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.