Appeals process works just fine | March 16, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - March 16, 2012

Appeals process works just fine

Elected and appointed officials in Pleasanton may have their faults, but not listening to homeowners who have comments or complaints about neighborhood issues are not among them. Those who have spent time at meetings of public committees, the Planning Commission and City Council -- even the school board (whose meeting last Tuesday ended near midnight) -- know that this is a city that likes to talk, and listen. It's been part of our municipal culture for decades, and it works.

That's why we were surprised by Mayor Jennifer Hosterman's plea last week to "streamline" the appeals process to cut down on the number coming before the City Council. She reacted out of frustration when appellants Rodney and Trina Lopez asked for another delay in the council's consideration of their appeal over payment of a neighbor's skylight. Their 40- to 50-page appeal was already before council members, and those who were involved in the dispute, whether it be the neighbors, architects, legal counsel or others, had the evening reserved to be at the council meeting to again go over their views and reports. For Hosterman and the council, it was another in a series of appeals and re-appeals that has taken much of their time and city staff's hours of work on what some may consider trivial issues.

But they're not trivial and, as Councilman Matt Sullivan pointed out, it's a right of anyone in Pleasanton to come to the council and make their case. And, he added, it's an elected official's job to listen. Unlike in some larger cities where neighborhood disputes never reach elected officials, Pleasanton has always encouraged the hometown discussions.

Instead of streamlining or curbing formal appeals, perhaps better efforts can be made to meet with those who can't solve their backyard disputes amicably with a more formal mediation process. Pleasanton had success with this approach when St. Clare's Episcopal Church found its neighbors objecting to a church expansion plan. With mediation, arranged and conducted through government channels, all sides reached an accord and the expansion, with some limitations, is moving forward. Across Hopyard, Trinity Lutheran Church couldn't reach agreements with its neighbors for a school building addition, and that project failed to proceed.

Pleasanton has always taken a neighborly approach to solving issues. State requirements call for notifying those within 100 feet or so of a proposed construction project such as a room addition or new fence; Pleasanton sends notices to those within 1,000 feet. A city building official or planning department consultant is always listed on these notices with phone umbers to call. Pleasanton has a good record of "working things out." Some cities never allow these "hometown" issues to reach the lawmakers. But in the end, when mediation and negotiations over the backyard fence don't work, it's the City Council's job to hear everyone out for as long as it takes, and then make a decision. It's the Pleasanton way.


Posted by Seriously?, a resident of Foothill High School
on Mar 16, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Can you really blame Mayor Hosterman for being frustrated by yet another city council appearance by the Lopez duo? And this time to appeal their actually having to pay for the neighbor's skylight they agreed to fund in exchange for being allowed to build their McMansion on a 6k sq. ft. lot in Val Vista and that massively intrudes on said neighbor? After using every legal means available to them to get their way, do you really thing a neighborly approach is even in the cards with these two? Or across town on 2nd street where entrenched homeowners do everything in their power to see that new home owners don't get approval? An overhaul is needed, but with our history, it's a little optimistic to think it will be neighborly.

Posted by It's part of the job..., a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Yes. Being an elected official means spending a lot of time listening to residents and working on compromises and being involved. It is not just showing up at the Farmer's Market every couple of years to shake hands and posing for ribbon cuttings.

If any are weary or tired of that process, the elected officials need to move on and not be elected officials anymore.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm

If you do not like the time it takes to work for the residents, then don't run for office.

It is amazing on the people who are advocates for things and come to public meetings all the time to speak, and then when they are elected they feel the public is wrong and they want to cut off this communication to others. Don't forget where you came from.

While I agree that these meetings can go on for a bit of time, that is what has made Pleasanton what it is; citizen participation. Councils in the past have listened to the residents. Now the current mayor first reduces the amount of time somebody can peak to 3 minutes, and then wants to cut off the appeal process because the mayor gets tired, does not want to hear the public, and wants to go home. It is not like she has a real job to go to. She is a full-time politician.

Posted by Interesting, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2012 at 9:00 pm

The school board is also changing their communication procedures right now in an effort to shut down public discussion / debate - worth investigating.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

Yes I saw the last school board meeting. The board president specifically said to the public at the meeting "do not talk or ask questions of staff or other board members. You must talk to me and I will decide if they should respond." Then she cut people off at three minutes of speaking and said she would have the questions answered at the end of the public comment. At the end of the public comment she said "meeting is adjourned to closed session." None of the public received any answers to their questions or even had their thoughts acknowledged. This was after she let a staff member ramble on and on and took almost all of the allotted time of the item. This looked pretty planned by the board president to make sure the pubic did not have anybody respond to legitimate questions and comments.

I also heard that they are working on internal communication and board members are not allowed to speak with the media, only the board president. Remember that we did not elect a board president. We elected five members of the board. Three of them thwarted the normal process of nominating a board president among themselves. We never assigned any additional powers to the board president so all five members of the board should have the same ability to communicate.

Posted by ReaL reason?, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2012 at 11:56 am

Yes, appeals are part of the process and it is a very important part. The question is, when does the decision become final? When is it about a planning commission decision or city council decision and when is it about sticking it to your neighbor?

Posted by It's part of the job..., a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2012 at 12:14 pm

In the U.S., freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution. Not allowing board members that aren't a president or city council members that aren't the mayor, all elected officials, not to speak to the media or speak at a public meeting violates the First Amendment. What is this, North Korea, mainland China, or Iran?

So sounds like a gag order has been imposed on the school board. Only judges in trials can impose gag orders. So maybe Ahmadi should go off and become some circuit court judge. Of be superintendent in a North Korean, Chinese, or Iranian school district.

Also due process is guaranteed by the Constitution. People are able to have due process through the city process. If the Planning Commission constantly approves everything, of course it has to go to the City Council. It is much preferred there than through the courts because one of the litigants will be the City of Pleasanton if they pass everything into the court system. If you want some judge to design and develop the city rather the city, you can see what happened with Urban Habitat.

Posted by Get the Facts Straight, a resident of Val Vista
on Mar 21, 2012 at 9:34 am

In response to the Foothill Member - you need to first of all get your facts straight about the process. The Lopez family had been trying to work it out with the neighbors and again the process provided them a two-story home not a "McMasion" that you call it. Why don't you stop eating at fast food places and go to the meetings to see for yourself and not get get third party information that is WRONG! This family has bended over backwards for these people and they are just unreasonable. So logic is not in the cards. I will continue to support their efforts as well as other families in Val Vista.