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By Roz Rogoff

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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Keeping Toyota in San Ramon

Uploaded: Feb 3, 2011
Toyota Motor Sales USA has owned a property on the corner of Norris Canyon Blvd. and Bishop Drive for over 25 years. This isn't some ugly warehouse, but a beautifully landscaped building used as a parts warehouse and training facility.

Toyota has been a model corporate citizen, providing space for the Rotary Club of San Ramon's Carboload dinner held the night before Primo's Run for Education. In 2009 the Rotary Club inducted the Toyota Distribution Center into its Business Hall of Fame.

Toyota has wanted to expand its facility in San Ramon for several years. In 2006 Toyota submitted a proposal to the City for an 11,200 sq. ft. training center expansion, which was approved in September of 2007. Instead of allowing Toyota to move ahead with their expansion, the City zoned Toyota's property Multifamily High-Density Housing to meet ABAG's housing requirements.

At a Planning Commission Workshop on the Housing Element for the General Plan on May 6, 2008 Carlos Soria, Project Development Manager, Toyota Motor Sales, USA stated that "Toyota is considering expanding their operation in San Ramon and would request re-zoning their vacant parcel back to a manufacturing/warehouse zoning from a multi-family very high density residential zoning."

Soria, speaking again in a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission in December of 2008, "questioned why housing would be included in the Toyota parcel as Toyota has no intention of using this site for housing. He stated that Toyota would like to expand their warehouse facility. He would like to work with other landowners to shift housing unit allocations to appropriate sites."

In September of 2009 Mr. Soria congratulated the City on meeting State housing requirements, but he commented "that it was unfortunate for Toyota Motor Sales, that the City of San Ramon has met the site adequacy requirement by designating residential uses on the property which Toyota Motor Sales, intended to develop on."

Planning Commissioner Dennis Viers told Soria "that there might be flexibility with the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan." Mr. Soria replied "that he is aware of the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan and supports placing more commercial uses on and near the Toyota site and removing the residential land use designation."

The adjacent illustration is from a consultants' report on the "Current Conditions and Alternatives Identification" for the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan. It is dated November 19, 2009 and shows the current uses of properties in the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan area. Note that the Eastern side of the Toyota property was then and still is vacant.

Last year I asked Senior Planner Lauren Barr if changing the zoning to Mixed Use in the NCRSP would enable Toyota to expand their warehouse, and Barr said it wouldn't.

Soria spoke again at this week's Public Hearing on the General Plan Update and told the City Council and Planning Commissioners that if Toyota cannot expand its warehouse facility here, it will have to relocate to another city.

I also spoke at that meeting on Tuesday and encouraged the City Council to work with Toyota to keep them here and to take Toyota and the Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center out of the NCRSP.

I also suggested taking the Northern portion that borders Fostoria Road out of the NCRSP. Then Kevin and the other automotive businesses there would not have to worry about losing their businesses to future development.

If the Southern properties on Bishop Drive and the Northern properties on Fostoria Road are taken out of the NCRSP, that leaves the middle section from the North side of Norris Canyon Road to Crow Canyon in the NCRSP for the big box stores, public transit, and whatever additional housing is required by ABAG.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by James von Halle, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 8:44 am

What the heck is ABAG? Who elects them? Why do they have so much power? Why are they needed? Who funds them?
More government intervention.

Posted by MLOliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:01 am

ABAG is the "Association of Bay Area Governments." Web Link Their mission statement sounds nice,...

ABAG Mission Statement:
"ABAG is committed to enhancing the quality of life in the San Francisco Bay Area by leading the region in advocacy, collaboration, and excellence in planning, research, and member services."

... but they use a cookie cutter approach to area planning. It is frustrating to try to follow their guidelines which are necessary to get a General Plan approved. The economic condition of the State of California today SHOULD emphasize building jobs and encouraging business, not foisting artificial housing numbers off on cities. I would agree with Roz that Toyota needs to be encouraged, not discouraged. Last time I checked, there were 429 homes/properties within the incorporated borders of San Ramon in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure. It's time for ABAG to take a realistic look at existing local conditions.

Posted by Sandy Barclay, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:12 am


Thank You -- San Ramon needs business like Toyota - Bishop Ranch Veterinary - and working people like Kevin. They all contribute to the community their property impeccable.

Posted by H. Sachs, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:45 am

Roz- I agree and believe folks should educate themselves on issues like:
ABAG Focus:
Greenbelt Alliance and smart/infill growth:

We can't have it both ways. You can't say no to urban sprawl and then turn around and say no to infill development and smart growth planning. That's what I am hearing from a few people; just say no.

