Pleasanton Weekly

Column - August 26, 2011

Puzzling Remen tract in the news again ***PHOTO COMING

by Jeb Bing

The Remen tract was back before the Pleasanton City Council last week, giving council members a brief, though time-consuming respite from more thorny issues, such as pension reform, state housing requirements and a Climate Action Plan

The 18-acre Remen neighborhood of dirt streets with no sidewalks and differently styled homes is an unincorporated area surrounded by the Pleasanton city limits. For years, its property owners have resisted overtures to annex to the city, preferring instead the more relaxed -- and seldom enforced -- rules that allow parking in front yards and more dogs, cats and even a farm animal that Pleasanton wouldn't permit. There's no city water or sewers except for the few homes that have paid the $100,000 or so to have connections made to their properties. To gain the city's OK, those homeowners also signed a pre-annexation agreement vowing to vote for annexation if the issue ever comes up.

That's not likely. Properties in the tract, which is governed by Alameda County rules, extend into the center line of the streets. To join Pleasanton, homeowners would have to turn their street ownership over to the city and also pay for the improvements to pave and otherwise make streets there look like the rest in town. Developers of Vintage Hills, Shadow Cliff, Smoke Tree Commons and other properties along Vineyard passed Remen by. That was fine with most homeowners, who have septic systems and are served by a 2-inch water line by the old Pleasanton Water Co.

But the days of a more relaxed, less governed Remen tract may be ending. The county no longer allows new or even replacements of septic systems, although minor repairs are permitted. City water is much preferred over well water, which can be contaminated. Still, a drive through the neighborhood, which stretches out to the north and east from the Vineyard and Bernal avenues intersection, shows a wide variance in housing, ranging from large, almost palatial homes to fixer-uppers. Many do not conform to Pleasanton's tough design and structural requirements, although the county sets the standards.

Yet Sia Hashemi learned last week that when the county says OK, Pleasanton can wield its zoning ax, as it did when the council refused to increase a lot line by 5 feet for a three-lot subdivision on Linden Way. Hashemi told the council he already had the county's approval to subdivide his 38,400-square-foot parcel into three lots, converting an existing house into a residence for his son, building a new home for himself, and replacing a garage with a home for his parents. He bought the land two years ago with the understanding from the county that he could proceed with the project.

But there was a hitch. When a property is within 200 feet of a public sewer line, Alameda County's Department of Environmental Health regulations requires all new development to utilize the public sewer system. Prior to hooking up to the city water and sewer systems, however, Pleasanton requires the property to meet its own zoning requirements. Although the three-lot subdivision meets the county's development standards, one of the proposed lots falls short by 5 feet of satisfying Pleasanton's required width of 80 feet. City representatives said they told Hashemi last year about his dilemma, but he proceeded anyway, collecting signatures from neighbors and confident that county law would prevail.

He lost, more on principle than on lot size. In the past, there have been many requests for modifications of lot size, setback requirements, building heights and more from Remen tract property owners who needed the city to waive its rules as they sought water and sewer connections. City staff told Hashemi he could modify his plan to provide two lots instead of three, but he declined. Some of the Remen tract homeowners who attended the council meeting voiced their opposition, disputing Hashemi's intention of ever living there himself. One said Hashemi has a luxury home in Los Altos and would be unlikely to move into a bungalow on a dirt street in the Remen tract. One council member noted that Hashemi's petition of support had 40 signatures, but many were the same names and addresses, signed one on top of the other. In the end, the council voted down Hashemi's 4-1.

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