associated policy documents with city regulations and objectives for the downtown business district and surrounding neighborhoods for now and into the future.

The three-hour-plus hearing on the wide-ranging legislative package in the council chamber Tuesday night, like much of the public debate throughout the DSP process, focused on a handful of specific issues such as maximum building height, new housing, balancing competing priorities, parking and the future of the current Civic Center site.

The council majority mainly sided with the positions on points of contention that they supported when they held initial discussions on key DSP topics in the spring -- positions that in the end were largely endorsed by the Planning Commission but differed from recommendations of the DSP Update Task Force.

Those included stricter development standards for projects throughout the 307-acre DSP area such as maintaining the current building height and story maximums for the downtown commercial district and capping new building limits at two stories in the residential and mixed-use transitional zones and three stories in the new mixed-use downtown zone.

With downtown building height still a major talking point in the community, Mayor Jerry Thorne opened the council comments attempting to dispute misinformation about the proposed regulations.

"There has been some confusion out there about four-story buildings ... Is there any four-story buildings anywhere in this plan?" the mayor asked of city staff, knowing "no" was the answer. "Thank you."

After hearing reports from city officials and nearly an hour of comments from citizen speakers on all sides of the issues, the council voted 4-0 to approve resolutions for the environmental clearances, updated DSP and associated policy documents as well as introduce ordinances for zoning designation changes and municipal code updates.

Councilwoman Julie Testa recused herself from the discussion Tuesday after the state's Fair Political Practices Commission concluded earlier this month that she lives too close to the DSP boundary.

The ordinances will return to the council for second reading and final adoption next month.

The DSP package is aimed at updating city regulations and goals for the commercial, residential and publicly owned properties throughout the downtown planning area. Some of the revisions are designed to better align city regulations and priorities across policy documents while others are new proposals with an eye on the short- and long-term futures of downtown, according to city officials.

The first comprehensive update to the DSP since 2002, the legislative package is the outcome of the work by city staff, consultants and the task force of city leaders, downtown stakeholders and other volunteers over 18 public meetings, along with incorporating input from the public, since 2017.

As the DSP process winded down, the public debate took three sharp turns, starting in February when the task force majority shifted gears from members' previous leanings on several design and zoning items compared to the initial draft DSP released last November.

The council chimed in, at city staff's request, to give direction on those points in April and May, but then the task force voted 4-3 at its final meeting May 28 to reject the council's direction and recommend its Feb. 26 plan instead.

The differing recommendations featured agreement on a significant bulk of proposed policies and guidelines, but the task force majority preferred certain development standards be less stringent than the council majority had endorsed, among several other topics.

Presented with both options, the Planning Commission weighed in on the package as a whole in June, with the majority largely siding with the council over the task force on pending points.

Commissioners also went out of their way to argue the DSP update did not go far enough in addressing parking availability in downtown -- a major concern for many business owners, residents and patrons.

That set the stage for the legislative package going before the council on Tuesday night.

The public hearing, which ended just after 10:15 p.m., featured a staff report that yielded dozens of questions from the council, comments from 19 citizen speakers and individual council votes on each pending point of contention before sweeping votes on the entire DSP package.

Resident comments spanned the spectrum, from criticisms of specific aspects of the plan to opposing the DSP updates on the whole to support offered overall or for certain items.

"To say I'm disappointed in this process is an understatement," Jan Batcheller, a task force member, said to open public comment. "City staff and their consultants controlled the agenda and the entire process."

"It seems to me that we should be more concerned about the character of buildings than the height, within reason," she added. "In addition, we discuss height in feet above the ground and not number of stories."

Former mayor Tom Pico also called the DSP process "flawed" and promised "there's going to be a war" if city officials try to move the city offices to Bernal Park property.

"(The plan) is built on a sand foundation that says we're going to move the city hall to the Bernal property. And that will never happen," Pico said. "The citizens will not approve an office complex on the Bernal Park. That wasn't our vision."