OK then how about those folks read and educate themselves as I, (since 2001) and my fellow Planning commissioners have regarding smart growth, sustainable communities etc. and then tell me why the North Camino vision is so bad?

Posted by H. Sachs, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:55 am

BTW Roz- if we took the land where Kevin is a tenant out of the NCRSP, his landlord would be in non-compliance zoning wise and would need to come and apply for a zoning change. So actually Kevin's business and the other businesses in that land area benefit from the proposed General Plan amendmenmts in that service commercial would become an allowable use.
I have spoken to a few business owners and managers where Kevin rents and they actually welcome this plan as it would increase the number of prospective customers for them in the future and they would see an increase in sales and therefore make more business income.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:25 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


You know the zoning regulations better than I do, but why couldn't a Service Commercial overlay be added to the properties on Fostoria where Keven's business is? That way those properties would be officially zoned Service Commercial and not just grandfathered in.


Posted by H. Sachs, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

Roz- 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other, you say potato, I say Dan Quayle, no difference really. They would both alow the use, both conform. Remember, or look back at the minutes, when this NCSRP was in the development stages, Councilmember Livingstone made it very clear that he wanted service commercial to stay and both the Council and the Commission agreed.

Also, interesting to note, Jim Gibbon is on record at that same meeting as saying the plan should have room for 3000 housing units, at the January outreach meeting with the Planning Commission and the Economic, Housing and Traffic advisory committees, I asked Jim Gibbon point blank "do you support 1500 housing units?" His reply, "yes." Now he opposes the whole thing?

Posted by kevin, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:43 am

The Toyota situation is an example of how the planning commission may or may not cooperate with businesses depending on who is in charge or what the desire of the City is at that time. A business has to be able to plan and predict the future before making an investment, not unlike a homeowner when purchasing a house or those perspective businesses would want if solicited under the new NCRSP. Will the City change it's mind again on them?

The NCRSP designates the North area as "Infill Development", that means "we don't know what we will do with it but we reserve the right to come up and implement an idea at anytime in the future". It is amazing to me that the "Planning Commission" does not grasp the idea of "Planing". Businesses planned, invested and prosper with benefit to the residents and tax better generation per square foot than anything I have NOT heard would go into the same space.

Please explain what use is so important that the City has in mind that is more important to the residents and business owners that we should change this part of the City. I have been in this space for 13 years and have met with each owner, especially since measure W. Please tell me which owners are for this plan?

As far as Toyota goes, How can a planning committee just change a businesses zoning, restrict their use of their property and make plans predicated on their vacating. They are being pressured to move which is not right and H. Sachs who is a history teacher should know about democratic process.

Put the General Plan up for a vote in November.... that's Democracy

Posted by Jim Gibbon, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm

My ears were ringing. Your statement was correct when you stated that I opposed the "whole thing". The "whole thing" is the wrong approach and the wrong direction to meet our housing needs. To project in the 2030 General Plan an increase of 18,657 more jobs and a housing projection of 23,327 more housing units is insanity.

To say that the NCRSP is the solution to the housing problem is also an assumption that lacks credibility. It would be fine if it were in an area not already built up but to apply this solution to an existing city core is folly. It only creates uncertainty and miss- trust in our city government.

To change the zoning of this area of the city does nothing to encourage business or the residents of San Ramon to trust that the quality of our city can be trusted in the City Councils hands.

We need the PC to step up and called the process that of destroying the center of the city the wrong process. Rushing an approval of the GP by having three joint meetings which gives you little time to discuss the issues in your meetings is the wrong way to go.

I would like you to object to the process at the next joint meeting and see how long it will take for the City Council to boot you off the commission.

What really need is to have round table discussion of the commission and a few of us to discuss our differing views of San Ramon's future. We can talk about how we can work together to go forward in a cooperative process that recognizes what the city's goals should be.

After what happened at our last joint meeting there is little trust left. We need people who think their elective or appointed job is to represent the resident's interest not the city government's interest. The city government will get alone on it's own just fine.



Posted by Listen To Residents, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Planning Commissioner Harry Sachs wrote: "We can't have it both ways. You can't say no to urban sprawl and then turn around and say no to infill development and smart growth planning."

Actually Mr. Sachs, you CAN have it both ways. You CAN say no to urban sprawl, and if you choose you CAN say no to infill as well.

More importantly, you can also have it in-between, and say yes to some infill and some redevelopment, while leaving other areas alone.

