Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - December 30, 2011

What a year it's been

As cities go in this financially-pressed state of California, Pleasanton had a very good year. The office vacancy rate that stood at 28.2% just a year ago has gradually come down to 9.8% today. Downtown Pleasanton is even better with a less than 5% vacancy rate. Jobs are back, too, with several hundred new jobs added at the new, multi-million-dollar Safeway Lifestyle store complex on Bernal at Valley, with more to come as two new restaurants and more retailers open for business. Union Bank already has opened and Wells Fargo Bank's new two story center is framed out at the Bernal Avenue entrance with its opening scheduled for early spring.

Over on Staples Ranch at the city's eastern edge, large construction projects also in the multi-million-dollar range are under way. Ground was broken a few months ago on the Stoneridge Creek retirement community, and work now is also under way on new community parks nearby. Crews just paved part of the new extension of Stoneridge Drive which, when completed, will connect to El Charro Road and Jack London Boulevard in Livermore.

Work is continuing, too, on the new Clorox research and office center off Hopyard Road and Johnson Drive, which 1,100 employees will call home in the coming months. That will add much needed zest to neighboring restaurants and retail shops along Hopyard. A bit of financial relief has also come to Hacienda Business Park, where Robert Half recently moved most of its operations to San Ramon. Pacific Office Automation has announced that it will lease nearly 20,000 square feet of office space in the Britannia Business Center on Stoneridge Drive.

As the recession winds down, there's also good news for the city government. Because of judicious financial planning when times were good, the city built its "rainy day" reserves to handle fiscal emergencies. It instituted a job and wage freeze, now two years old, and trimmed expenditures that could wait, such as vehicle replacement and capital improvements. The result is that Pleasanton ends the year with no layoffs or reduction in services, and no need to draw down its reserves. Other cities in the state, including neighboring Dublin and Livermore, had much rougher going, with Livermore forced to close a library and fire station, although both have since re-opened.

Stability on the political scene helped, too, with the same members of the City Council and the mayor in place for the past four years. They're now the "elders" of the Tri-Valley with Dublin having more recently-elected council members and Livermore changing mayors just last month. That will change next November when both Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and council members Cindy McGovern and Matt Sullivan are termed out after eight years at their posts.

This stability helped the council move through the year in lock-step where it mattered. They worked together to resolve onerous legal issues imposed by the state and Alameda Superior Court after the city's 1996 housing cap was declared illegal. After hundreds of hours of community meetings and public hearings, the city has finalized a rezoning plan to satisfy its critics. The five on the council also agreed to defend the city from legal suits by developers who wanted to build homes on Pleasanton's eastern hills, even though four had initially favored the Oak Grove development, and they came together to put the rules in place for a Climate Action Plan, also ordered by state authorities.

This was also the year for pension reform, or at least the first efforts to reduce the city's unfunded pension obligations. In addition to cutting $20 million in city expenses since 2008, the council voted to reduce its pension liabilities by 10% and trim personnel expenses as a percentage of the operating budget to 70% from its current 78%. City Manager Nelson Fialho set the pace for individual commitments to pension reform by voluntarily deducting 8% from his paychecks to go for pension and health care benefits. Other managers followed, agreeing to have 4% of their salaries deducted for pension/health care, with their contribution rising to 8% next July. Members of the city employees' union also agreed to start contributing 2%, effective last September, which will go to 3% next month and then to 4% July 1. Contracts now being negotiated with the police union and firefighters' union may include much of the same pension contribution reforms.

With sales tax revenue inching up ever so slightly as 2011 comes to an end and property tax revenue holding, the year earns a qualified thumbs up. Nowhere near the robust years of 2007 and before, the year is ending on an upward trend that should make 2012 even better.

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