"You are on the way tonight to provide specific guidelines ... that are clear and balanced, both to preserve the charm of downtown and help improve its commercial and economic vitality," said Kelly Cousins, president of the slow-growth group

"We, over time, have ruined our downtown in the last couple of years," Margo Tarver added. "We shouldn't have three-story buildings out to the perimeter of the property, over-towering a small one-story restaurant. It's just beyond my comprehension what has happened here, and I don't want it to continue."

The debate then returned to council members for straw votes on specific line items in the plan, a combination of affirming their original guidance from the spring and deciding on new issues that arose in the final weeks.

Key development standards for new projects in the four zoning districts were confirmed in line with earlier council leanings. Vice Mayor Karla Brown dissented.

The council approved maintaining the existing policy for the downtown commercial district -- 40-foot-tall and 300% floor-area ratio (FAR) maximums with two stories encouraged but a three-story maximum.

The limits in the residential district are 30 feet tall with two stories maximum; a 36-foot-tall, two-story maximum with 125% FAR for the new mixed-use transitional zone; and 46 feet with three stories maximum and 300% FAR for the new mixed-use downtown district -- a zone that would apply only to the current Civic Center site and vacant city property across Old Bernal Avenue if voters support relocating the library and city offices to the Bernal Park and creating a "Town Square" with new development on that downtown site.

The council unanimously affirmed its preferred ban on ground-floor residential on commercial properties fronting Main Street and in the mixed-use downtown zone.

The task force majority had concurred on building heights as measured in feet but did not support story limits, and they suggested discouraging but not prohibiting ground-floor residential on Main and side streets.

On parking, the council voiced support for a working group already meeting among the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA) to find parking supply solutions, but council members also stood behind the city's downtown parking strategic plan.

The council also confirmed the debate on whether to reassign two properties -- the Shell station parcel at Ray and First streets and the Barone's restaurant site on St. John Street -- to label them as open for possible residential, commercial or mixed-use redevelopment.

The proposed new label, which came after requests from the property owners, would not guarantee future rezoning and any final project application would still require a public development review process and environmental analysis, according to city staff. The move, though, would allow the owners to avoid applying for a specific plan amendment down the line and make it clear in city documents that those possible redevelopments are on the table.

The council approved a residential overlay for the Shell site, including the direction for staff to consider a planned-unit development (PUD) request for a residential building with two stories of units above grade-level parking stalls if all is not taller than 30 feet. Brown dissented.

For the Barone's property, the majority still opposed a residential overlay but supported a "mixed-use transitional" overlay label. Brown dissented.

On the task force's call for a "right to do business" ordinance, which the council majority did not support, they opted to add language to the DSP at the PDA's request to say the city considers downtown businesses that follow the rules are not a nuisance.

On new residential development in the commercial or mixed-use transitional districts, the council sided with the task force and commission to allow a less-intensive design review process for projects that meet all city policies and downtown guidelines, rather than always requiring a more-involved PUD process. Councilwoman Kathy Narum dissented.

At Narum's urging, the council added to the DSP package a prohibition on new tobacco retailers in the downtown area as well as language to the civic center concept that the potential project subject to voter support could be done in phases, with a first phase seeing the library shift to Bernal and city hall offices move into the current library building.

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19 people like this
Posted by Hijacking public land
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 21, 2019 at 7:36 pm

The city manager's and mayor and city council's plan to use public land that was supposed to be a public park (the Bernal Central Park), violate the voter approved Bernal Specific Plan voters voted on with Measure V that guaranteed 318 acres would have parks and public facilities such as open space, parks, schools, daycare centers, and art facilities, and instead build a gigantic commercial office complex for city office bureaucrats will result in the mayor and city council being removed by a recall effort.

The city's plan to turn public land zoned Public and Institutional in downtown into residential stack and pack housing is exactly similar to what the school district has done with the school district's properties for the last 45 years. They land-banked properties with a promise of new schools that turned into the biggest con job in Tri-Valley history as they converted Public and Institutional land that was supposed to be schools into residential subdivisions one property at a time.