One of the legacies of San Ramon residents voting down Measure W in November is that more time is being spent on considering the issues and more voices are being heard. The city CAN shrink the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan area. It CAN rezone some parcels more selectively. It can decide that it likes toyota's plans or wish them well, it can preserve the smaller parcel uses where Kevin and Conners Shop is. It CAN decrease the overall population projections. And it CAN seek more input from residents on whether they want little to no change, or business as usual on more and more growth and density.

The more transparent the city is, the more it tells residents about proposed changes, impacts and benefits, the more honest the conversation will be.

Posted by H. sachs, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Very good conversation.

A couple of observations-
Jim- I think we can both agree that affordable housing, not rental but for purchase, is important. No one is claiming , nor should they be , that NCRSP would solve any affordable housing shortages. And Jim, I must say, you are being a tad disingenuous when you state it (housing) would be fine in an area if it were not built up. You know that you would be strenuously opposed to any housing in an area that was not built up, in other words not developed.

What's is wrong with creating a specific plan for the long term redvelopment of the Camino Ramon area that allows for affordable multi-dwelling housing, increased public spaces and some additional retail. Why will that destroy San Ramon? Should Federal Realty, who owns Crow Canyon Commons, come forward with a lets say 5 year site plan to redevlope their strip mall, not have zoning flexibility? How come infill development and smart growth sustainable land use is so obnoxious to everyone?

Jim- No on W took some nice campaign contributions from Greenbelt Alliance and Save Mt. Diablo and friends who support conservation of land. Fine. You all were very effective and the vote on more Dougherty Valley sized devlopment was loud and clear. I am not understanding Jim how you can now do a 180* turn and say you oppose infill planning, especially when that is what Greenbelt Alliance is all about? Especially when you are on record as supporting such development.

BTW, my voice on this blog should in no way, be seen as having made a decision on NCRSP. I have some issues with it- but I agree with the fundamental proposition of long term planning for mixed use development. Not everyone can afford a single family home who works in Bishop Ranch or San Ramon. There are about 30,000 who work in that downtown area and housing near jobs should make some sense to folks. Let's not throw that baby out with the bathwater here. No plan should not be an option. A good plan built on consensus and common sense should be.

Jim- and others, I challenge you to work with the Planning Commission, not with no plan, but with a real set of ideas on what a reasonable approach to infill development and redevlopment should look like in NCRSP. Oppose , Oppose, Oppose and NO PLAN is not working to consensus.

Kevin- EVERY planning commissioner has put your service commercial concern to staff and the wording in the General Plan now backs up and supports your position. How about you come to us and offer something that supports using the planning process, instead of lets take every issue we oppose to the voters? Is there any room for consensus building with you?

As usual Gents, and other readers of this blog, please come to the February 15 Planning Commission meeting on the GPA.

Posted by H. Sachs, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm

One more if I may-

I have given my vote on every decision I have been asked to make as a planning commissioner based on the question of quality of life. I am asking myself, how would this affect San Ramon. I truly feel I put San Ramon residents, both present and future, first in every consideration, not its city government.

Posted by kevin, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm


The reason you may perceive that a vocal group of residents are "opposing..." is because a consensus was never sought with the residents since the inception of this General Plan. Measure W was quietly put on the Ballot at the last possible minute with issues that obviously the residents have serious issues with. The City is currently trying to race the General Plan through. The "Consensus" you speak about should have been gained many months if not constantly over the years. Instead of proudly drafting a plan you know the majority of residents support and look forward to, they are finding out little by little.

I am glad the Planning commission is revisiting the issues the business owners are facing with the NCRSP. I am looking forward to reading the language change in the General Plan that has been revised regarding the current businesses in the North end of the NCRSP. Now I have now learned of the predicament the planning commission has put Toyota in, it reinforces my desire to see actual language that has been revised? Toyota had no intention of vacating, was rezoned and now they are being restricted from making improvements to encourage them to leave.

The General Plan was touted by the City Council as being representative of the residents of San Ramon in the past because it WAS put on the ballot. My point, regarding putting the general Plan on the ballot, is that the City Council should be confident that this plan is what the residents truly want. It would be better to take the time to compile a General Plan that is what the majority want to see happen to OUR city and you know a consensus was reached.

I would like to know if you can say that the General Plan does represent what the majority of residents want for San Ramon?

