Council decides roads not part of hillside protection ordinance | April 19, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - April 19, 2013

Council decides roads not part of hillside protection ordinance

Measure PP becomes part of General Plan in 3-1 vote

by Jeb Bing

The Pleasanton City Council approved a final version of a hillside protection ordinance called Measure PP on Tuesday night with its chambers filled for a second public hearing in a row.

Most of the speakers Tuesday and at an earlier hearing April 2 voiced their views on a key controversial point in the ordinance, whether roads should be allowed in protected areas.

Coupled with other issues considered by the council, Tuesday night's meeting ended well after midnight, making it the longest meeting in recent memory.

For more than two hours, both speakers and council members gave conflicting arguments over whether a road is a "structure," which would be banned along with residential and commercial development on steep hillsides, or are roads an "infrastructure," similar to sewer and power lines, which would be permitted.

For many, including Mayor Jerry Thorne, the detailed studies of the meaning of "roadway" became a major research project although the findings were never clear.

Councilwoman Karla Brown, who helped write and support Measure PP in a referendum approved by voters in November 2008, argued that roads, along with houses, should never be allowed on hillsides. Thorne disagreed, saying his years in handling construction projects as a business executive always considered roads part of a project's infrastructure.

Although the council and most of Tuesday night's speakers, and those who addressed the council April 2, said they support Measure PP's restrictions, their only differences appeared to be over the definition of a road. That became important because roads will need to be constructed in some parts of Pleasanton where future developments could require connecting roadways to reach them over steep slopes. If classified as infrastructure, those roads would be exempted from Measure PP's restrictions.

More than 100 filled the council chambers Tuesday night for the scheduled public hearing and then a final vote on making the 5-year-old Measure PP a part of the city's General Plan.

The hearing was actually a continuation of one opened April 2, where another 100 jammed the chambers. The council delayed its vote at that time because a number of those who wanted to attend and possibly speak were out of town during Pleasanton schools' spring break.

The voter-approved Measure PP restricts residential and commercial development on hillside lots with a 25% grade or more. Although similar restrictions had long been considered in Pleasanton, they've never been made part of the city's General Plan until now. The 2008 referendum came after developers won council approval to build homes in the southeast hills, a project called Oak Grove, which recently was scuttled after a series of court rulings.

Although the 25% hillside protection rule is now in effect, the rush to write Measure PP in time for voter approval left many unanswered questions about the ordinance, which the city Planning Commission and council sought to clarify.

Those included how to measure the 25% slopes, whether to start with the top of the chimney of a proposed home or from its construction pad. Here again, there was disagreement, with Thorne successfully arguing that construction projects should be viewed "from dirt to dirt."

There was general agreement that "manufactured slopes," such as those built up by bulldozers moving dirt to create a hillside, are not affected by the Measure PP restrictions.

But if Measure PP also banned roads, as recommended by the city's Planning Commission, council members and city staff pointed out that a proposed bypass road to the Callippe Preserve golf course and other connecting roads to projects that would still be allowed by the measure couldn't be built. Developers of the once-planned 51-home Oak Grove project, for example, could still build up to 10 homes on the 600 acres they own atop Kottinger Ranch and those homes would need a road to reach them.

Former Councilwoman Kay Ayala, who successfully led the Measure PP referendum, told the council that there was never any intent in the measure to include roads.

"The truth is, as a designer of the initiative, I can say that the intent of Measure PP was to protect hillside development," she said. "Roads were never part of this measure. They're not structures."

Still, streets that would serve the proposed Lund Ranch II development near the Sycamore Heights community off Sunol Boulevard would have to traverse steep slopes to reach the homes planned there, as would the long-planned bypass road to the golf course.

The Planning Commission determined that roads are structures and therefore could not be built on hillside areas prohibited by Measure PP from development. The commission also recommended that a full inventory of ridgelines affected by Measure PP be made to provide early disclosure to property owners and applicants of hillside developments.

But Brian Dolan, director of Community Development, told the council that his planning staff doesn't agree with the Planning Commission's recommendations and urged the council to omit any restrictions for roads from the final Measure PP document. He also said an inventory would take considerable staff and engineering time and could be handled when and if developers file applications.

He said the cost of developing an inventory could run into the tens of thousands of dollars and also warned that the city's eventual determination could invite lawsuits from developers who might disagree with the methodology used. Thorne and City Council members Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Pentin agreed, and a proposed inventory requirement as part of Measure PP was dropped Tuesday night.