Pleasanton: Commission advances downtown plan, urges city to focus more on parking

Comprehensive DSP package expected to come before council later in summer

The proposed new Downtown Specific Plan is on track to head to the City Council in the coming weeks, but the public debate continues to heat up.

The Planning Commission endorsed the draft DSP and associated policy documents following a three-hour discussion last month that saw commissioners disagree on several individual items but advance the set of proposals on the whole to the council for final consideration.

A comprehensive legislative package, the DSP process is aimed at updating city regulations and objectives for the 307 acres of commercial, residential and public lands in the downtown planning area, but the three planning commissioners at the June 26 meeting concurred with critics in the council chamber that night that the DSP update was far too quiet on one key point -- parking.

So the commission, hesitant to halt the entire DSP process after nearly 2-1/2 years over parking when supporting the vast majority of its other elements, moved the package forward for council consideration but also strongly urged the city officials to prioritize a downtown parking action plan as soon as possible.

"If the one thing that the public is screaming is incomplete with this Downtown Specific Plan, let's not abandon all the other great recommendations, but be very clear that that work item (parking) is incomplete," Commissioner Justin Brown said.

"And that there needs to be some combined city/public/commercial collaboration to come up with an actionable plan that is viable," added Brown, who also sat on the DSP Update Task Force.

The legislative package is the outcome of the work by city staff and the task force of city leaders, downtown stakeholders and other volunteers since 2017 -- as well as incorporating input from the council when the elected leaders interjected on several pending topics at staff's request in the spring.

The documents include comprehensive updates to the DSP; amendments to the General Plan, downtown design guidelines, downtown hospitality guidelines and city code regulations; modifications to land-use designations for certain properties in the DSP area; and an environmental impact report.

Some of the revisions are designed to better align city regulations and priorities across policy documents while others are new proposals with an eye on the future of downtown.

As the DSP process winded down, the public debate took three sharp turns when the task force shifted gears from members' previous leanings on several design and zoning items in February, the council chimed in to give direction on those points in April and May, and then the task force voted 4-3 at its final meeting May 28 to reject the council's direction and recommend its Feb. 26 plan instead.

That left the Planning Commission to weigh a draft legislative package that was unified on most fronts but featured competing recommendations on those several items -- topics like maximum building heights, ground-floor residential and zoning overlays for the Shell station and Barone's sites.

Plus, city staff introduced a few other topics for further discussion on June 26.

The three commissioners at the meeting were already well-versed in the downtown debate, as Brown and Herb Ritter sat on the task force and Nancy Allen was an alternate. Commissioners Jack Balch and Greg O'Connor had to recuse for owning or having financial interest in properties in or near downtown, and commission alternate Brandon Pace was absent due to a personal matter.

Ritter and Brown were on opposing sides in that May 28 task force vote.

City staff's presentation focused on the items still unsettled, including the points of contention between the task force and council majorities, as well as staff-generated issues such as residential visibility, commercial setbacks on corner lots and when to require a planned-unit development (PUD) process.

But most of the 14 public speakers (the majority of the 20 audience members) wanted to talk about parking -- or a lack thereof in the DSP update.

As Brown described, the DSP documents mainly defer to the separate downtown parking strategy plan that was not part of the DSP update process. A parking structure is contemplated on or near the current Civic Center site, but if voters don't approve of moving the city offices to the Bernal Park and freeing up that downtown land, there appears to be no "Plan B" for a large parking influx.

"The assumption this whole plan had was that we'd have a civic center (site), and I think it's becoming clearer that we don't know if we're going to have a civic center or not ... so if we don't have a civic center, we truly haven't addressed parking in the plan. And so, it's a gap. It's a major gap," Allen said.

Public speakers, including task force participants and former council members, lambasted city officials for how the DSP treated parking, saying it was "the elephant in the room," "putting the cart before the horse" and "a fatal flaw."

"All we hear about is parking is not sufficient downtown," said Steve Van Dorn, president and CEO of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce.

"Perception is reality in the downtown as far as parking is concerned," said Jan Batcheller, a task force member.

"Overall, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed on behalf of our downtown. The draft document is not what our downtown deserves. Our downtown deserves ... a better-vetted document than this," said Laura Olson, outgoing executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA) and a task force member.

"I think, tonight, you're being asked to do too much ... This is moving too quickly," former councilman Arne Olson said, urging the commission to separate DSP issues among multiple meetings and "push back strongly on the parking."

The critics urged the commissioners to postpone their decision -- or just vote No altogether -- primarily over the parking issue, but also due to some staff-generated talking points that they viewed circumvented the task force process.

Ritter seemed to agree initially that there was too much up for debate for one meeting.

"I'm frustrated," said Ritter, who is also serving this year as the chair of the chamber's Board of Directors. "We don't have very many people all in agreement on much of anything. It's driving me crazy, because we all love downtown. I mean, we all want the right thing down there."

But Brown and Allen wanted to move forward with their public debate and see where they landed after going through the 10 pending items one by one -- to which Ritter agreed.

