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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The City Center: Solution to a "Done Deal"

So much for the San Ramon Planning Commission! So much for the City Center Project not being a "Done Deal". Once the Planning Commission approves the DSEIR on November 6th the project will go before the City Council. The City Council will have three meetings during the holidays and before any one gets back from enjoying of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it will be another "Done Deal".

This is all by design and in the past they would have gotten away with it, but not now. The city's plea to "trust us" is too late. They are trying this trust us one too many times. There is no trust left.

Trust is given when trust is earned. The City Council manipulated the 2020 General Plan in 2002, they manipulated the Rezoning process in 2006, and they manipulated the Open Space Ordinance this year. There is only expectation left, and it is one of self interest and of a private club mentality. Expectation of a public forum and public representation is gone and in its place is private business to business partnerships and 'Done Deals'.

The City Center Project has been in the works for years. The first budget workshops were held in February 2004. The Economic Development Advisory Committee and Bay Area Economics held retail sector workshops in July 2005 and drafted a Strategic Plan. The city staff made a presentation to the City Council in October 2005. At the same time the City Council held private meetings with Sunset Development to form a private partnership. In 2006 the City Council made changes to the General Plan, the zoning, and created the Mixed Use Zoning. Finally, in March of 2007 the City Council rolled the finished City Center Project in a joint staff and committee meeting. All this maneuvering and decision making was done behind a wall of silence.

The first “public” input to the project in September 2007 before the Planning Commission came with statements that this project was NOT a done deal. After two meetings we found out that it was a “Done Deal”. No changes could be allowed because it would upset the economics of the deal. So much for the public trust.

TrafficWhat you can't trust is the private financial deal. What you can't trust is the "Statement of Overriding Consideration". What you can’t trust is the traffic study. You can't trust this project that is more suited to San Francisco. You can’t trust a project that is expected to cost $775,000,000.00 and the city is going to be rich from the sales taxes. You can't trust what they say is the real cost of this private “Done Deal”.

Trust me this is going to cost the City of San Ramon plenty. This starts off as a land grab. The city purchased the 11 acres and then the 7.5 acres from Sunset Development for real money ($12,000,000.00). In this deal the City Council transferred the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) to Sunset Development's other projects which left no use for the 18 acres except for public uses. After years of turning down proposed public uses the City Council rezoned the properties to Mixed-Use and added an FAR of 1.35 to them. They then rezoned from non- private uses to eight story buildings. The estimated value of the 18 acre property with the new zoning, in current dollars, is between $60,000,000.00 and $80,000,000.00 as it stands empty.

In the City Center Project the city owned property gets lost. The property where the new Civic Center is to be located is not even owned by Sunset Development, it is owned by Chevron. Chevron is already asking for compensation. No one knows whether the city will own the new Civic Center or lease it from Sunset Development.

It appears the city will get an increase in sales taxes but Sunset is expected to ask for a share of the increased revenue. What other guaranties is the City Council going to make in the name of this "Done Deal" project? The financial deal should be made public before we vote on this deal. The voters of San Ramon should have a chance to Vote on whether they agree with this deal or not.

This City Center Project needs to be redesigned to meet the needs of the public and not impact the city as severely as the present proposal shows. If the Project is built, it should have the following changes:

  1. The buildings should be a maximum of five stories with a smaller total square footage to be compatible with the rest of Bishop Ranch. This is a reduction of about 50% from the proposed size. The parking lot structures should be reduced by one half the proposed size.

  2. The Civic Center should be located on the north side of Bollinger Canyon Blvd and next to Central Park so that it has a relationship to other public uses. The size should be doubled to about 300,000 sq. ft.

  3. The proposed City Center Plaza should face onto the Iron Horse Trail and Central Park.

  4. All environmental effects of the project should be mitigated and not be a “significant and unavoidable cumulative impact”. Not a letter of “Statement of Overriding Consideration” from the Mayor to allow significant environmental impacts.

The City Center project should be approved by the citizens of San Ramon. If the City Council does not give them the opportunity to vote, a Referendum on the Project will be needed.

Article submitted to San Ramon Tribune

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