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February 21, 2012

A special joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission of the City of San Ramon was held February 21, 2012 at 7:08 p.m. in the Fountain Room at the San Ramon Community Center at 12501 Alcosta Boulevard, Mayor Clarkson presiding.

Councilmembers: Hudson, Livingstone, O’Loane, Perkins, and Mayor Clarkson.
Planning Commissioners: Benedetti, Sachs, Wallis, Vice Chair Viers, and Chair Kerger.
STAFF PRESENT:  City Manager Greg Rogers, Leiutenant Liz Gresham, City Attorney Sheryl Schaffner, Interim Deputy City Attorney Michael Roush, Senior Planner Lauren Barr, and City Clerk Patricia Edwards.

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Planning Chair Kerger led those present in the pledge of allegiance. 

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(#4.1)  Public Hearing:  North Camino Ramon Specific Plan (SP 09-800-001-North Camino Ramon Specific Plan - filed March 24, 2009).

Senior Planner Lauren Barr gave the presentation.  The meeting’s purpose is to provide an overview of the Specific Plan, continue the dialogue on the Plan’s vision and content, and receive feedback on the draft Specific Plan.  The Plan area includes 295 acres bounded on the north by Fostoria Way, Alcosta Boulevard on the east, I680 on the west and Executive Parkway on the south. The Plan concept was initiated in 2008 and a Priority Development Area (PDA) status was pursued with the Association of Bay Area Governments’ (ABAG) Focus Program.  The PDA designation focuses on transit and housing in a concentrated area.  In the spring of 2009, General Plan data collection and analysis began and continued until fall 2010.  General Plan 2030 was adopted in 2010 and included the creation and implementation of the North West Specific Plan using smart growth concepts.  The Plan’s vision is to blend retail and commercial services and housing close to jobs.  The goal is to be a stimulus for economic development and unmet retail and commercial needs in the City while maintaining and enhancing San Ramon’s quality of life.  Most of the project will be themed mixed-use with a central core commons mixed-use area; destination retail-commercial mixed-use; Bishop Ranch mixed-use; and multifamily mixed-use.  The net development potential will increase non-residential space by 168,000 square feet, 376 residential units, and 3,042 jobs.   The Plan builds on existing land use and circulation patterns.  This is a long range Plan that will be driven by market need and property owner participation.  The long term nature of the Plan will allow for project phasing and flexibility.  The outreach for this Plan included mailings, workshops, study sessions, committee meetings, presentations to service groups, property owner interviews, media coverage, and noticed public hearings.  The Plan provides for economic stimulus for unmet retail needs and is business friendly.  Commercial Service zoning has been grandfathered into the Plan.  In summary, the Northwest Specific Plan is proposed in response to General Plan 2030 and addresses State mandates AB32 and SB375.  The Plan provides for a variety of housing close to employment and services, efficient growth to improve transportation circulation, strengthens the City’s financial base, and enhances retail and service opportunities. The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) evaluates the potential impacts of the proposed project. The DEIR and the Specific Plan have been available for review.  A public hearing on the DEIR is scheduled for March 6, 2012.  The public comment period will close on March 26, 2012.  Responses to the comments will then be prepared.  Two additional public hearings will be held by the Planning Commission on April 3, 2012 and April 17, 2012.  After these meetings, the City Council public hearings will be scheduled.

Mayor Clarkson opened public comment.

Resident Roz Rogoff stated her concerns about starting this project before the City Center project is completed.  She stated her concern that a retailer could sell their property to Wal-Mart if it is zoned for retail mixed-use.

Resident Patricia Baran indicated that she has reviewed the Specific Plan and the DEIR.  She stated that the Plan will increase traffic noise and cause more congestion on Crow Canyon Road.  She feels that this Plan will not enhance the quality of life in San Ramon.  She believes this Plan is about increasing the City’s tax revenue.

Kevin L’Hommedieu, resident and business owner in San Ramon, related the number of new residents to the number of cars they will own and how they will use their cars in regard to the Plan.  He feels that, with the proposed use of the Norris Canyon off ramps as HOV exit lanes, traffic will increase on Bollinger Canyon Road and on Crow Canyon Road as well as on the freeway.  He feels that there will be too many people in the Plan area for it to be considered smart growth since there will be more cars, more pollution, and more noise.  He added that the quality of life will deteriorate.  He noted that the property owners have not requested the changes proposed in this Plan and that the Plan will actually open the way for developers.  He feels that this Plan is not business friendly because it will displace business owners.

Resident and business owner Kathy Cherry stated that positive things happened in their business where a similar development was built.  She urges people to keep an open mind with regard to development and that development can be a positive change.

Mayor Clarkson advised that Anne Cavazos and Glenn Forslin provided written comments which will be entered into the record.