How did a similar move by the school board to use public land around the Mission Park to build the school district's commercial office complex for central office administrators turn out? After a public outcry, the plans were shelved and there is no commercial office complex there.

After years of negotiation with the San Francisco Public Utilities District over the Bernal Property to ensure that it would have open space and parkland, it is with absolute certainty that Pleasanton residents will not allow open space in Bernal Park to be hijacked and turned into a commercial office complex for city workers.

5 people like this
Posted by Fifty Years Here
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Aug 21, 2019 at 9:29 pm

Fifty Years Here is a registered user.

Jan Batcheller, a task force member, (and Downtown Property Owner) said to open public comment. "City staff and their consultants controlled the agenda and the entire process."

Jan's exactly right!

10 people like this
Posted by Thirty years here
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Aug 22, 2019 at 9:49 am

Jan is correct that staff and the Council controlled the process. I, for one, am 100% glad they did. It is the Council's job to make the final decisions for the public good. Regrettably, Jan and some others on the task force lost sight that their job was to represent the interests of the majority of the residents of Pleasanton and not just land owner and developer interests. Why else would the Task Force change direction after nearly 2 years and recommend that 3 story residential ground floor buildings be allowed to displace commercial buildings on Main Street and beyond? The Council's job was to right the ship, representing the majority of the city.

11 people like this
Posted by Flawed processes
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2019 at 12:03 pm

The problem is that these specific plans and task force plans are all Nelson Fialho's personal plans from his pre-determined agenda and there is no actual citizen participation occurring. Thus, city staff/consultants have pre-determined outcomes in the last few so-called "task forces" and have a pre-determined agenda that they push through without even allowing task force participants to have any meaningful input.

During the downtown specific plan, members were not allowed to lead the meetings or engage in discussions, just passively participate. They definitely did not come up with the crazy idea to bulldoze the entire Civic Center/City Hall and put housing there. But you can absolutely bet that behind the scenes, a deal has already been struck by a developer waiting in the wings.

This is common in every recent task force.In the first meeting concerning the
Hacienda BART Apartments, within 15 minutes, city staff informed the task force members that Owens Drive would be narrowed down to one lane. They already made up their minds. In the Blue Ribbon committee concerning the alignment of the Happy Valley bypass road, the committee members were not allowed to come up with alternatives. Instead they were handed an option that city staff came up with that they were told to "sign off" on. The members of the task forces do not create the plans, they just provide a convenient sign off of the very limited items that the city staff allows them to have input on. In addition, the city staff only makes changes to the "control document" that they want to make. They ignore any comments that do not fit in with their agenda.

8 people like this
Posted by Walkin around
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2019 at 2:26 pm

Glad to hear of the decision to keep a cap on the height of the buildings downtown to 40’ high. Even though Mayor Thorne specified that there wasn’t any plans for 4-story buildings in the DSP, the 40 foot cap will keep the buildings at a minimal height, anything over that would be at the height, or taller, of a 4-story building.

Many thanks to all the residents that took the time to voice their concerns to the Committee.

Our concerns will continue to be voiced, as HPL stated above, including voting down any proposal to use our public land on Bernal for a new $200M++ Civic Center or any other type of use other than what we voted for in Measure V. We will also continue to advocate against any high-density housing project in the Downtown area, including on the current Civic Center property and School District property (First & Bernal).

7 people like this
Posted by Ann
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Aug 22, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Appreciate the comments that highlight there are more people interested in the downtown changes than just the DSP Task Force, Downtown Association and Chamber of Commerce. Residents who have lived in Pleasanton for a long or short time take pride in the historic and small scale downtown. The community members have completed surveys, spent time studying the issues and have written or communicated their concerns at Task Force meetings, to the Planning Commission and to City Council Members. Some people on the Task Force expressed their hostility for community input. Too many times those who like to "call the shots" in Pleasanton say the general public/residents are "misinformed" and their opinions are not valid. You are wrong to think this as "Joe Q Public" watches the City Council meetings on TV, reads the newspapers, talks to our elected officials and vote for those who represent the residents not the special interest groups who think they "pull the strings".

