The Pleasanton City Council signed off on its 2023-31 Housing Element document during a special council meeting Thursday night after making modifications to the list of sites such as raising the number of units at the downtown school district headquarters.
City staff had first begun working on the city's sixth Housing Element cycle back in March 2021 to accommodate Pleasanton's state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) of 5,965 new units -- 2,758 of which are targeted toward lower-income households.
Staff then developed a site list with 24 potential locations for redevelopment, which was sent to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for several layers of evaluations and reports back to staff. That list has now been cut down to 19 sites.
During their last hearing on the matter Dec. 20, council members voted 3-1 to modify the site list by reducing the number of housing units and buildable acres at the Pleasanton Unified School District headquarters on Bernal Avenue, with Vice Mayor Jack Balch dissenting and Councilmember Julie Testa recusing herself because she lives close to the downtown site.
The council directed city staff to reduce the originally recommended 163 dwelling units for the 10.68-acre PUSD district office site to 128 units, which comes out to less than 12 units per acre.
They also voted in December to reduce the 10-acre PUSD Vineyard site, located between Thiessen Street and Manoir Lane, to 7 acres and have three to four units per acre, which adds up to an assumed capacity of 21 to 28 units. They also voted to add some type of greenbelt park that goes through the development.
PUSD Superintendent David Haglund had worked with the city to add both district-owned sites to the housing sites list with the intention of turning them into workforce housing for teachers.
But after that December meeting, dozens of community members and PUSD officials voiced their concerns either through public comments at the Jan. 17 council meeting or through emails like the district sent on Jan. 9 which outlined why they wanted to keep the flexibility of a higher density range.
"The City Council's decision has serious consequences not only for these district owned properties, but more importantly the City Council's stated desire to retain local control over planning decisions, protect community members from incompatible high-density projects being located immediately adjacent to their neighborhoods and create affordable housing opportunities for school district, city and other municipal workers," Haglund stated in the email.
Haglund said in the email that the district would have had to enforce a new state law -- Assembly Bill 2295 -- which would allow PUSD to build workforce housing on land it owns without approval of or input from the city. The minimum density under AB 2295 is 30 units per acre.
That is something that many residents did not want to see, leading many to plead to increase the densities at the district properties.
"Academic excellence for each PUSD student according to their abilities; this should be the goal of our entire community," Pleasanton resident Jan Batcheller said during public comment. "This cannot be achieved or even strived for, without good teachers. There is no better way to attract good young teachers than to have housing they can afford."
Pleasanton Downtown Association board president Randy Brown added to that saying his organization would much rather have a locally planned and well built housing project that the council has a chance to weigh in on compared to a 30 units per acre project that would take away from the downtown charm.
In the Jan. 9 PUSD letter to the council, the district came up with a new assumed capacity number of units at 139 total, for which the council unanimously approved during the special meeting on Thursday.
The downtown site will now be zoned for 8-13 dwelling units per acre to reach the 139 total units, but that decision wasn't the first proposal as Councilmember Valerie Arkin had first motioned to keep the previously reduced density range.
"My reason for decreasing the density -- and it is just a little bit, it's not very much -- is, I am trying to be sensitive to the neighboring residents, the historic neighborhood in particular," said Arkin, who is a former PUSD trustee. "This is a gateway to our downtown, it is going to change the character of our downtown."
She made it clear that while she was never originally supportive of the district zoning its properties because of the possible future need of another site to build a school, she was always supportive of workforce housing for teachers.
While she stated that her reasons for the decision were because the council was only voting on rezoning parameters and not on workforce housing for that specific site, she noted that the district could have always come back with a development agreement to increase the unit count in the future.
But as Arkin looked for a second to her motion of keeping the low-density range, Councilmember Jeff Nibert weighed in saying that one important aspect of the discussion was that the Planning Commission never received a plan for the district site coming into the December meeting where the council voted to first reduce that site's density range.
"The staff report from that date on page 17 contains one paragraph regarding the site where it says there may be an opportunity to work with PUSD to develop at least some of the units here as teacher housing," Nibert said. "No mention of any plan."
As a former planning commissioner, Nibert said that following the Jan. 9 letter that contained the PUSD revised proposal, he felt more comfortable agreeing to that plan, which proposes several compromises.
