Despite threats of law suits and several demands to continue the public hearing for a fourth time, the City Council voted 3-1 Tuesday night to allow a developer to build 48 upscale homes in Pleasanton's southeast hills with access roads slicing through two heavily populated neighborhoods.
The vote came after another lengthy public hearing the third by the council with the council chamber packed at standing-room-only capacity. It also ended years of debate over building houses on the 195-acre Lund Ranch II site in the hills south of Sunol Boulevard, a debate that started in 2002 and at one time involved a builder's bid for 113 homes.
Mayor Jerry Thorne and council members Kathy Narum and Arne Olson voted in favor of the current bid by Greenbriar Homes Community to develop the site, allowing 29 of the new homes to have access to Sunol Boulevard through Sycamore Heights and Bridle Creek neighborhoods and the other 19 to use Lund Ranch Road, Independence Drive and Junipero Street to reach the main thoroughfares in Pleasanton.
Councilwoman Karla Brown voted against the Greenbriar plan, arguing that construction of a road connecting Sunset Creek Way to the new development from Sycamore Heights would have to cut through hilly terrain in violation of voter-approved Measure PP, which bans residential and commercial construction on Pleasanton hills with slopes greater than 25%.
Councilman Jerry Pentin recused himself from voting on the issue because he lives close to one of the proposed routes. That decision brought complaints from several speakers who noted that the state Fair Political Practices Commission had ruled that he could participate.
"By not casting a vote, Mr. Pentin has avoided his responsibility," one speaker told the council. "As an elected official, I would expect you to uphold all the responsibilities of office regardless of how you may feel about this issue."
At a previous hearing on the Greenbriar issue, Pentin recused himself after another speaker accused him of living too close to the affected neighborhoods to remain impartial.
Besides concerns over Measure PP's reach over roadways as well as hillside residential construction, the council fielded comments from 23 speakers at Tuesday night's meeting, mostly from homeowners on Independence and Junipero who said those streets were already congested with peak rush hour traffic and should bear no more.
Several homeowners in the Sycamore Heights and Bridle Creek neighborhoods also urged the council to reject the proposed extension of Sunset Creek Way which would have future Lund Ranch II traffic going their way.
Both Narum and Olson expressed some angst over their votes favoring the Greenbriar development. Narum has said repeatedly that she did not want to separate neighborhoods in the new housing development, which the council's final decision orders.
Homes in the 19/29 split will have access to each side only by pedestrian and bicycle paths. To drive from one neighborhood to the other, motorists will have to travel circuitous routes by way of Sunol Boulevard to reach the other side.
As part of its plan, Greenbriar agreed to contribute 150 acres of its Lund Ranch property to the city of Pleasanton to be used in perpetuity as open space. Although how the public will reach that land was unclear in Tuesday night's presentation, it most likely will require traveling through Sycamore Heights.
Changes to the connector road that must be built to extend Sunset Creek Way into Lund Ranch were made by Greenbriar just 24 hours before the Tuesday hearing, aggravating Councilwoman Karla Brown who said the public didn't have adequate time to evaluate the changes.
But Greenbriar's spokeswoman, Angela Ramirez Holmes, said the changes were moderate and reduced the amount of retaining wall that will be needed for the roadway to cross a creek and the amount of dirt that will have to be excavated and trucked off the site.
That modification is what caused Councilman Olson to shift his previous opposition to the project to a favorable vote, allowing a majority to support the plan. At a hearing two weeks earlier, he had sided with Councilwoman Brown, which would have led to a 2-2 deadlock if a vote had been taken. Thorne, seeing the dilemma, continued the hearing in hope that the possible tie vote, which would have killed the project, could be broken.
"We've been working on this for years and it's time to make a decision," Olson said.
"While I said previously that a road was a structure, there are others who say that it was not the intention to include roads as structures in Measure PP," he added. "The modified plan we have before us tonight will have has less of an impact on PP. Therefore I can support this modified plan."
Olson continued: "Let me say that for those of you who are disappointed that I choose not to follow PP rigidly in this case, I must point out that PP already has had a major impact on this project and will continue to affect other projects."
He added, however, as part of his motion that the council accepted, that "If our interpretation of this is successfully challenged (in court), this entire (action) is considered null and void and must return to the Planning Commission and the City Council for future consideration."
After hearing from many speakers Tuesday about increasingly heavy traffic on Independence and Junipero in the Mission Park neighborhood, the council also asked Traffic Engineer Mike Tassano to move quickly to lessen the impact.
One suggestion was to make left turns illegal off Bernal at the traffic light at Independence during peak rush hour times. Residents said many motorists make that turn in the mornings to avoid congestion at Bernal and Sunol Boulevard and as a shortcut to reach Hearst Elementary and Pleasanton middle schools.