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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Phil O'Loane speaks out on Measure W

Uploaded: Nov 26, 2010
It was nice seeing Phil O'Loane looking relaxed and cheerful at the November 23 City Council meeting. He read a prepared comment on the defeat of Measure W. O'Loane opposed Measure W and said he was the first to vote "No" on it in his role as Chairman of the Planning Commission. O'Loane was not reappointed to the Planning Commission, which he and many others attributed to his opposition to Measure W.

Phil greeted me with a smile and a nudge, which I appreciated. I like Phil and respected his work on the Planning Commission, so I'm glad he hasn't held my opposition to his opposition against me.

Here's an outline of what Phil said about Measure W and why the City Council needs to change how they do things.

1. The vote against Measure W was a repudiation of City Leaders.

2. People do not want UGB broken. People are tired of growth and want to slow it down. They want agriculture and open space preserved and believe that San Ramon doesn't need to control Tassajara Valley to protect it.

3. There are no "haters" in San Ramon. People who speak at meetings should be listened to and respected and not just tolerated. People who disagree should not be scoffed at or dismissed.

4. Small businesses were extremely nervous about changes in zoning. The City should reach out to them and not simply notify them about meetings. The City's plans should be more transparent. Residents should be told what is being planned.

5. On a personal basis O'Loane asked the Council to stop trashing Dougherty Valley and take credit for its voluntary involvement in the development of Dougherty Valley. He said the City takes credit for Bishop Ranch, which was also planned in the County.

I agree with a lot of what Phil said, but I also question some of his conclusions and here are my reasons why.

1. Measure W was a repudiation of City Leaders

Phil opened with some numbers about the vote on Measure W. He said that 72% of voters voted No, which is the published figure in Smart and other sources. He said that the No vote was not less than 60% in any prescient and 75% in Dougherty Valley. I'm not going to challenge any of these numbers because they are probably correct or close enough.

Phil said more residents voted No than for any elected city official, but does that make the No vote on Measure W a repudiation of City Leaders? I'm sure other readers will weigh in on this question, but here's my answer based on past history.

Measure W was voted on in an even year election when more voters generally go to the poles. San Ramon's city elections are held in odd years and typically only motivated voters go to the poles. Measure W received (based on Smart a total of 19903 votes combined. Measure P in 2008, to allow the Mayor's salary to be set by the City Council, had a total of 25,391 or 21.6% more total votes than Measure W. Measure P and Measure Q were both defeated that year, but Dave Hudson and Jim Livingstone who supported those measures were both re-elected the following year.

In 2005 Mayor Abram Wilson ran unopposed. He received 11,380 votes to 420 write in votes. So Abram Wilson took over 96% of the vote, which is a much higher percent than Measure W was defeated by. No on W received 14,258 votes in an even year with a gubernatorial and a senatorial race. Wilson ran unopposed so it wasn't even necessary to vote for him, yet his vote total was only 20% less than the No votes on Measure W.

The Council race that year had three candidates running for two seats. Dave Hudson was the highest vote getter with 9598, Jim Livingstone with 7681, and Ellen Rosenbluth with 3995. Combining the lowest and highest votes comes to 13593, which is only 665 votes less than No on Measure W received, and this was an odd year election with little else to bring out voters. Hudson got 81% to Ellen Rosenbluth's 19%.

Clearly name recognition and incumbency were major influences in the vote in 2005, but another factor was the disparity in money spent on the election, which was almost 8 to 1 for Hudson and Livingstone, who ran as a slate. The money was used to discredit Ellen with innuendo and guilt by association.

The financial disparity from No on Measure W to the Yes campaign was more like 30 to 1, with more than 80% funded by professional environmental organizations outside of San Ramon. So to me at least, this was a bought and paid for election more than a repudiation of the City Leaders.

My conclusions, that money buys elections and negative campaigning works, are hardly new ideas. This appears to be the major factor in the overwhelming defeat of Measure W.

2 - 3. Everyone should be treated with respect by the City Council. People are tired of growth and want to slow it down (see more on #2 at the end).

I agree with Phil about calling anyone who opposes the City Council "haters." Harry Sachs used that term in one of my blog commentaries, and I chastised Sachs for using it. However, I recall having a conversation with Jim Gibbon about two years ago. If I don't remember it correctly I'm sure Jim will correct it (please do). He was telling me about his organization, San Ramon for Open Government, which incidentally is a closed group. He said, and I think this is the wording he used, "I hold meetings at my house for people who have been screwed by the City."

So even though the word "hater," is inappropriate, there is a distinct minority of residents who do not like what they perceive as the pro-growth city council. As Phil said, they are tired of growth and want the city to slow down. However, when a majority of slow growth candidates was elected in 2001 and dubbed "The Gang of Three" by the Contra Costa Times (not me, I just echoed it), that Council majority nearly bankrupted the city. San Ramon voters repudiated their attempt to extend their terms in office by a year by voting 54% to 46% against Measure H in 2002.

