Sprawl or infill? | March 17, 2017 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - March 17, 2017

Sprawl or infill?

by Tim Hunt

It may come as a surprise, but the Greenbelt Alliance's five-year update on its report "At Risk, the Bay Area Greenbelt" contains some good news.

Although the headlines trumpet 293,000 acres at risk, it also notes that more than 1.2 million acres of the estimated 4.4 million total acres in the nine Bay Area counties are permanently protected from development. Add in that another 2.2 million acres have policies in effect such as growth boundaries, hillside ordinances and agriculture zoning, and it's clear the sky is not falling.

In fact, it's the opposite. More than 75% of the land mass is currently off-limits to development. The green folks ought to be leading the cheers instead of warning that 293,000, nearly one-third of the remaining land (not including those areas already developed) is in danger of development.

The Greenbelt Alliance argues for in-fill development, near transportation in existing cities. No issues with that approach; it will work in certain areas.

Where issues arise is when it comes to drawing the borders around the nine Bay Area counties. Some are still distinctly rural such as large portions of Napa and Sonoma counties or eastern Alameda County (the Tri-Valley). These are uniquely valuable agricultural areas and need to be preserved.

What stringent growth policies have done locally is push housing farther east.

There's a reason why Tracy now has a larger population than Livermore with most workers commuting over the Altamont Pass. Mountain House has emerged from the foreclosure crisis to become a desirable home for people wanting the minimum commute over the Altamont Pass.

San Joaquin County, in terms of housing and transportation, should be considered part of the Bay Area. It's closer than portions of Solano County to Bay Area job centers. Remember last year, I noted that developers building a project in Davis were touting it as commutable to the Bay Area (they were not talking by train). In addition, the Bay Area Council, an advocacy group for large employers, argued that the Bay Area should also include the area from Sacramento west and Stockton west when it comes to planning transportation.

What's troubling are areas that the Greenbelt Alliance and its ally, the Sierra Club, consider a threat for sprawl.

For instance, the beautiful Tassajara Valley is located midway between 60,000 jobs in Bishop Ranch in San Ramon and more jobs than that in Hacienda Business Park and north Pleasanton. It may seem like sprawl from a San Francisco perspective, but it is infill, as was the Dougherty Valley that the Sierra Club opposed.

More importantly, Alameda County and the city of Livermore have declared 15,000 acres of north Livermore (bisected by North Livermore Avenue north of I-580) as open space. It's 10 miles or less from the employment centers in Pleasanton, Dublin and San Ramon to say nothing about the jobs in Livermore at the national labs. And, unlike the productive vineyards south of Livermore, it can grow little more than winter wheat. It's ideal for housing development.

And, it's close enough to make a variety of transportation alternatives available, particularly if future residents are fortunate enough to work in the valley. Of course, any development there will take a vote of Livermore citizens to reverse that policy that has amounted to a near holy war for some anti-growth folks there.

* Editor's note: Journalist Tim Hunt has written columns on the Tri-Valley community for more than 40 years. He grew up in the valley and lives in Pleasanton. His "Tim Talk" blog appears twice a week at PleasantonWeekly.com.

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