4 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Aug 22, 2019 at 4:26 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Flawed, this has been my concern for a long time—staff steers what they want elected officials to do at the district and the city. Our electeds often are not asking tougher questions or asking for deeper reporting. Two paragraphs and a PowerPoint should not be enough on which to base a decision.

Walk-in, I for one think it is shortsighted to not consider the district and city sites for some other kind of development. They are not attractive, not historical, and lend nothing to the gateway entrances to our downtown (I exclude the current library). I don’t think stack and pack housing is an answer either. We can do better. And wherever/whenever/if a new city complex is built, it absolutely should include the district.

10 people like this
Posted by Walk-in around
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2019 at 4:58 pm

Not short-sighted at all, KR. Just looking ahead about the future of our Downtown and the negative impact of any type
development that would contribute to the dangerous increase of traffic in our already overloaded streets in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhood streets, impacting our already extremely overcrowded schools, adding to the stress of our already overworked police & fire officers. I also question the need for any high-density stack & pack housing directly in the downtown area. Shouldn’t this type of housing be closer to Bart where people can actually walk to the stations (Stoneridge & Hacienda area)? Also, there is absolutely no need for a $200M++ Civic Center that we can’t afford, or the School District selling yet another property to a Developer for more high-density housing (or whatever type of development) without building another school that is desperately needed in our City.

8 people like this
Posted by Follow the money
a resident of Danbury Park
on Aug 22, 2019 at 5:02 pm

Kathleen - it is all about money. Mixed-use multi-level residential housing will net more money for the city in a land deal than a movie theater or park. The City must fund the $200M McMansion/Civic Center to show up Dublin's nice facility. But Dublin paid for theirs on the backs of huge development projects. If that is the price, let's keep our quaint facility and remodel it.

8 people like this
Posted by Hijacking public land
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 22, 2019 at 5:22 pm

Also remember the failed lawsuit where the city insisted they had a verbal agreement with the City of San Francisco to purchase the 3 acre parcel for $500,000, even though it was not written anywhere in a written agreement, right next to the current civic center? The judge threw it out.

Now in order to compete with Dublin and Livermore, even though the city has scores of vacant and half vacant commercial office buildings in Hacienda Business Park, the city of Pleasanton wants to steal public land from the public and waste taxpayer money on brand new buildings for bureaucrats.

And anyone who asks questions is considered an "outlier" and subjected to harassment as promoted by the League of California Cities where they discuss ways to deal with "problematic" (also known as people who ask questions) elected officials and members of the public. For a dose of this, take a look at the types of city manager education/training that goes on at these League of California Cities, in particular this one dealing with how to neutralize public officials they don't like ---- Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Aug 22, 2019 at 5:54 pm

Keep a good eye on that measure V and let’s see how the city planners and the developers that run this town make it disappear! Good luck getting 200+ plus million out of us taxpayers to build the new city palace. As mentioned above check out those empty buildings in the business park, lots of possibilities available, probably not as fancy as Dublin’s city offices but at least we have a downtown!!

5 people like this
Posted by Sell public land = Fired city manager
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 22, 2019 at 6:47 pm

I clicked on the powerpoint a couple of posts ago about city managers who use tricks to squash debate and asking questions.

One of the authors of this despicable powerpoint on how to squash public officials and prevent them from doing their jobs is, believe it or not, Kurt Wilson, president of the League of California Cities City Manager's section. No kidding. Web Link

And he was just fired from the city of Stockton for, guess what? Making a deal to sell public land to developers. He tried to close Swenson Park and turn it over to real estate developers to build housing.

And in the inevitable outcome, he was fired unanimously three weeks ago by the mayor and city council. Web Link

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