http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2013/04/12/guest-opinion-paving-the-way-for-hillside-destruction


Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - April 12, 2013

GUEST OPINION: Paving the way for hillside destruction

City staff wants roads on steep slopes, defying General Plan

by Anne Fox

"Restrict construction on terrain with slopes greater than 25%," says the Pleasanton General Plan adopted Feb. 9, 1976. Thirty-seven years later, Pleasanton city staff continues to ignore this directive.

Measure PP, adopted by voters in November 2008, states housing units and structures shall not be placed on slopes of 25% or greater or within 100 feet of a ridgeline. Its only exemption is for housing developments of 10 or fewer housing units.

The city manager, in defiance of Measure PP provisions, wants authorization to construct highways, streets and roads on terrain greater than 25% slope regardless of the size of the proposed housing subdivision. That way, roads for new subdivisions on hillside property can traverse environmentally sensitive ridgelines, creek beds and unstable steep slopes, circumventing Measure PP.

This sleight of hand is not new. It started Dec. 17, 1973, 40 years ago when the outraged 1970s General Plan Citizens Committee demanded the mayor and City Council explain why all committee recommendations concerning saving ridges and hillsides were being removed by staff. Staff had removed all committee recommendations to prevent the development of ridges and foothills.

The city manager listened and took action. By July 14, 1975, city staff member Kenneth Scheidig, using the word "structure," authored Hillside Protection ordinance 763 to reduce hillside development density as slope increases. Among the provisions it states: "Streets, buildings, and other man-made structures [must be] designed and located in such a manner as to complement the natural terrain and landscape."

After city staff started ignoring its own staff-authored ordinance, the General Plan Citizens Committee included an action item for a ridgeline preservation ordinance in the 1996 General Plan. The result? In 2003, the City Council eliminated General Plan Citizens Committee, increased density of Lund Ranch II to 150 housing units, and began back room negotiations for development of the Oak Grove property. Meanwhile staff refused to agendize a ridgeline ordinance discussion that the Planning Commission requested on April 19, 2006, and by May 24, 2006, all references to a ridgeline ordinance in the General Plan disappeared.

By 2009, geotechnical specialists deemed the Happy Valley Bypass Road route unstable, a $15 million road on steep slopes proposed in 1998 without first confirming its feasibility. That same year, in an effort to further nullify hillside protections, staff removed portions of the 1993 voter-approved Measure F protecting Pleasanton Ridge and all definitions from the 1996 General Plan from the current General Plan, including "slope."

The provisions of Measure PP can be amended by a vote of the people only, not by the City Council. The city manager attempted to amend it last week during spring break without any election. To protect our scenic hills from development and to prevent a network of streets scarring environmentally sensitive ridgelines, which could result in potentially hundreds of housing units in Pleasanton's most scenic hills and ridges, demand that your elected officials honor the voters' wishes, re-affirm again that roads are indeed structures, and uphold Measure PP.

--Anne Fox is a former Planning Commissioner who signed the ballot arguments in favor of Measure PP that included "massive grading of hillsides .... a mile long road spanning the top of many of our Southeast Hills." She co-wrote the hillside/ridgeline protection portion of Measure PP with a former planning commissioner and drafted the text that became the first three lines of the hillside/ridgeline protection portion of Measure PP.

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