"It turns out that it did address my concerns," Nibert said regarding the letter. "It also contained a terrific suggestion to enter into a pre-development agreement with the city that will be good for 10 years. Having said that, I want to also reiterate what I have long believed: I tremendously value maintaining and strengthening a strong collaboration between the city and the school district. I think the revised plan and the pre-development and development agreements that are suggested would greatly support our partnership."
Balch seconded Nibert's motion stating that he supports the district's proposal and added that he trusts district leadership to properly plan out the development while taking into consideration the many concerns brought up by surrounding neighbors such as traffic and loss of privacy.
"I absolutely believe our school district is trustworthy ... and I want to support them in their endeavors to educate our children in this community," Balch said. "So why are they being put through so many hoops when 17 other property owners did not have to produce a plan either. So I sit here and I have to say; why are we doing this if we are supposed to be in partnership with our school district?"
After Arkin went back on her motion and the council unanimously approved the increase in density at the downtown site, the PUSD site on Vineyard was the other main site in question.
Testa had suggested at first to completely remove the site from the list as she wanted the district to honor a promise of turning that location into a school or a park.
"To be liquidating school sites at a time when the city is being forced to increase housing stock by 20%, this may not currently be the appropriate location," Testa said. "But banking it and holding on to it as Councilmember Arkin said, would be the appropriate thing to do in a community that is being forced to cover all land with housing."
But after that didn't pass and the council tried to work through different alternate motions, they ended up voting to keep the Vineyard site at three to four dwelling units per acre with the 3 acres of open space.
Apart from the PUSD sites, the other big item that was discussed was the St. Augustine Catholic Church site, which staff originally took off the site list but decided to bring back during the December meeting.
That decision to bring the location back was one that many residents of the area were not fond of as they pointed to water issues in the ground that could affect the neighborhood.
"We're like down a hill from the St. Augustine property," Andrew Shotland said. "My backyard is probably about a 2,000-square-foot kind of wall of ivy and trees and I believe our neighbors have the same. We never water that property never and it thrives. It's got wildlife, all that kind of stuff. I'm concerned that if we do a lot of construction up there, we're going to screw around with the aquifer or whatever is keeping all of our trees and such alive and kind of make that habitat unstable."
He and other of his neighbors also said that the tall buildings that would be built on top of the hill would impede on their privacy.
"I'm a widow with two young boys. I moved to Pleasanton and my home for three reasons: my home bordered an open space, I was in a safe cul-de-sac and I didn't have a ton of neighbors in my backyard," Carolyn DeVault told the council. "These three reasons were important to me because I care about the safety and security of my boys. This proposed development compromises all the reasons I moved to Pleasanton and my home."
But despite the comments, the council voted to keep the site at the two to seven units per acre across the roughly 4 acres with an assumed capacity of 29 total units.
Mayor Karla Brown asked staff about the water issues, to which community development director Ellen Clark said staff would look into it at later stages.
"As part of any development plan, we would carefully review the grading stormwater management and make sure that stormwater was properly detained and did not cause offsite impact," Clark said.
The council also ended up unanimously voting to keep the site as Mayor Brown added that even though the city is being forced to develop tons of new housing projects, St. Augustine is one that she can support. Balch recused himself from the vote as he lived near the church.
The council also unanimously voted on density increases to the Metro 580 and Oracle properties and a decrease to Valley Plaza property due to concerns that four-story buildings may not be appropriate in this location given residential adjacencies.
They also voted to add the Pimlico Drive area, north back to the list provided that staff is able to confirm owner interest in redeveloping the three parcels from all three owners.
Now that the Housing Element has been adopted, staff will have to resubmit it to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which then has 30-60 days to review the document and issue any additional comments before final certification.
After that, the city will then prepare rezonings to be adopted for each of the Housing Element rezoning sites for consistency with the Housing Element.
Final site inventory list
Stoneridge Shopping Center
Muslim Community Center of the East Bay
St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church
St. Augustine Catholic Church
Black Avenue area
Kiewit affordable housing site
Kiewit market-rate housing sites
Sunol Boulevard area
Pleasanton Unified School District headquarters
PUSD's Vineyard Avenue property
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted public speaker Jan Batcheller. The Pleasanton Weekly regrets the error.