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Pleasanton Voters Decide, What's in a Ridgeline?

Many long, hard-fought battles have been waged for the control of high ground, and the one surrounding Pleasanton's Measure D is no exception. 

Measure D asks whether a 51-home development known as Oak Grove may be built on a parcel of 562 acres in the southeastern hills above the city, a Bay Area bedroom community which sits in a valley in inland Alameda County. Measure D was placed on the ballot by the City Council following a long saga of denials, approvals, lawsuits, new ordinances, and community outcry. A yes vote allows the development to go forward per the agreement with the city council; a no vote forces would-be developers to start from scratch. 

Landowners have been trying to develop the property since 1992, when landowners Jennifer and Frederick Lin received council approval for a 122-unit housing development and 18-hole golf course. That development was rejected in a 1993 ballot referendum. Since then, a 1996 general plan update provided for up to 98 homes on the property. 

In 2007, however, the city council approved, on a 4-1 vote, a development with only 51 homes of up to 9,000 square feet (and no golf course). That development agreement included the deeding of over 500 acres of open space to the city, which would preserve and maintain it as recreational space in perpetuity. The city was also promised other public benefits, including a one-time $2 million contribution to the school district, the purchase of new firefighting equipment, and funding to maintain the deeded parkland. 

"This presents a marvelous opportunity for our community to acquire some beautiful parkland," said Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, who supports the project and Measure D. 

Soon after the council issued its approval, citizens group Save Pleasanton Hills successfully circulated a petition to put the project to a vote, and the developers sued to keep that measure off the ballot. After two rounds of litigation, the First District Court of Appeals ruled last year that the vote should go forward. The state Supreme Court refused to hear the developers' appeal, and the city council placed the measure on the ballot on a 3-2 vote.  

Meanwhile, in 2008 Pleasanton voters approved Measure PP, sponsored by Save Pleasanton Hills, which prohibits development on slopes with more than a 25 percent grade or within 100 vertical feet of a ridgeline. 

Measure D's opponents contend that the proposed development, even though it may comply with the city's 1996 general plan, should have been subject to a hillside ordinance such as the one that Measure PP instituted, all along. Kay Ayala, co-chair of the No On Measure D Committee, contends that a hillside ordinance was mandated by that general plan and that the council was remiss in approving Oak Grove in the absence of such an ordinance. 

  "They broke the general plan when they approved the project," said Ayala. Hosterman called this contention "absolutely false." 

"This city council is still working on all the language we have available to us in order to define what development in the hillsides makes sense to what doesn't make sense," said Hosterman. "We have a number of pieces of language in a number of different documents that speak to ridgeline protection and hillside protection in the city."

The agreement's provision of open space and financial contributions to the city and school district do not sway opponents, according to Ayala, who served on the city council for eight years. 

"We're not willing to trade our ridges for open space," said Ayala.

Hosterman, however, contends not only that the city will benefit considerably from the agreement but also that the proposed homes would not in fact impinge on any ridgelines. 

"The highest ridgelines stretched across that entire 600 acres are going to be left undeveloped and in their current pristine condition," said Hosterman, who added that the definition of a ridgeline should not include minor rises. 

If Measure D fails, the current general plan would allow developers to build up to 96 homes on the property; those homes would have to comply with Measure PP. Hosterman said that defeat of Measure D means that the landowners would be free to go ahead with another, larger development. And she said that Measure D could set a precedent for preserving open space throughout the city. 

"If Measure D gets passed, I'll be able to take this development agreement to other two property owners and say, take a look at what we've been able to do," said Hosterman. "If you can match it and set aside some additional acreage, you might get the green light to be able to develop."

Contacts: 

Kay Ayala, Co-Chair, No on Measure D/Save Pleasanton Hills 

Jennifer Hosterman, Mayor of Pleasanton, (925) 931-5001