The Pleasanton City Council temporarily halted the Lions Wayside and Delucchi Park Master Plan update process Tuesday so that staff could further evaluate a simpler and possibly cheaper renovation project.
In a 4-1 vote, the council majority went against the proposed staff recommendation to approve an update to the conceptual plan for the adjacent downtown parks, which proposes a complete redesign that could cost up to $14 million.
Some of the redesign proposals included relocating the Kottinger Creek further east, relocating the Chan Henderson Bicentennial Bandstand to be on the west side of the creek and reorienting the bandstand to face toward a large open space on the downtown side of Lions Wayside.
"I first want to apologize to any staff member or consultant who has invested themselves in this plan because I'm in no way suggesting that it wouldn't be lovely to have," Councilmember Julie Testa said during Tuesday's meeting. "I do not see our community coming out and asking us to spend $14 million on this and I don't see the value of getting there."
The master plan for both parks had originally started in 1993, according to Bay Area landscape architect Richard Larson, who has been working on the project for several decades now.
Larson said that the joined parks were to be included as part of the downtown transportation corridor plan and serve as a trail to connect into downtown.
What followed was a decade of design contracts being approved and several designs being evaluated before the 2014 City Council adopted the original master plan.
One of the crucial elements in that 2014 master plan was placing the Kottinger Creek into an underground type of tunnel within Lions Wayside. However, Larson said several regulatory agencies made it clear that the city would not be able to obtain the environmental permits required to do that.
Most of the concerns from the environmental regulatory agencies were regarding the potential loss of riparian habitat and impacts on surrounding watersheds.
After having to spend the following years redesigning an updated conceptual plan, staff came back to the agencies in December 2021 with a new plan that met the regulatory requirements.
Larson said that Pleasanton city staff were not expecting it but once they got the green light, they got right to work.
In February 2022, staff presented its final concepts to the Parks and Recreation Commission and then to the City Council in April -- both approved the plans and council proceeded to request staff to seek public input.
At Tuesday's meeting, staff presented those public outreach findings to the council in hopes that afterward they would have given staff the OK to fully update the joint park master plan so they can begin looking at the total cost estimates for the final design.
But after a round of questions from council members, Testa made the first move toward suggesting a full halt on the project after hearing some of the cost estimates from Pleasanton landscape architect Matt Gruber.
According to Gruber, the city had originally set aside just over $4 million for the overall master plan project that was dipped into for working through the regulatory agency issues -- $2 million from that capital investment project fund were also used to purchase land to the north of Lions Wayside (4363 and 4377 First St.) in the hopes of using it for additional downtown parking.
"We're looking at a $12 million to $14 million cost for the 2022 concept plan. But we really won't know what those numbers are until we adopt this plan, we get through the work plan process and we assign real values to the construction of this concept," Gruber said.
But it wasn't just an issue about the cost.
Testa said she enjoyed the parks as they currently stand and that she really thinks the only real changes should be to the bandstand.
She also said that she didn't want to see the creek being moved, as it was proposed in the conceptual design, as it provides a great amenity for children to play in without really getting hurt.
Mayor Karla Brown immediately seconded Testa's motion after already being critical of the conceptual plan during her questioning. She disliked a design option that placed the bandstand facing downtown businesses possibly having a negative noise impact and that construction would also affect concerts in the park or any families looking to spend time there.
But Brown's main criticism, after hearing Testa's substitute motion to simply keep the park mainly as it is, was that the park is beautiful as it is and it contributes to the historic feel of the downtown area -- so spending that much money on a renovation project did not make sense.
"We have a perfectly natural park that water flows to a creek," Brown said. "We get emails from residents who send us pictures of riparian ducks and other animals in this creek. It is nature's ark, and it's beautiful and that's one of the reasons it's been enjoyed by so many during concerts in the park, ice cream sundaes and picnics downtown. We have an historic downtown and I think we need a historic gazebo ... and certainly not an amphitheater in this location."
She pointed to various other park and recreation projects that the city could use the remaining $1.9 million from the joint park project budget to fund -- including things like the Century House and new skate park projects.
What followed was a heated discussion between Brown and Vice Mayor Jack Balch, who wanted to emphasize the original goal of connecting both parks in order to create a sense of connectivity and have a space that would not only bring vitality to the downtown area but also create one large, open lawn space for the public to use.
He also pointed out that while the council had no knowledge of the cost estimates, they should have waited until staff had those estimates before shutting down the entire master plan.
"I don't know the cost of it, I don't know how we'll pay for it ... but I think that the design and the work and public input that we've received through the surveys and and the years this has gone, I think lends it to say this conceptual plan is is a winner," said Balch, who cast the lone dissenting vote.
Councilmember Jeff Nibert had also originally supported staff's updates to the conceptual plan before Testa's motion, but after the lengthy discussion he agreed with Councilmember Valerie Arkin who made a third motion, which is the one that passed on Tuesday, to have staff put a pause on the master plan.
The motion made by Arkin was to have staff produce cost estimates for the renovation and relocation of the bandstand, which according to Gruber would have to be moved either way due to regulatory issues. That could mean simply moving the stage forward a little bit or moving it to an entirely new location in the park.
Staff will also have to produce some type of cost estimates for the conceptual plan so that the council can compare the two and decide which one would be best moving forward.
They will also be looking at the Parks and Recreation Commission to weigh in on the two choices and staff will conduct minimal public outreach per the council's request.
City Manager Gerry Beaudin said the decision to keep the park mainly as it is is a fairly straightforward one that would not need months of planning and public outreach compared to if the council would have wanted to proceed with a renovation plan that would specifically use the almost $2 million in funds.
"If that's the direction, then it's not a $2 million project," Beaudin said regarding the simple renovation of the bandstand and other light renovations. "If we want to use the $2 million that's been set aside for the park project over the years ... then that's a significant public investment and we would likely have that process. If it's, you know, some new benches and a new bandstand, that's a different and probably more straightforward approach."