The city will soon begin work to draft an East Pleasanton Specific Plan after the City Council approved the project approach and scope of work for the multi-year public planning process in a 3-2 vote Tuesday.
Confirming their prior decision to re-prioritize east side planning, the council majority signed off on a public process starting anew with a "blank slate" overseen by the Planning Commission, with frequent check-ins with the council along the way -- as opposed to forming a new task force like what occurred with the previous specific plan attempt that was discontinued several years ago.
"This whole thing about the process being driven by (developer) Ponderosa is pure, homogenized nonsense. This process will be driven by the Planning Commission, the City Council, the staff and you, the residents. It won't be driven by Ponderosa," Mayor Jerry Thorne said during the hearing at the Pleasanton Civic Center.
"Remember this is a planning process ... It will be years before you ever, ever see anything built on the east side -- I can almost guarantee you that, because it takes us years to do anything in this city," the mayor added.
Timing seemed to be the central issue during the council members' deliberations on Tuesday night, their third in-depth hearing on the proposed east side process since November.
Council members in favor of restarting the process now viewed this as the right time to help ensure coordinated, city-led planning of the East Pleasanton area while also aligning well with city preparations for the upcoming regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) and Housing Element update cycle.
"I have complete confidence in the Planning Commission," said Councilman Jerry Pentin, who joined Vice Mayor Kathy Narum in the majority.
"The possibilities that are out in the east side are wonderful. A mixed community that meets Pleasanton needs is what should come out of this specific plan," Pentin added.
The dissenting council members argued the city should not start east side planning until knowing Pleasanton's next round of RHNA numbers, which assign how many housing units and at what affordability levels Pleasanton must plan for its 2022 Housing Element -- draft RHNA numbers are expected to be announced in March 2021.
"I like the idea of giving a year, knowing what our RHNA number looks like and working from that. I think we'll have plenty of time to incorporate (east side) into our RHNA numbers if we need it," said Councilwoman Julie Testa, who voted No along with Councilwoman Karla Brown.
"To say 'clean slate' doesn't make it happen. I think that there has been an undue influence. We've promised our community a process with a clean slate, and we're not going to have that right now. It's already gone too far into (Ponderosa) marketing a plan," Testa also told the audience.
The East Pleasanton Specific Plan would be the city policy document that lays the foundation for future development of Pleasanton's so-called east side, a swath of land on the far southeastern edge of the city (some within the city limits, some outside) long eyed for potential redevelopment with residential, commercial, business and other uses.
The council voted early last year to place the specific plan back onto its official priority list, almost four years after the city hit the pause button on a prior east side planning effort amid drought concerns and other considerations.
Before moving forward this time around, city staff wanted council confirmation on the process framework for the project approach and scope of work.
Council members hosted hours-long public hearings on the east side process at their Nov. 19 and Feb. 18 regular meetings. With the latter debate extending beyond midnight, they pushed out final deliberations to their next meeting -- which was on Tuesday, coinciding with Election Day in the primary.
The planning process, recommended by city staff and approved Tuesday night, centers around workshops and meetings overseen by the Planning Commission, with regular check-ins with the council along the way, as opposed to creating a new task force to lead the effort like what happened from 2012 until mid-2015 when the city previously attempted to complete an East Pleasanton Specific Plan.
The final city deliberations on the specific plan, once completed, would occur before the council -- though a public vote on ratification remains a possibility, but has not been confirmed.
Estimated to last 18 to 24 months, the specific plan drafting process would be paid for in part by Pleasanton-based developer Ponderosa Homes, which has secured agreements with key east side property owners to act on their behalf, but all consultant contracts would be retained and managed independently by the city, staff said.
City planning officials want to restart the east side process soon to solidify the specific plan and help maintain coordinated local control over development of the area, and they contend the planning process would dovetail well with the next RHNA cycle.
There is also renewed interest from the major private property owners in East Pleasanton, after they recently inked agreements with Ponderosa to represent them during the specific plan process, as well as from some affordable housing advocates who see the east side as an opportunity zone.
Some residents in town -- including the PleasantonVoters.com citizen group, who have framed the debate as "East Pleasanton sprawl" -- oppose the proposal, arguing the city is rushing unnecessarily to restart east side planning with a poor process to appease a developer and should instead wait for the next RHNA numbers to be released.
The council heard similar comments from new speakers aligning with either side of the issue Tuesday night.
At the end of the two-hour hearing, the council majority voted 3-2 to direct staff to move forward with the recommended East Pleasanton Specific Plan drafting process.
As part of their approval of the planning process, they added language to the motion to state the city and Planning Commission are restarting "with a blank slate" as well as to direct city staff to begin work now to look citywide for all properties that could qualify as RHNA sites.