The years-long effort to bring a Costco Wholesale store to Pleasanton cleared another hurdle on Tuesday night when the City Council unanimously supported the latest version of policy and environmental review documents central to rezoning the project site.
Council members are set to confirm their decision in two weeks to formally sign off -- again -- on the proposed Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone, a city regulatory endeavor that would lay the foundation for allowing the Costco, plus two new hotels and other businesses, to come to a swath of land southeast of the I-680/I-580 interchange.
"Many of us have been through this entire process. If there's been a vetted project in this city, this is it," Councilman Jerry Pentin said. "I'm satisfied the work has been done. I'm satisfied that the residents of Pleasanton have spoke that they want this project."
Vice Mayor Kathy Narum also pointed to citizen support for the proposed Costco, including an email she received urging the city to "remove the 'Pyramids of Pleasanton'" -- referring to the mounds of post-demolition debris sitting for years on a prominent Johnson Drive parcel.
She said she thinks that resident support has actually grown amid the extra public review and city hearings, "based on comments the past couple of years about 'why haven't you started', 'don't you know how to dig', 'do we need to buy you a shovel' and on and on and on."
"It was a difficult decision for me because there's many good things and there's some challenges," Councilwoman Karla Brown added. "But I think we came to a place that I can support."
The JDEDZ project was first initiated by the city in 2014 as a concept to spur commercial development on under-utilized land on Johnson Drive and Commerce Circle. It details rules for how redevelopment could occur on the 40 acres near the freeways' interchange, including rezoning a nearly 20-acre site left vacant when Clorox closed its research center there.
The updates to the JDEDZ documents center on the results of more than a year's worth of additional environmental review, mainly around air quality, ordered by the council as part of rescinding its original JDEDZ approvals from 2017 in favor of supplemental analysis to address concerns raised in a lawsuit challenging the project.
Most other key elements of the JDEDZ package remain the same as they were two years ago, although cost estimates for traffic improvements in the area have now risen to between $23.1 million and $25.3 million -- above the original pricetag estimate of $21.47 million.
Pleasanton Citizens for Responsible Growth, the group that sued the city over its original JDEDZ approvals, is "very disappointed" by the council's actions Tuesday night, according to the group's spokesman, Matt Sullivan.
"The city continues to conceal the true environmental, public health, and traffic impacts of the project and refuses to provide the details of public subsidies to Costco, a $135 billion corporation. We are weighing the alternatives to respond to this action, but suffice to say, this fight is not over," Sullivan, a former City Council member, told the Weekly on Wednesday morning.
Sullivan did not speak during the hearing Tuesday night at the Pleasanton Civic Center, but the council did hear from a handful of speakers on both sides of the JDEDZ proposal.
Jenifer Murillo, director of real estate development for Costco, said the company remains committed to opening its first-ever store in Pleasanton -- on land it now owns along Johnson Drive.
"We believe that this Costco will add over 275 well-paying jobs with great benefits," Murilo said. "It will generate millions in sales tax revenue. We believe it will redevelop and repurpose an under-utilized property in a key economic corridor along I-680."
"We are committed to Pleasanton. We are committed to this project. And we look forward to continuing our involvement in this community," she added.
Randy Brown, board chair for the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, said he supports the JDEDZ, in part, because of "the transformation of an under-utilized area of the city that, let's face it, is a real eyesore."
"This is a thriving commercial corridor that capitalizes on its location and will create many opportunities for new uses and services for our community," he added.
Resident Don Maday was less supportive, saying the new higher roadwork costs represent "a substantial escalation from the original number ... And really, it begs the question: How much more do we expect it to go up before construction is completed?"
"I ask that you re-examine the economics on this deal," Maday added. "We heard from the Costco people this is a really desirable place for that, for them ... I think you could get more, and I would ask you to reconsider it and renegotiate."
"The issue is not not wanting Costco. The issue is where our tax money is going," Kathy Hemmen told the council. "We need to be concerned about our money. I get the feeling we're not sure about the dollars and cents."
City staff also reported receiving more than 350 comment letters and emails during the new environmental process and up through this week, with about 85% of those in favor of the JDEDZ and less than 15% opposed.
Following the nearly two-hour hearing, the council voted to certify the JDEDZ's "revised final supplemental environmental impact report" and to approve a resolution for the General Plan amendment to change the land-use designations of parcels to accommodate the expanded commercial uses.
The council also voted to introduce an ordinance for rezoning the JDEDZ site, a required two-step process. The second reading and final adoption of the ordinance is scheduled for the council's Feb. 18 regular meeting.
Also slated for that meeting is consideration of an updated JDEDZ transportation fee, which will be charged to all JDEDZ developers (except Costco) to make sure they repay their fair share of the public infrastructure work.
With the roadwork needing to be finished before Costco could open, the transportation improvements are generally split into thirds among the city, Costco and those future JDEDZ developers -- with Costco fronting that latter third and the city repaying that money via a tax-sharing agreement.