I also agree with Phil 100% when he said, "People who speak at meetings should be listened to and respected and not just tolerated. People who disagree should not be scoffed at or dismissed." I've been on that side of the fence myself at past Council meetings. I'm sure this commentary will be dismissed by online scoffers who disagree with me.

One of Mayor Wilson's favorite sayings is "We can disagree without being disagreeable," yet he is often disagreeable with anyone who comes to a City Council meeting to oppose something he is for. If the speaker is from outside of San Ramon, Wilson can be downright hostile.

4. The City should reach out to small business and make its plans more transparent.

Phil is correct in saying that the City should reach out to these small business owners. The October 27th workshop on the draft of the City's Economic Development Strategic Plan lists the individuals and businesses that were contacted about the proposed zoning changes for the NCRSP. These are all property owners in the NCRSP area. It is necessary to inform property owners of potential zoning changes, but it is left up to the property owners to notify their renters about proposed changes yet many don't.

The City should notify all businesses in an affected area to get their input and not treat renters as second-class citizens, but the No on Measure W campaign used scare tactics to manipulate these business owners into believing the worst.

The January 19, 2010 Staff Report on the NCRSP states "It is clear that Automotive and Service Commercial uses are important resources to the City. The NCRSP is a long range plan and there is no intention to force any business out and the existing automobile service uses can remain." Nobody from the City, or No on Measure W, told these businesses not to worry.

5. Stop trashing Dougherty Valley

Phil wrapped up his comments by defending the design of Dougherty Valley, where he lives. The highest percent of votes against Measure W came from Dougherty Valley. Phil said the City should stop trashing Dougherty Valley and take responsibility for their input into the planning and design of the development there.

The City does take responsibility for whatever is good about Dougherty Valley: the Performing Arts and Swim Centers at DV High School, attractive landscaping of roads, the high number of parks. The County didn't welcome the City's input with open arms. The City had to sue, and the County was required to cooperate with the City as part of the Settlement Agreement.

The City is still blamed for what is wrong with Dougherty Valley, but these deficiencies were all managed by the County: Increased traffic, the lack of shopping and commercial centers, the concentration of low income housing in high density rentals, the chopped off ridgelines and houses on small lots to allow for 2000 more units than the City would have approved.

I disagree with Phil's comparison between the development of Bishop Ranch and Dougherty Valley. Bishop Ranch is a business park while Dougherty Valley is residential. Bishop Ranch was developed by Sunset Development and Alex Mehran. Dougherty Valley was developed in part by Tom Koch, who was allowed to build a lot more units by the County than the City would have permitted.

Contra Costa County mandated that Dougherty Valley be incorporated into San Ramon. The County received the permitting fees and property taxes from developing Dougherty Valley, but the City must pay to provide services to those parts of Dougherty Valley that are still in the County.

When Alex Mehran began developing Bishop Ranch, he wanted it to be incorporated into Danville. According to Diane Schinnerer, who was the first Mayor of San Ramon, San Ramon's City Councilmembers incorporated all of the properties around Bishop Ranch to enclose it inside San Ramon. This was a brilliant move on the part of our early City Government, since Bishop Ranch has been the financial engine that makes San Ramon such a nice place to live. The number of jobs provided by Bishop Ranch is the reason the State of California keeps forcing more development on the city.

2 (continued). People don't want more growth and San Ramon doesn't need to control Tassajara Valley to protect it.

Phil says residents don't want more growth. Our City Council doesn't want more growth either. The City is forced to add more housing by the State, and it was forced to incorporate Dougherty Valley by the County.

The city needs income from retail businesses to support all of the amenities residents of San Ramon like. I don't want to go back to the Gang of Three days where all they did was spend city money and not bring in any new revenues.

I'm sure Phil and many of the people who voted against Measure W do not want to see San Ramon in financial trouble. Look at San Ramon and look at Contra Costa County. Which one is doing a better job in difficult economic times? Let's not put our trust in the County because they don't do things as well as we do here.

Moving the UGB was intended to prevent Contra Costa County from controlling development in Tassajara Valley. Does that mean the City was planning urban development in Tassajara Valley? I don't know, but they wanted to be sure that the County wouldn't do it.

I agreed with Phil, that it wasn't necessary to include moving the UGB into Tassajara Valley as part of the 2030 General Plan submitted to the voters in Measure W. There was and still is a lot of confusion about what was in the 2030 General Plan and what was being voted on.

The City Council did a poor job of presenting this measure to the voters. They have to come down off their high horses and listen to what other people are saying at these meetings, and they have to explain what they are doing a lot better than they did with Measure W.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by SR Resident, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 29, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Right on Phil O'Loane! You rock. You've got my vote for Mayor next year, even if you don't run. It wasn't easy overcoming the biggest megaphone on the stage advantage held by too long in the tooth politicians supporting a deeply flawed measure like W, but you and the voters of San Ramon did it. Once in a while David slays Goliath. The region will be better for it for years to come. Now let's send the NCRSP back to the consultants from which it came.

