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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

San Ramon Facing Downtown Envy Disease

The Antiplanner Perspective On The San Ramon City Center

From The Thoreau Institute, a non-profit organization that seeks ways to protect the environment without big government.

The following quotes are from an article written on The Antiplanner website looking at the San Ramon City Center plan.

But the city is suffering from an acute case of "downtown envy," a disease the strikes many Sun Belt cities. Many people, including most urban planners, think that a city can’t be a real city unless it has a distinctive downtown or city center. But in today's automobile age, developers no longer build distinctive city centers, so cities that have grown up since 1945 often feel they have to subsidize them.


The article goes on to ask the tough question. Why does San Ramon need a downtown?

At the city council meeting that first heard Mehran's proposal, someone testified that San Ramon "needs a downtown." Why? San Ramon is not a pedestrian-oriented city like Berkeley — yet it is hard to really find a downtown even in Berkeley. It is not a streetcar city like Los Angeles — yet Los Angeles only has a downtown because of huge subsidies and lobbying from downtown property owners.


Anyone that has gone through the intersection of Bollinger and Alcosta Blvd. in the morning or evening commute has to wonder, do we really need more density in this particular area?

Yet I have to wonder if San Ramon needs more density. Thanks to environmental demands that all available greenspaces be kept green, San Ramon's population density has already increased to 4,400 per square mile, which is pretty high considering all the land that is in office parks. Mehran's proposal will just add to the density, which will add to the congestion. Mehran himself lives in San Francisco, so he probably doesn't mind density, but many San Ramon residents are not too keen on the idea.


Alex Mehran, of Sunset Development Company, is the developer that is leading the charge on this downtown center plan. Accordingly, "Mehran's vision in 1978 was that San Francisco was too expensive and too congested and so many companies would want to locate in a suburb that was relatively free of congestion." Now, Mehran and the City Council want to turn that San Ramon vision into a nightmare of congestion, and high rise densities like that of Concord, with eight-story office high-rises. Furthermore, Mehran wants to have a major upscale shopping anchor for the downtown center. But, no upscale department store has yet committed to the downtown plan. What happens if no upscale department store is found to anchor a downtown plan?

Maybe, the San Ramon Council needs to step back and really ask themselves if this "downtown envy" is good for San Ramon. The questions that must be addressed are: Do we want more traffic? Do we want higher densities? Do we want 8-story office high-rises?

Read the complete article:
Anti-Town Planning #2: San Ramon City Center

Would also like to thank The Harper Team for forwarding the article to us.

Feel free to email us information or links that might prove insightful to this topic or other city topics.

By-the-way, read the San Ramon News Introduction.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to ask, 'is there anything that has been done in San Ramon recently that you guys agree with?'

Seems like someone here is planting the seeds of discontent to make a run for Council using the Raab/Tatarka/Cambra/Dickey guide to winning campaigns? Oh, and throw in Gerber,Bishop and Greenberg while your at it.

Best of luck to you!!!!

Ben Franklin said...

So anonymous, is there something good with the Downtown plan in your eyes? If you want to write about the superficial stuff, (make the voters feel good stuff) go ahead, make their day... Quite frankly, the only ones trumpeting the bugle for the Downtown plan are the City Council members and the San Ramon Chamber Of Commerce "club". It seems that these are the rah-rah good ole boys club.

The people (Lots of people now, and more people in the future) that have to go through that area of town will forever be impacted in a negative way.

Anonymous said...

Ben, good dodge!!! Now, answer my question, if you can!!

As far as the City Center plan, in my opinion, if anyone is thinking that this builds us a downtown, they are mistaken. Take this for what it is. It is a large scale retail center using the urban village concept, and must include pedestrian as well as vehicular accessability, links to the Iron Horse trail, Central park, and have a safe method of getting people across Bollinger.

The problems with traffic have been inherited from Dougherty Valley, thanks to that County controlled development.

Traffic at peak times can be improved on Bollinger through the Camino Ramon area by synchronizing the signals to allow easier East/West flow during peak times.

Some of the impacts are inevitable. But not surprisingly, the people who complain the most are the ones who live in Dougherty Valley. Go figure!

So, Ben...I know you have an answer to my question right on the tip of your keyboard. Please share!!

Ben Franklin said...

Love it... San Ramon is a great place to live. Great parks, community events, a beautiful Central Park with a very nice Community Center, beautiful hills (the hills that are remaining), and the good services provided by folks over in the Beta Court area. These are just a few of the things that I personally agree with. Keeping San Ramon a great place to live is what we need to concentrate on.

A downtown center, in my estimation does not make sense as a combined "large scale retail center, using the urban village concept," and having City Offices and services integrated into the mix.

This downtown center will have major traffic impacts in more ways than one. I don't trust the traffic studies at all. On too many occasions, city planners have used decades old traffic patterns to push through projects. Just looking at the Dougherty Valley and saying the traffic can flow easier East/West during peak times is a wrong assumption. What happens with the North/South traffic? Anonymous, have you personally tried to go North/South now during the peak traffic times? I can tell you I have, and it is getting longer and longer of a commute time involved going from one end of San Ramon to the other. Imagine the impact of a City Center, with the City Council and Alex Mehran, the Developer wanting to have 8 story high-rises in the mix of things. Imagine what it will be like when thousands of people all want to dump their cars onto Bollinger Canyon Rd. at quiting time. Imagine the traffic congestion in the morning when everyone will want to converge into a very small area. Imagine the City Services being placed into this very crowded area. Also, keep in mind the Dougherty Valley is not fully developed. Imagine what traffic will be like when that happens and the City Center with its large amount of office spaces are built.

I don't honestly believe that the City Council and the planning departments have thought this through. When I here talk that Council Members are already looking forward to the Downtown Center, without a complete understanding of the impact in this area, that tells me that they have made up their minds no matter what. It also sets up a red flag in my mind that maybe there are some under-the-table deals going on between the City Council Members and the Developer. This is especially the case, when nothing has been shared about the details of the financing. To say that this is not going to cost the San Ramon taxpayers anything is a lie. Everything costs something. Nothing is done without giving up something, or paying for something, or trading something, or having a deal for something else, or, you get the picture. Until the financial package is shared completely with the people (if it is ever shared truthfully), the people have no way of knowing what is at risk.

The Mayor inferred that a Downtown Center would be good to draw the East and West of San Ramon together into one central location. What Mayor H. Abram Wilson didn't say is, it will divide North and South San Ramon because of increased traffic congestion.

Traffic patterns will be affected in other neighborhoods because of this. People will cut across San Ramon, North to South and East to West using other neighborhood streets. Instead of Bollinger Canyon Rd. being used for East/West travel, people will start using Old Ranch Road and down toward the 680 freeway on Alcosta South. People will cut across Pine Valley Road, Montevideo Drive, and Norris Canyon Road.

We haven't even gone into the details of the partnership arraignment between Alex Mehran and the San Ramon City Council and the City of San Ramon. Do we really want the City to be in a position of dealing with leased property? What happens in market slowdowns, when these office buildings can not get filled? What happens when the mortgage payments for the development costs are probably pushed onto the taxpayers? There are too many unanswered questions.

It really comes down to asking the question, Do We Really Need a Downtown? Until we see all the actual facts, the answer is yet to be determined.

So, you asked, "Is there anything that has been done in San Ramon recently that you guys agree with?" I can only answer for myself, Yes. Is there anything that the City Council has done recently, of major importance, that I agree with? My answer would be NO.

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