Lawsuit threats table hillside protection ordinance indefinitely | June 7, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - June 7, 2013

Lawsuit threats table hillside protection ordinance indefinitely

Years of effort to restrict residential and commercial development on Pleasanton hillsides ground to a halt again Tuesday after the Pleasanton City Council, faced with threats of lawsuits by attorneys from Oakland and San Francisco over Measure PP that was approved by voters in 2008, tabled any further consideration of the proposed law indefinitely. The move came on the advice of City Attorney Jonathan Lowell who said the ordinance would be considered at a later date after the council reviews threats of litigation over the measure.

The attorneys, Stuart Flashman of Oakland, and Kristina Lawson of the San Francisco law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, made different points in their letters to Lowell but basically contend that there's been so much tinkering with the original Measure PP that environmental reviews and possibly a new vote may be needed. Whether their arguments would ever hold up in court if either of them actually files a lawsuit would be decided then, but they're on the mark when it comes to "tinkering." Actually it was understood and publicly stated both before and after Measure PP went to voters that the document was vague in many of its assertions and applications and "needed work," a term used at the time.

Since then, the authors of Measure PP and others, along with Pleasanton city staff, carefully scrutinized the language in the document and various committees and commissions held discussion meetings. In one glaring difference over one aspect of Measure PP, the city Planning Commission voted unanimously to include streets and roadways as being subject to the hillside ban while a few weeks later the City Council voted 3-1, in agreement with its city staff recommendation, to define roads as infrastructure, not structures, that would be exempt from the new law.

That change infuriated many in the community who packed the City Council chambers two weeks in a row to insist that no roads ever be built on the hillsides, a viewpoint both Flashman and Lawson also make in their letters threatening lawsuits. If enforced, such a ban would hamper further residential development in the southeast hills and along parts of Sunol Boulevard where roads on steep hillsides and ravines would be needed to reach new homes that are currently allowed on flatter land sites that the roads would serve. In the so-called Oak Grove acreage on level land above Kottinger Ranch, for example, landowners Frederic and Jennifer Lin have the right to build homes on 10-acre lots on much of their 600-acre property, but a no-road provision in Measure PP would mean there would be no roads to reach those homes.

Neither Flashman nor Lawson are bashing the intent of Measure PP. They just argue that so many changes have been made to the proposed ordinance since its approval that voters may need to see it again. In any event, Flashman contends that the ordinance, as it now stands, also should undergo an analysis under rules covered in the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, a costly and time-consuming process that the Pleasanton city attorney at the time said was unnecessary because citizen initiatives, such as Measure PP, are not subject to a CEQA evaluation.

In the meantime, development plans that cold be affected by a road-ban ruling under Measure PP continue in the city and public approval process.


Posted by Chris Markle, a resident of Sycamore Heights
on Jun 7, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Good! Even though PP is very poorly and vaguely written, one thing it clearly states is that any changes to it require voter approval. We're probably going to have to start with a better-written and more clear "son/daughter of PP" that is sharp and clear and get whatever that is by the voters. Then the council will have clear room to turn that into specific rules and regulations moving forward.

Too bad PP was such a vague mess in the first place (although I did vote for it)...

Posted by Arroyo, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 7, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Chris, of course you voted for it.


PP = Private Property confiscation without compensation

Posted by local, a resident of Birdland
on Jun 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm

PP was fairly simple but lawyers will challenge everything. No matter how precise you make an initiative, it is difficult to cover every base. Because of the way the council handled the Oak Grove property, the citizens did not have a lot of time to write an initiative, circulate it, and collect signatures in the legal amount of time.

If the council did its job by coming up with a hillside development ordinance (which the General Plan required) prior to allowing Oak Grove to be heard, there would have been more time for public import and weighing everything and could have avoided a citizen initiative. The council did not do their job, so the citizens had to do something. I am so glad that there are engaged citizens in our community that would put these things together when the council does not do their job, allowing the citizens to directly vote on how they want their city. With the millions of dollars spent on the campaign by developers to try and defeat this, and the citizens still approving it by a wide margin, that should tell the council what the community is looking for.

Posted by Sad, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2013 at 8:52 am

Some members of the council don't care what you want. I have heard statements like, You elected me, now let me do my job. And that is precisely where representing us stopped and representing their own interests stared.

The vote was 3:1. Who was the 1?

Posted by Longtimer, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2013 at 11:10 am

This community member and taxpayer thinks it's tragic the property owner lost their property right to build a few elegant homes, giving our community massive amounts of open space, plus giving our city massive amounts of money to make our 'community' better.
Personally selfish and narrow-minded NIMBYs do not think about the community.

Posted by Nomad, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm

I recommend the Lins tunnel into the hillside and up whatever grade they want to get to the top.

Posted by Nomad, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2013 at 12:35 pm

And helicopter all building materials up for whatever they want to build. It would be a pretty secure home you'd have to admit.

Posted by Love it or leave it, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2013 at 12:44 am

Sorry long timer, there is no longer miles of open space on the prairie anymore. Thanks to you and your lawyers, California ain't what it used to be. The open space we have left is precious, people have to fight to protect their town from big time developers trying to make a buck, but not interested in the quality of a town.

There is open space in Texas, feel free to move there.

Posted by I agree, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Yeah! Developers make large donations to our mayor and council for hilltop projects. It is time to stop and smell the roses. Even if it is from afar.

And if this does not please you, sorry. Open space and ridge protection have been in the General Plan since 1995.

Want houses on every hill? Move to Castro Valley - please.

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