The commissioners then discussed the line items and took a straw vote on each, with most decisions advancing on by 2-1 counts. The majority often sided with the council over the task force on pending points -- or made no recommendation, leaving it up to the council.

But they saved parking for the end of that 40-minute discussion list, to the dismay of parking critics in the audience. In fact, most of the public speakers and PDA officials had left the meeting by the time the commission started debating parking after the clock passed 9:30 p.m.

The commissioners agreed that the DSP process fell short on parking, but didn't want to have the whole DSP package stopped so late in the game over what would be a complex issue to address.

Brown suggested they recommend the council create a new task force or working group to discuss downtown parking with the goal of amending the existing parking plan to develop solutions with clear timetables to increase parking availability.

Gerry Beaudin, the city's community development director, interjected that there is also a short-term option that could help right now: an employee parking program, to encourage or require downtown workers to park in spots on the edges of the commercial core and leave stalls closer to shops open for patrons.

"It is not something that anyone has wanted to take on, on the commercial side of things, but it is the thing that we could do tomorrow," Beaudin said. "There has to be an understanding that supply is not the only factor in the equation. We have a management issue as well."

In the end, the commissioners unanimously favored including Brown's recommendation on parking. They then voted to advance the entire DSP package to the council.

The council is expected to discuss the DSP over the course of at least two public meetings, with the first to likely occur either Aug. 20 or Sept. 3, according to Beaudin.

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14 people like this
Posted by Willy
a resident of Old Towne
on Jul 11, 2019 at 9:08 am

Willy is a registered user.

No further construction should be allowed downtown until parking is addressed in a thorough manner.

11 people like this
Posted by Disk Man
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2019 at 10:45 am

Pleasanton has been punting on downtown parking for over two decades, and now the Commission has also come up short as well. This will likely lead to the Council once again punting on parking. Meanwhile, downtown businesses are hurting, other businesses elect not to locate downtown, and the number of property vacancies increase. This situation can best bet summed up as "It's the lack of parking, stupid".

4 people like this
Posted by ESD
a resident of Mohr Park
on Jul 11, 2019 at 10:44 pm

In today's world of rideshare and soon autonomous vehicles -- should we be spending millions on dollars and use precious land in downtown towards parking. Give people rideshare coupons with that money instead.

3 people like this
Posted by Stacey
a resident of Downtown
on Jul 12, 2019 at 9:31 am

"A parking structure is contemplated on or near the current Civic Center site, but if voters don't approve of moving the city offices to the Bernal Park and freeing up that downtown land, there appears to be no "Plan B" for a large parking influx."

I have a couple of questions about the downtown parking proposed at the Civic Center:

Has the distance from the proposed Civic Center to Main Street and businesses been considered? It's a long walk. I live "just outside of downtown" (actually closer than the Bernal Park Property) and love walking to Main Street, but there are times even I prefer to drive and park closer.

If downtown businesses are to rely on parking provided at the proposed Civic Center, will there be accommodations for those that aren't able to walk? A full time shuttle possibly? Who would pay for that?

I was in Downtown Walnut Creek yesterday and happy to park in a free garage with ample spaces, close to the businesses I was visiting. Same thing in Bend, OR while visiting this summer. Not everyone lives close enough to walk or bike, it sure is convenient to have ample parking while driving to support a vibrant downtown.

2 people like this
Posted by Oliver Heaviside
a resident of Val Vista
on Jul 12, 2019 at 9:33 am

Oliver Heaviside is a registered user.

As a kind, I watching shopping centers take all the business from the downtown merchants in my hometown (not P'ton). They succeeded in part because they had plenty of free parking.

I fear that downtown Pleasanton businesses will lose out to shopping/entertainment clusters like Hacienda and others. I've seen it happen before....

14 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Jul 14, 2019 at 8:19 am

These so called downtown “planners” are like spoiled teenagers where if we don’t give them their 200+ million dollar city center on the Bernal property then the citizens won’t get a parking garage and a whole cluster of stack and pack housing at the end of Main St., what a bunch of cry babies.

10 people like this
Posted by Willy
a resident of Old Towne
on Jul 15, 2019 at 9:51 am

Willy is a registered user.

Our company was looking to lease about 2000 sq. ft. of office space on Spring Street (a new building with no parking). When asked where our employees could park we were told they would have to find their own parking. In looking at our options for parking downtown we came to the conclusion that having office space in downtown would not work and we leased other space on Pleasanton Ave with underground parking :-).

7 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Jul 15, 2019 at 2:20 pm

Yet another great project passed by the city planners with no thought of where employees, customers, and the residents of those units will park besides on Main st and Spring Street. Can’t wait to see where those new residents will park, did the city really think they will use their garages for parking?? How about those stack and packs on Peters where do you think those residents will be parking?? Might be time for 24 hour a day parking meters with a 3 hour max.

Like this comment
Posted by jiva12
a resident of Bonde Ranch
on Jul 17, 2019 at 3:36 am

jiva12 is a registered user.

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