Mayor Clarkson closed public comment.

Cm. Hudson stated the Specific Plan will have a net increase of 168,000 square feet of commercial space and 376 residential units using smart growth principles to reduce traffic.  The County Connection supports this Plan and prefers the Norris Canyon transit plan.  In 2008, state legislation changed drastically with AB375.  Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) introduced the Focus Program which calls for 70% of the growth over the next 30 years to occur on 3% of the land.  MTC and ABAG are working toward a sustainable community strategy which will be required by law in 2013.  The Specific Plan gives goals, objectives, and guidelines for what can happen in the next 20-30 years.  The Transportation Management Authority is being developed so that the landowners can decide how they will handle shared parking and environmental issues.  He added that adoption of this Plan is the only thing preventing this area from being designated as a Planned Development Area (PDA). 

Cm. O’Loane stated that this Plan is not a response to SB375 since this process started in 2005 and SB375 was passed in 2008.  He stated that 30 years is a long timeline and the proposal does not take into consideration facts that currently relate to the Plan area.  He stated that Kaiser Permanente purchased a building in the Plan area and will not likely relocate to accommodate the Specific Plan.  He also stated that the Plan does not address the fact that public feedback on the General Plan has not been totally positive.  He feels this Plan is an academic exercise and that the City should wait until the state population estimates are out in approximately one year.  Cm. O’Loane asked if there has been an analysis of how this Plan competes with the City Center project.  He also asked if there are examples of destination retail in the context of a pedestrian area. 

Mr. Barr stated that the retail presence of City Center was factored into this Plan in 2008 and there has been no change in expectation for local retail demand.  He stated that the City Center is a defined and entitled project.  The North Camino Ramon Specific Plan is a planning area and projects will be reviewed as they are presented to the Planning Department.  He also stated that auto access will be required in this Plan area.  The integration of pedestrian areas, big box, parking, and traffic can be handled by the location of the buildings, pedestrian areas, and range of store sizes. 

Cm. O’Loane would like to see more about the Plan’s weaknesses and how they have been addressed. 

Chair Kerger stated that 2,100 notices were sent out regarding this Plan.  She stated that there is a reduction in jobs but an increase in housing units and questioned how that creates a jobs/housing balance.  Mr. Barr stated that San Ramon is a job rich community and that General Plan 2030 moves toward a jobs/housing equilibrium.  Chair Kerger stated that the City needs housing as there is currently a housing shortage.  She stated that a plan is needed for the future.  She asked that people focus on the Specific Plan and emphasized the importance of the Plan.  She asked about the pursuit of additional funding for PDA areas.   

Mr. Barr stated that grants are available for PDA projects for infrastructure, transportation, parking, pedestrian and bicycling improvements.  San Ramon would compete for available PDA funds.

Commissioner Sachs stated that specific plans are useful as a framework for development standards, coordinated growth, and meeting legal requirements.  He is generally in favor of the Plan but has concerns regarding the housing numbers, traffic volume, service level degradation, and traffic patterns. He stated there will be 3,800 additional people making traffic impacts very serious. He feels parking is an issue, particularly problems that arise from shared parking situations.  This Plan area is larger than Santana Row and is large enough to require a police substation.  There will be consistent construction delays for the next 5-20 years which will affect the resident’s quality of life.  He noted that San Ramon has limited through streets and these will be affected.  He questioned the dependence on grant money for providing funding for Plan improvements. He is not opposed to a specific plan that sets out a course but fears this density is beyond what San Ramon needs.  He asked if PDAs require certain housing levels.  He asked for clarification on how the parking will work, particularly the funding and financial liability of the parking garage for the City.  He would like more community outreach now that the City has the reports which provide firm information and facts.

Commissioner Benedetti expressed concerns about transportation and circulation around Norris Canyon Road.  The report addresses the benefits of HOV lanes.  She believes that the proposed HOV lane may allow single vehicle usage during non-commute hours.  This will create traffic in what is supposed to be a high pedestrian use area.  She does not believe that a thorough assessment has not been done and would like to see more study on the impact of the HOV lanes.