Posted by H. Sachs, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Kevin et al:

NCRSP was not actually quietly put on the November 2010 ballot. Thru city advisory committees, the planning commission and the City Council, this concept has been circulating since 2009. So it certainly is not a rush job. But I am concerned about San Ramon residents misundertsanding or not seeing how the long term implementation could affect/benefit us. To that end, working with city staff, more public sessions will be brought to the public, not as public hearings but as input sessions from residents. Staff is planning one for a Saturday morning here soon. In actuality, the NCRSP is quite a aways a way from being formally considered for adoption.

The General Plan Amendments are also, actually, not being rushed thru. They also have been in the public hearing stage since January, 2010, when Phil O'Loane was Chair. We , as a planning commission had gone thru each of the 10 planning elements and the proposed Climate Action Plan and have held public hearings that also started in February 2010. Those hearings were advertised in the papers and such, but Jim was about the only one to really attend.

The planning commission has not put Toyota in any predicament. Toyota is doing fine and this issue with their land and its use has actually been going on for much longer than I have been involved with the process.

In November 2010 the General Plan Amendments were on the ballot because they included a "proposed Urban Growth Boundary change." That is the only time San Ramon actually needs to bring General plan Amendments before the voters; when boundary changes are proposed. State Law does not call for voter approval of GP amendments and state law allows up to four General Plan Amendments a year. San Ramon actually has very stringent requirements for amending the General Plan; Measure G which says 4/5ths of both the PC and City Council must approve amendment changes. Phil O'Loane and I both strongly supported keeping that requirement.

I think if one was to take the time to read the General Plan, which most people don't , from cover to cover, you very well could make the strong arguement it is what most voters would want. However the NCRSP is becoming so controversial that the whole plan becomes this political football. No one except the Agenda 21 crowd seems to even care that there is a Climate Action Plan, I seem to be the only one enamored with that:), so except for NCRSP there is actually not much there there. Even Jim G. acknowledges that.

Additionally, The GPA allows for a NCR specific plan only to be developed, it does not go into anything such as housing units, retail square footage etc. We will review the NCRSP language in the GPA specifically on 2/15 and have conversations that are more focused.

Thanks for the comments and your involvment. See you on the 15th.

Posted by Bob P., a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 8, 2011 at 8:48 am

I do miss San Ramon politics!

I think everyone has lost sight of how the "current" (this discussion is not a new one) Toyota situation came about. The Mixed Use zoning for the Toyota property was originally designated by the original General Plan Review Commission back in 2000. They also designated several other areas that I disagreed with at the time and would still disagree now. The pressure to accommodate ABAG housing numbers was/is fierce, and it sometimes drives illogical planning decisions at the local level. By the way, the 'no growth' factions on the GPRC were the one's who drove the decision to circumvent Ordinance 197 and grade minor ridgelines on the Faria property in return for land for a church. They also drove the questionable mixed use designations in the plan as well.

The Toyota parcel needs to be rezoned back to an appropriate designation so that they remain in San Ramon and may be able to expand if that is appropriate.

The NCRSP is a good plan for stimulating the retail economy in San Ramon and the tri-valley region. The issues surrounding the Service Commercial business's can be resolved, we did it for the Crow Canyon Specific Plan.

Posted by Bob P., a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:07 am

Listen to the Residents:

"You CAN say no to urban sprawl, and if you choose you CAN say no to infill as well." Of course, we can say NO to every proposed change in your world. We can also say NO to millions of dollars of state funds for transportation improvements and we can say NO to our quiet streets. Be careful what you say NO too so naively.

"More importantly, you can also have it in-between, and say yes to some infill and some redevelopment, while leaving other areas alone." Agreed, and this has been done in the past and will probably be done in the future.


Please read my comment about how the Toyota situation came to be. Don't blame this Planning Commission for it, it was not of their making.

Your attempt at sarcasm in defining "infill" development is not humorous. Infill development is a very useful tool when used correctly. Gaining 'consensus' from residents on every planning decision is another naive concept. San Ramon voters are lucky, the vast majority of General Plan's and Specific Plans are never brought to a vote of the people in any form.

Posted by Jim Gibbon, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 9, 2011 at 9:39 am

This is a good discussion on the future of San Ramon. Its to bad that dicussion can't happen at our CC/PC meetings. I have seen little willingness on the part of the council or commission to talk about the issues of growth and density in the city. With the assumption of five council votes there is little incentive to listen to alternative views.
I agree that consensus building is good but I think I hear lip service not consensus. I challenge Harry to propose to the commission we meet to build consensus. We all believe in San Ramon and its future. We also believe in a representative government. Little of that is happening these days.


