Around the Valley: Pulling a U-turn | January 20, 2023 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - January 20, 2023

Around the Valley: Pulling a U-turn

by Gina Channell Wilcox

A recent Pleasanton City Council vote on two proposed Housing Element sites was such an abrupt U-turn it left some feeling sideswiped.

The Housing Element, which identifies parcels in the city that can be rezoned and developed for state-mandated housing, includes two Pleasanton Unified School District properties -- the "Downtown" site at Bernal Avenue and First Street and a Vineyard Avenue property.

PUSD Superintendent David Haglund asked that the district-owned properties be added to the list, with the goal for the underutilized properties to be developed as workforce housing while bolstering the district coffers for future schools in growth areas.

City and district staff worked together for months to produce a solid plan, with city staff recommending the Downtown property density be 8-16 dwelling units per acre and the Vineyard density be 3-5 per acre.

The district expressed concerns that the limits on density would negatively impact their goals of providing workforce housing and maximizing the value of the properties and requested increases to the upper limit of density.

But Mayor Karla Brown and councilmembers Valerie Arkin and Jeff Nibert slammed the brakes on the collaboration by denying the request, then pulled a U-ey by reducing the density for both properties. Then, continuing in the opposite direction, they voted to add a 3-acre park to the Vineyard parcel.

The density for the Downtown site was reduced from the staff recommendation of 8-16 units to 8-12 per acre, far less than the 8-20 the district requested. The Vineyard site density decreased from 3-5 units per acre to 3-4 -- minus 3 acres now slated for a park.

"They didn't just say 'no, we're not going to raise it,' but that they were going to lower it," Haglund said. "I was really disappointed..."

The vote was after hearing from Ellen Clark, Pleasanton's community development director, that PUSD has the ability under new state law AB 2295 to build workforce housing on land it owns without approval of or input from the city, and that the minimum density under AB 2295 is 30 units per acre. The densities would likely be closer to 40-50 units per acre.

"My main concern is how this will change the downtown. When I ran for council, the historic small-town charm of downtown was the No. 1 concern of residents," Arkin said. "I feel our decision was reasonable and it was also taking the impact to nearby residents into consideration."

"Our concerns include traffic on already-congested First Street and the busy intersection with Bernal, impacts on neighbors and neighborhoods, and the effects of building massing and height on the downtown area where it's located," Nibert said. "For these reasons I voted to decrease the upper limit in the draft Housing Element."

"An appropriate housing project must balance all affected parties, not just a single organization. If a project can provide affordable housing to teachers, that is a wonderful bonus, and an important consideration," said Brown.

"I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place," Haglund told me. "I really don't want to put 400 units on this property. I'm being forced into this position that is not necessary and it doesn't fit into the way we see ourselves in Pleasanton, or what I want to do. I'm being forced to (employ AB 2295) or abandon the workforce housing on this property."

On behalf of the city, Clark provided a statement in support of continued collaboration "with the perspective that a project developed cooperatively, and at a moderate density agreed on by the city and the district, is most likely to deliver a quality housing development that has the potential to meet the goals of neighborhood compatibility and a meaningful amount of housing affordable to our local workforce, alongside market-rate units."

While Haglund wants to be a good neighbor, his decisions have to be based on what's best for the district, its employees and its students.

"In our collaboration with the city, we're trying to keep all the options on the table," Haglund said. "If we go the AB 2295 route, all those options go off the table.We don't have the desire to do that because it's not in the best interest of the community. But don't lock us into numbers that won't allow workforce housing."

Editor's note: Gina Channell Wilcox has been the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media Group's East Bay Division since 2006. Her "Around the Valley" column runs the first and third Fridays of the month.


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