Council OKs splitting downtown into two districts
'Core' can stay open late; 'Transition' businesses can't
The Pleasanton City Council on Tuesday night approved a new plan to split downtown businesses into two districts to promote more late-night entertainment in the Main Street area but curb noise and operating hours for businesses closer to downtown homes and apartments.
The council's action wrapped up nearly three years of bickering among businesses and regulators over how much more sizzle bars and restaurants should be given to attract late night revelers to the downtown.
Up to now, businesses had to seek special use permits to stay open after 10 p.m., often with different decisions and time limits from the regulators. The new guidelines would move permitted operating uses to 11 p.m. with no permit required in what is now the "Core" district, but will keep the 10 p.m. closing time for the new "Transition" district.
Higher noise levels also will be allowed in the Core district, with the capped level moving from 70 decibels (dBA) to 74 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and from 60 dBA to 70 at other times.
Businesses located in the Transition area would be restricted to 60 dBA at all times, as measured from their property lines.
The approval of a staff recommendation came despite grumblings by some council members who criticized the new plan for expanding the core district too much from what's currently viewed as the downtown's nightlife areas as well as questions by others over why limits are being imposed on the new Transition district.
"I think this plan is entirely arbitrary and will hurt the property values of those in that district," argued Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio.
She said she had heard from three property owners on Peters Avenue who believe their land values will be diminished under the new guidelines.
In the end, the council agreed that those in the Transition district could have an opportunity to petition city staff to have their properties moved into the Core district with staff approval. Once the new two-district plan is locked into place, however, those wanting to transfer will have to seek permits from both the city Planning Commission and City Council, a requirement that Councilman and Mayor-elect Jerry Thorne called "onerous."
Councilman Matt Sullivan objected to the city staff's recommendation to expand the Core district closer to Peters Avenue and residences across that street. He noted that a task force set up to consider making downtown Pleasanton more hospitable to nighttime entertainment voted 6-5 to hold the line farther away from Peters, a decision also backed by the Planning Commission.
He said an initial plan excluded more businesses from the Core district, including Barone's Restaurant and Fernando's, which would have been fine with him.
With regard to concerns over noise during nighttime entertainment hours, Thorne pointed out that a noise expert said that the dBA would be no higher than 60 by the time it reached the closest residences no matter how loud the dBA measured at the businesses, themselves.
That prompted questions over the need to even establish a Transition district.
Although the council chambers was filled, mostly by downtown business representatives and a few living near the downtown district, all of the 15 speakers who addressed the council supported the new plan, especially the rules that softened noise and operating hour restrictions.
"All restaurants and bars will benefit by these changes," said Mike Hughes, owner of Baci's on Main Street. "We have a conditional use permit to sell liquor until midnight, but it's been a struggle (to attract customers) because of the rule that has labeled this town as shutting down at 9 p.m."
Joe Barone agreed. He said Barone's has been open for 18 years and is now the oldest restaurant in downtown Pleasanton.
"As a business owner, it kills me when people come in and ask why the downtown is so quiet," he said. "They point out that it's not that way in Livermore. Let's get this downtown happy again where it was 18 years ago when we came here."
Businessman Gene Finch, who lives in a downtown residence, said he likes the new plan but has concerns over "nuisances" not addressed by the rule makers, including trash and maintenance noises that follow the restaurant and bar closings.
He said he's gone out to his front yard in the mornings and had to clean up what drunks have left behind.
Cook-Kallio said she has seen those "leftovers" in her early morning walks downtown. She joined with Councilwoman Cindy McGovern in urging police to increase their downtown patrols now so that new revelers coming to Pleasanton's late-night entertainment establishments get to know that they're being watched when they leave.
"We're just going to have to jump in and see how this works," outgoing Mayor Jennifer Hosterman said.
In approving the new plan, the council also asked city staff to report back in a year with an annual report on how well the two new districts have been functioning.