Commissioner Wallis stated San Ramon is losing substantial sales tax revenue to other cities.  Retailers can’t find spaces large enough for their businesses in San Ramon.  Sales tax revenue benefits city services such as roads and parks.  While no plan is perfect, the Specific Plan is almost the same as under the existing General Plan.  The difference is that the Specific Plan encourages retail.  Fewer people will work in this area than stated in the current General Plan.  More retail will create more shoppers who will be walking or driving during non-peak commute times.  The housing will allow people to walk to jobs in Bishop Ranch.  He noted that it took over 20 years to create Santana Row.  This Plan is larger than Santana Row and may take longer than 20 years but the City needs to plan ahead.  The City needs sales tax revenue, housing, and jobs.  Elected officials will make the final decision based on public input provided and the facts presented. \

Cm. Perkins commented about advance planning for the future.  The Specific Plan reduces traffic as opposed to no plan.  General Plan 2030 supports sustainable communities which increase the density in an area and helps to keep open space open.  He supports PDAs which require change and eliminate retail leakage.  The City’s population needs to be evaluated relative to spending habits in order to reduce trips and keep sales tax revenue in the City.  The City Center project fills a retail need but not the entire need.  Once City Center is built, retailers can evaluate their needs in the context of existing retail demand.  He is concerned about the addition of 1,500 residential units, primarily multifamily, and the need for a large public park oriented toward young families.  He asked what the impact would be if the proposed HOV lanes are moved to Executive Parkway and if this option would impact San Ramon Valley Boulevard.  He requested that the management of Waterford Place in Dublin be contacted to ascertain what works there, what they would change, or what they would do differently.  He indicated that Service Commercial is permitted in two of the Plan zones but would like to know what the permitted use is, what would require a minor use permit, and the distinction between them. 

Commission Viers stated that the Plan area is zoned mixed use. Special districts were included as a vision of what it could look like but the Plan is totally flexible.  He stated this is a long term plan for what is possible within the given area.  He addressed his concerns with housing in the Plan area.  He feels residential developers will face mandated affordable housing, in lieu fees, inclusion of the cost of public parks, and Mello Roos.  He would like to see some flexibility so that first time homebuyers and seniors will be able to afford housing.  He believes that ABAG’s housing numbers are too high.  He would like to see the number of housing units reduced.

Cm. Hudson reiterated that the Specific Plan will have a net increase of 168,000 square feet of commercial space and 376 residential units over what the general Plan currently includes for this area.  Cm. Hudson stated that SB 375 requires a regional transportation plan and is tied to the regional housing numbers.  Using this Plan provides a good jobs/housing balance.  He believes unbundled parking, which is assessing the value of an employee parking in a parking lot, will be used to create programs to enhance transit.  He stated that developers want housing next to big box stores as evidenced by the housing located behind Staples and Home Depot in San Ramon.

Cm. Perkins reminded the Councilmembers and Commissioners that if a housing unit is moved out of the Plan area, it will need to be relocated in San Ramon.  The total number of housing units does not change.

Commissioner Sachs asked for clarification on the housing numbers.  He asked if the 376 proposed additional units were originally designated for this area or if they were being added.  Mr. Barr replied that they were not in the original numbers but the Plan provides for flexibility in the housing numbers.  He believes that once 1,000 units are built in the Plan area; there will be a reassessment of the housing opportunities.

Cm. O’Loane asked if there is any other community that has two transit centers within two miles of each other.  With California population numbers decreasing, it is possible that the City may get new housing numbers which are lower than the current level.  He also questioned the assumption that employees of the San Ramon Regional Medical Center would be able to take advantage of the restaurants due to the time and distance between the hospital and the Plan area. 

Chair Kerger stated that Waterford Place has businesses, parks, housing, and freeway accessibility and has vitality.  These are things that the City is striving for along with economic stability.  A specific plan is broad enough to allow for flexibility.  She would like to review some of the transportation issues again.

Mayor Clarkson responded to comments and questions made by Councilmembers and Planning Commissioners.  He requested more information about designated park areas, whether they would be built, and if they would be big enough for activities.  He stated the review of the Plan’s strengths and weaknesses was very helpful. He is concerned about keeping the housing affordable.  He asked if the Plan is being created to prevent sales tax revenue leakage and if the sales tax money is used to build infrastructure, will the City see any other benefit from those sales tax dollars.  Parking and traffic issues are signs of a vibrant downtown but there is a tipping point where it becomes problematic.  He noted that many questions which have been asked are addressed or will be responded to in the DEIR.  He urged the members of Council and the Planning Commission to hear all of the facts and testimony before making a decision on this project.

Chair Kerger asked when staff will respond to the comments made during the meeting.  Mr. Barr indicated that the responses will be incorporated into the staff report.

Commissioner Benedetti made a motion to continue the Public Hearing to March 6, 2012 for additional public comment on the Specific Plan.  The motion was seconded by Commissioner Sachs and passed 5-0.

Commissioner Benedetti made a motion to schedule a Public Hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Report for March 2, 2012.  The motion was seconded by Commissioner Sachs and passed 5-0.

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The meeting was adjourned at 9:20 p.m.

Jim Livingstone, Vice Mayor
Patricia Edwards, City Clerk

Approved as presented at the April 10, 2012 City Council meeting 3-0-2; Clarkson and Perkins absent.

Approved 5-0 by the San Ramon Planning Commission at their April 3, 2012 meeting.

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