Pleasanton is poised to become home to the Tri-Valley's first ax-throwing lounge in the coming months after the City Council on Tuesday confirmed a conditional use permit for the new recreational game and bar venue to open in the Valley Plaza shopping center.
The unanimous decision capped a nearly 90-minute public hearing during which council members heard from a dozen residents, mainly in favor of the Limitless Axes & Ales proposal, and then debated final safety standards and other operational limitations to be imposed by the city.
"Welcome to Pleasanton," Mayor Jerry Thorne said after the vote to applicant Michael Hill, who was joined in the council chamber audience by a small group of supporters, some of whom donned Limitless T-shirts.
Aiming to capitalize on the growing popularity of ax-throwing as a corporate event, hobby or evening-out activity, Hill -- who also operates Limitless Escape Games in Livermore -- seeks to open an ax lounge in Valley Plaza, which is located at the northwest corner of Santa Rita Road and Valley Avenue.
"Family-friendly activity: I feel like there's really a need here in Pleasanton for this," Hill told the council. "Corporate team-building ... a complementary business, supporting the local economy. People want this. People are looking for new entertainment."
Limitless Axes & Ales would occupy Suites A and B in the multi-tenant commercial building at the western edge of the shopping center, inside the units where Monument Car Parts will soon close its doors.
The Planning Commission signed off on the ax lounge's use permit in a 4-1 vote on Aug. 14 following a discussion that centered on the proposed location, safety standards and operational strategy. That would have represented the city's final approval of the project, until Vice Mayor Karla Brown on Aug. 20 called for a full council review of the application, saying she'd fielded concerns from residents and business owners in the area.
The council's conversation Tuesday focused on similar topics as the commission's debate -- patron safety, alcohol sales and operational plans.
In the 4,300 square feet, Limitless Axes & Ales would feature seven throwing lanes with two targets each, a bar serving beer and wine, seating areas, a lobby and restrooms. Each lane would be fenced in to prevent thrown axes from going into other lanes or elsewhere in the building.
There would be two throwers per lane at a time, tossing the ax end-over-end toward different targets watched by a "coach," an employee who would provide step-by-step directions and safety oversight, according to city staff.
A viewing area behind the lane could accommodate up to 10 people total. The bar would sell beer, wine and snack foods.
The majority of the dozen citizen speakers told the council they supported Hill's proposal, including the possibility of catering to Scouts and other youth groups, and allowing beer and wine sales during all business hours -- likening the venue to a bowling alley or bocce center.
Comments expressing concern centered on alcohol use when combined with ax-throwing, and the lounge opening in a neighborhood shopping center as opposed to a corporate or industrial park.
"We've been on this journey for two years now, researching to no end about this ... making sure that we're going to open a top-of-the-line facility that Pleasanton would be extremely proud of," Brook Hill, wife of the applicant, told the council.
"He is meeting the needs of a more diverse entertainment in our city, which we hear often from not only our citizens but our other corporate clients here," said Steve Van Dorn, CEO of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce. "And it provides more jobs."
"I'm in favor of it. Bottom line: I'm in favor of it, but I'm concerned about the alcohol stuff," said Christina Nystrom Mantha, a resident living near Valley Plaza who said she went to an ax lounge in Berkeley recently to try it for herself amid the debate near her neighborhood.
"The issue really is location and the alcohol. We feel that the location, that it would be more appropriate to be in a corporate park," said Robert Gonella, representing the Danbury Park Homeowners Association. He added that a few neighbors "were afraid to be here, so I'm speaking for them."
In the end, the council approved the use permit with a 5-0 vote while adding a few other conditions, including limiting alcohol sales to two drinks per person per throwing session, mandating one coach per lane, requiring a parent- or guardian-signed waiver for youth, and setting a minimum participant age of 13 years old unless the reservation is part of an organized youth group activity, in which case the age could go down to 10 years old.
Hill has said he hopes to open by the end of the year.
In other business
* The council voted unanimously to initiate the process of allowing the city to join East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), a community choice aggregation (CCA) program of municipalities in Alameda County that offers alternative electricity sources for their residents and businesses.
EBCE has the ability to procure electricity from clean, renewable energy sources on behalf of ratepayers, according to city staff. PG&E still delivers the power, maintains the grid and manages the billing, and electricity customers would have the option to opt out of EBCE and remain with PG&E as their exclusive provider.
The joint powers authority (JPA) was formed in October 2016 among the county and all cities except Pleasanton and Newark, with the Pleasanton City Council taking a wait-and-see approach and asking city staff to return with a recommendation after EBCE operated for one year.
That first year in operation is wrapping up, and city staff recommended opting Pleasanton into the program. The city's registration process would need to be completed soon in order to receive EBCE service by 2021.
"Council's decision to move forward on joining EBCE now will not only meet the city's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but will also meet the deadline for the city to receive service by 2021 to ensure the CCA can procure sufficient energy to meet demand for the coming year," City Manager Nelson Fialho said in a statement after the council vote.
The council is expected to take the next steps -- an EBCE ordinance and a resolution -- next month.
* The council's seven-item consent agenda included the final reading of the city's new massage ordinance, authorizing the speed limit on Independence Drive to decrease from 30 mph to 25 mph and eliminating the Tri-Valley transportation development fee for new accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and second dwelling unit construction in Pleasanton.
As part of consent, council members also approved of a $429,738 contract with Goodland Landscape Construction to rebuild concession stand No. 2 at Ken Mercer Sports Park, and they accepted a $500,000 donation to the city's library fund from Workday Inc. and the Workday Foundation.
"The city of Pleasanton takes great pride in being the home of leading innovative companies like Workday, and we are grateful for the partnership and joint accomplishments we have achieved together for the betterment of our community. This generous gift further demonstrates the commitment and investment Workday has made in Pleasanton," Fialho said in a statement.
"We look forward to a new library -- whether it be at the civic center or a new location -- with sufficient space and adaptability that will allow us to meet the needs of our community now and well into the future," he added.