Posted by Bill W, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 30, 2010 at 12:08 pm

I don't get the comment that no businesses will be forced out by the North Camino Ramon plan. It's a zoning change, right? If I run a business that's not aligned with the zoning am I grandfathered out (ie they wait until I move?). And if I own the building I can only sell it to someone who wants to put up a business aligned with the new zoning? Won't that affect my resale value? Also, I think I read that Kaiser just bought a building in this to be rezoned area. It looks like its for their long term needs for medical service in our area. I don't think they'll be moving anytime soon. I think this NCR plan needs to be more grounded in the realities of what consumers, businesses and residents want for that area, not what the city government wants.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Bill W,

This is the answer I received a few weeks ago from Debbie Chamberlain, Planning Manager for the city:

Will Service Commercial businesses not be able to renew their leases if the zoning is changed to Mixed Use?

The adoption of proposed Specific Plan will not require that any existing business leave or will it impact the ability of property owners and businesses to enter into leases for those established uses moving forward.

You questioned what would happen if the property is sold. I'm not a professional planner, but I suppose the new owner could make whatever changes are allowed under the new zoning. So it is possible that rentals in that property could be discontinued. This would be up to the new owner, but that possibility exists with any new property owner.

As I recall when these questions came up during the public hearings on the Crow Canyon Specific Plan in 2006, the city offered assistance for any business that might have to move. So far none of the service commercial businesses there have been forced to move in the four years since the area was rezoned.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


Here's my question to Debbie on rezoning the building Kaiser purchased, and her answer below.

I know one property on the corner of Norris Canyon and Camino Ramon was rezoned this year and is being developed as a combination commercial building with 124 condos.

A portion of the Norris Tech Center on Norris Canyon and Camino Ramon was rezoned from Manufacturing and Warehouse to Administrative Office to allow the existing office building to be utilized for medical office. The old concrete batch plant on Norris Canyon (currently zoned Mixed Use from the General Plan 2020) has proposed a combination of residential (128 units) and commercial uses. The Specific Plan will establish the land uses and development guidelines within the entire Plan Area.

I asked why this rezoning was being done for the whole area instead of one property at a time. Here's Debbie's answer.

Since cities are limited to 4 General Plan Amendments in a calendar year; a comprehensive review of multiple General Plan revisions is recommended to ensure internal consistency, save time, money and resources.

Bill, I recommend that you, and a group of other business owners in the plan area, meet with Mrs. Chamberlain and/or Phil Wong in the Planning Division of the City. They are very cooperative and will answer all of your questions much better than I can.


Posted by kevin, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 30, 2010 at 7:54 pm


I attended the meeting put on by the City planners. I did get one question answered. When I pressed for the sources of input from the community or businesses that gave impetuous for this plan the City Planning Director,Phil Wong, stated that the North Camino Ramon Specific plan was his idea and that it was developed within the City staff.

I asked him if he really thought that the people of San Ramon wanted 30,000 more people living in San Ramon and 18,000 more working here. If say, 8,000 of the 18,000 new workers were part of the 30,000 then it would mean an increase of 40,000 more people in the City. He seemed confused and did not provide an answer. I pointed out that the Environmental Impact Report was just started and the General Plan, scheduled to be passed early spring would rezone the North Camino Ramon area before the impacts to the environment were known. This point was also not addressed.

I pointed out that 2,650,000 sq feet were to be "Displaced" and the existing businesses were being replaced with Mr. Wong's vision of new businesses and was told that there would be a net loss of 1,100 jobs but that it was almost a wash considering the new jobs being created, A JOB IS A JOB ??????????

I found Mr Wong un-empathetic, unwavering and unable to answer my questions directly. This was my sincere attempt to get straight answers to my concerns not only for our businesses but for the future of MY city. My next stop is a request to meet with council members directly. This is the area I grew up in and have many long term friends within San Ramon and the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan area. It is not right for a single individual's vision of San Ramon to be foisted on a majority of residents and business owners. This plan comes down to whether you want 40,000 more people in San Ramon, 7 storied buildings and 1500 residences in downtown, a loss of current services IE Car repair shops, car wash, UPS, Post Office, small businesses with convenient parking, more school crowding & traffic?

The process of checks and balances, that is suppose to be reflected in the power of voters to control non-elected city officials, seems grossly lacking in our city. It may be too late to get the council's attention for this general plan but I can assure you that 2011 will be a banner election for San Ramon and the next "Gang of three" will make substantial changes to accurately represent the will of residents and businesses of San Ramon.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 30, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


Thank you for your input and for giving city staff the opportunity to answer your questions. I don't know why Mr. Wong wasn't able to answer them clearly for you. I think in part it's because you already made your mind up about what the plan is before it has even been started. The North Camino Ramon Specific Plan is a long-term vision and the public hearings haven't even begun yet. So now is the time for you to put your input into what you would like it to be.

As for the next "Gang of Three," they will find out what the last Gang found out. That it isn't easy to run a city without a plan for economic growth. I don't see your business threatened by the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan, but it could be threatened by elected officials who mean well but don't know what they are doing.


Posted by Abe W, a resident of San Ramon,
on Dec 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Does Phil Wong even live in San Ramon? I bet not.

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