Posted by kevin, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 9, 2011 at 10:17 am


I am surprised you consider my comment,"we don't know what we will do with it but we reserve the right to come up and implement an idea at anytime in the future" sarcasm? It was written as a legitimate summary of my perspective. Please explain what "Infill Development" is? Please tell me how it is more valuable than the existing businesses that have been at that location for 20 years and how it benefits the residents of San Ramon better through services or increased tax revenue than now?

I do agree that change and a consensus can be reached but it requires the City Council & Planning Commission be willing to slow down consider change of their current plan.

I do blame the current Planning Commission because they are CURRENTLY blocking a request from Toyota to improve their facility. Carlos Soria of Toyota stated this in the last meeting of February 1, 2011.

I have a completely different perspective on allowing the residents the opportunity to vote on the General Plan as they have the last 2 times, or is your comment sarcasm?

Posted by H. Sachs, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Kevin- a correction if I may. Mr. Soria of Toyota did NOt state that the planning commission is blocking Toyota's attempts at expansion. He stated that San Ramon's planning staff was discouraging this. We have not voted , nor had an agenda item to discuss Toyoata's expansion proposal, though we knew of it during the housing element discussions in 2009. Toyota has not been before the Planning Commission with a request to expand.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Feb 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


Infill development means putting housing inside city limits instead of building into open space and causing sprawl. Infill is what the State, ABAG, and MTC require cities to do in order to meet what they call Smart Growth plans. These are supported by environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, and Save Mount Diablo to protect hills and undeveloped or rural land and keep housing from gobbling up the open space between cities.

Infill development isn't "we don't know what we will do with it but we reserve the right to come up and implement an idea at anytime in the future." Planning means "we do know what we will do with it, but it is up to the property owners to decide if they want to make the changes that are allowed."

The reason Toyota's property was zoned for very high-density housing several years ago (before the NCRSP was considered) was because it is the ONLY large vacant lot available for infill development. So the Planning Department, not the Planning Commission, changed the zoning without Toyota's approval. The Planning Commission can make recommendations to the City Council to change Toyota's zoning back to warehouse/commercial, but it is up to the City Council to make that change.

The NCRSP actually provides a better opportunity for Toyota to have the housing zoning taken off their lot, because by zoning all of the properties in the NCRSP to Mixed Use, other property owners who want to build housing there would now be able to. That opens up the space for housing to much more than could be put on Toyota's empty lot.

Not every property owner is against this change. It could be very profitable to many of them. Some of the properties in NCRSP are office buildings and some contain retail, restaurants, or shopping centers. These uses will not change under the Mixed Use zoning. However, they will enable the property owners to add residential units into their existing uses.

That means if there is a single level building with a restaurant or store, the property owner could add a second or third story with offices or housing. This could be very profitable to the property owner, without displacing the existing store. It could also be very profitable to the store or restaurant by providing additional customers living or working nearby.

There is nothing sinister or dangerous about Mixed Use zoning or infill development. However, it could displace some businesses that rent their spaces. This is something the business renting the space has to work out with their landlords not the City.

The City determines how land can be used, and the landowner decides how he or she will use it. So if you have concerns about your lease, talk to your landlord. That's who will make the decisions on how he or she wants to use his or her property, not the Planning Commission or the city.

Posted by dave, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 9, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Not bad Roz!

Posted by Listen To Residents, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:42 am

Actually, "Infill Development" is not just development within city limits, although everyone has their own definition. While many environmentalists prefer infill to sprawl, that does not suggest blanket approval for any specific level of development on infill parcels. Infill parcels can be developed badly too.

It is the creative recycling of vacant or underutilized lands within cities and suburbs, in areas already served by urban services and infrastructure.

Among the variables in the definitions of infill development are whether the property must be surrounded by existing development or just within existing urban boundaries, whether infill projects must have a higher density than surrounding properties, and whether individual infill projects must be mixed use.

The intent is more efficient development using under utilized parcels and existing utility capacity, rather than the public subsidizing more sprawl and further extension of services. The larger the property the less likely that a project is infill, whether it is inside or outside of city limits.

Each situation is unique. However, infill parcels generally have neighboring stakeholders and are likely subject to more public discussion thereby increasing chances of better outcomes.

Posted by Bob P., a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 11, 2011 at 7:44 am

Definition of 'infill' development:

In the urban planning and development industries, infill is the use of land within a built-up area for further construction, especially as part of a community redevelopment or growth management program or as part of smart growth. It focuses on the reuse and repositioning of obsolete or underutilized buildings and sites. This type of development is essential to renewing blighted neighborhoods and knitting them back together with more prosperous communities.[2]

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