Pleasanton's Downtown Specific Plan update cycle is coming to an end after more than two years of public debate that culminated in a lengthy public hearing last week in front of the City Council.
The DSP update and associated documents are a comprehensive legislative package focused on city regulations and objectives for all commercial, residential and publicly owned land in the entire downtown area -- 307 acres in all.
Much of the interest among the community has centered on just a few key issues, and the Aug. 20 public hearing was no exception.
Topics such as maximum building heights, new housing, parking solutions, the manner in which the DSP process played out and the future of the current Civic Center site -- which, if voters approve in the future, could involve moving some combination of library, police and city offices to the Bernal property to free up the downtown city property for redevelopment (a "Town Square" concept with mixed-use residential/commercial buildings, public parkland and a parking structure).
The public process, which began in 2017, took a major turn as it began to wind down earlier this year and ultimately divided members of the DSP Update Task Force majority who preferred less restrictive development standards and the City Council majority who supported stricter standards amid some public concern over the task force recommendations.
Council members gave the green light to the full legislative package following a lengthy -- and likely final -- public discussion on the 2019 DSP update on Aug. 20. They are due to consider the second reading and final adoption of DSP-related ordinances next Tuesday, according to city spokeswoman Cindy Chin.
Some of the variety of comments offered as part of the council's three-hour-plus hearing last week included:
* "This task force process appears to not have been effective or 'listened to' and I question why we even had a task force and thousands of hours of staff time and paid consultants," said Herb Ritter, a city planning commissioner, task force member and current Chamber of Commerce board chair (in an email letter to the council).
"The only thing that has been 'supersized' in this process is the amount of added restrictions, processes and regulations to discourage the economic vitality of our downtown," a frustrated Ritter added in his 720-word letter. "In my opinion, no owner or prospective owner wants to 'enhance or improve' their property after seeing the amount of hurdles, regulations and 'subjective reasoning' in order to get a city permit. This sets up an opportunity for a failing economic environment and many vacant buildings."
* "It was a huge disappointment to be told I won't be able to represent the many people who voted for me to do so," Councilwoman Julie Testa said before stepping out of the council chamber, recused after the Fair Political Practices Commission deemed Aug. 6 she lives too close to the DSP boundary.
"I would like to say that recusing from this discussion tonight will be a one-time recusal. When the projects within the plan come forward as individual projects, I will not have a conflict. The individual projects will be far enough (away)."
* Setting the stage for the discussion, city planning manager Ellen Clark said, "Although that debate has happened, there have been many points of consensus about the need to preserve and protect downtown, to ensure that new development respects that character and fits in well with our existing buildings, particularly historic buildings, and about bringing more vitality to the downtown, along with improving pedestrian and bicycle amenities."
* "There has been some confusion out there about four-story buildings ... Is there any four-story buildings anywhere in this plan?" Mayor Jerry Thorne asked of city staff, knowing "no" was the answer. "Thank you."
* Councilman Jerry Pentin, lamenting how little the task force recommendations were detailed in the oral staff report: "It just seems we're very quiet on the hard work this task force has done. And we get to the final (meeting) and it's just going back and forth between the Planning Commission and the City Council, and I think we need to pay some respect the decisions made by this task force."
* Opening public comment was task force member Jan Batcheller.
"The process has been flawed from the very beginning," she said in part. "In the past, staff would say we wanted to hear from stakeholders; now it seems stakeholders are considered to have a conflict of interest, when in my view they actually have a vested interest."
* "The right-to-do-business policy that's already in place for new development, if that were to be recognized with a statement ... in the DSP just recognizing that businesses that follow the rules are not a nuisance, it would help us in that recruiting and retaining retail effort," said Bryan Bowers, board president for the Pleasanton Downtown Association.
* "As we know, the DSP is intended to guide the preservation and development of land of our downtown, but many of the proposed elements are more focused on expansive development rather than preservation," resident Kelly Mokashi told the council.
"Don't settle for quick solutions ... What you decide tonight may forever change the historic preservation of this city that makes it unique to our surrounding communities. Please, please do your duty to serve the people of this community."
* "I believe that all input is not equal," task force member Steve Baker said. "The input from the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, which represents approximately 725 members of the Pleasanton community, and the Pleasanton Downtown Association, which represents over 500 businesses in the downtown, needs to be given more weight than the input from two residents."
* 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 PleasantonVoters.com.
* "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."
* Peter MacDonald said, "It is terrible planning to adopt a Downtown Specific Plan with no additional parking near the downtown core or North Main."
He later summed up with, "What this process did not do was focus on creating a downtown habitat in which businesses can be successful, customers can find a place to park and people want to visit."
* "I think it was beautiful the world of possibility and creativity the task force engendered, so I appreciate those who have spoken in favor of the original recommendations of the task force," said Isaac Elias, whose family rents in Pleasanton. "Things have been made more restrictive (by the council); that is something that I regret."
"I am the pro-housing boogeyman that everyone's scared of. I am in favor of anything that leads to more housing units here in Pleasanton because I am a renter and I am not a homeowner. And there are lots of us out there who would love to be homeowners here in Pleasanton but cannot because there are not many homes to own."
* "I just want to say thank you City Council for listening so closely to all of the work DSP, all of the various citizen input and that more recently the Planning Commission ... And that you recognized what you heard from a majority of residents," resident Diane Envent said in favor of the final recommendation.
"I think we made tremendous progress with your listening to what citizens want in terms of building heights, what they want in terms of looking further at parking, what they want in terms of protecting the Main Street small-town feel as well as on the neighboring side streets, and for limiting residential uses in the commercial area and promoting more active retail, commercial presence."
* "Downtown's still the heart of Pleasanton but unfortunately it feels like it's about ready to suffer a heart attack, or maybe if we move over to the Bernal property a heart transplant," said Scott Miner, the final citizen speaker.
The City Council approached DSP adoption with four sets of actions: two by resolution (one-time approval) and two by ordinance (required two-step process).
The first resolution, approved Aug. 20, including certifying the final environmental impact report on the DSP update with associated findings, and adopting a statement of overriding considerations, a mitigation monitoring program and a water supply assessment.
The second resolution, also adopted last week, involved rescinding the 2002 DSP and replacing it with the updated 2019 DSP, as well as approving associated amendments to the city's General Plan, downtown design guidelines and downtown hospitality guidelines.
The first ordinance centered on changes to the zoning designations for certain properties. The second ordinance focused on amending the zoning and transportation systems management sections of the Pleasanton Municipal Code to implement the policies of the new DSP.
Both ordinances were introduced last week and are scheduled for second reading and final adoption at the regular council meeting next Tuesday (Sept. 3).