San Ramon council OKs Faria Preserve development

New 740-home project gets go-ahead on 4-1 vote, with Sachs in dissent

The San Ramon City Council adopted a resolution Tuesday to uphold the planning commission's approval of the proposed Faria Preserve residential development.

The Lafferty Communities project calls for a total of 740 units divided into single-family homes, town houses, condominiums, apartments and senior housing. The development would sit on 286.5 acres east of Bollinger Canyon Road and north of Deerwood Drive.

"Mr. Lafferty has a contract in place," vice mayor Phil O'Loane said, referring to an existing city-developer agreement. "He's entitled to build almost 800 homes with a specific plan and that makes a big difference in terms of how I view this project. I'm not a huge fan of this project by any stretch of the imagination, but as a fiduciary of the city I have to consider that as well."

The council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve the developer's proposal, with councilman Harry Sachs casting the lone dissenting vote.

"I am going to vote 'no' on this resolution, and I urge my colleagues to join me. I truly believe that we can accomplish less units," Sachs said during the meeting in the council chambers. "I have always felt that this project should have less units, and we can manage replacing units and transferring them within our Housing Element."

Sachs originally called for council review of the project back in May after the San Ramon Planning Commission approved Lafferty's proposal.

Three public hearings were held in July, August and earlier this month about the project before the council made its final decision in council chambers during Tuesday's regular meeting.

On Sept. 9, all five councilmen indicated initial support for the project after adding four conditions, including increasing backyard space on homes in project Neighborhood 2, relocating the small child's playground (or tot lot) in Neighborhood 4 and increasing the former tot lot parcel size, and installing two radar speed display signs along Bollinger Canyon Road.

As the fourth condition, the council accepted an offer from the developers to contribute a total of $1 million to the city's open space fund. The funds would be distributed in two installments, the first $500,000 after completion of the 100th home and the second half after the 300th home.

"(Last month) three councilmen voted to have staff and developers study options for reductions," San Ramon resident Jim Gibbon said Tuesday. "But two weeks ago you voted five to nothing to keep the project as is, and before doing that, you guys went as far as to ask the developer for a million bucks. I was astonished and couldn't believe that in two weeks you guys could disregard a previous vote and not even bring it up."

Although the formal public hearing was closed as of the Sept. 9 meeting, the council opened public comment Tuesday before taking a vote on the project. More than 20 citizen speakers took to the podium to express opposition to the development and the council's support of it.

"First of all, shame on all of you," San Ramon resident Carl Oronsky said to the council. "You were elected to represent the best interests of the constituents, and you have failed miserably. I'm disappointed in all of you, and I'll do whatever I can to make sure none of you get re-elected."

Several citizen concerns addressed Tuesday were also discussed during each of the public hearings, such as environmental impacts, increased traffic throughout the city, over-crowding schools and the project potentially diminishing the overall quality of life for residents.

Former San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson spoke on behalf of residents who directly approached him with their criticisms of the project.

"Over the last three or four months residents have stopped me to ask questions about the project and ask me to speak on their behalf," Wilson said. "In fact, one actually stopped me at the San Francisco airport. I told them they have an open council and they should contact them and email them to get their questions answered but many insisted they were very apprehensive."

There were six topics Wilson said he was asked to address, including a concern about the isolation of the affordable housing in the plan. Wilson suggested that it should be more integrated into the development rather than clustered.

After public comment, Sachs continued to express his belief that the number of units should be reduced, occasionally pounding his fist on the dais to emphasize his words. He implored his fellow councilmen to reconsider their support for the development and instead push for a reduction of units.

"My fellow council members, we can transfer units to the Housing Element, I firmly believe that. To suggest that we can't is to suggest that we have incompetence," Sachs said. "Less units lessens impacts, even if only slightly. It's not going to eliminate the pain, but it will lessen the pain."

"If there was no reality that less units could be accomplished, we would never have seen a previous staff report that had 686 units," he added.

O'Loane and Mayor Bill Clarkson each addressed the audience and expressed the difficulty in coming to a decision about the project, acknowledging that they have heard and understood the citizens' issues.

"It's difficult because we have a very narrow swimming line of discretion in terms of this project," Clarkson said. "I have listened to all of your heartfelt comments, and we're not making the decision to approve this project because we're somehow mean or we're trying to please the developers. Our job to be elected is to apply the rules that you all have voted on."

At the end of the approximately 1.5-hour discussion, the council approved the development proposal as originally approved by the planning commission with the addition of the council's four new conditions.

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1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:08 am

Seriously, did anyone really believe that it wouldn't be passed? Just build it already and get the tax revenue coming in. That's what it's all about for the city anyway.

1 person likes this
Posted by carol
a resident of Danville
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:13 am

Much like grandiose developments in Danville, and I mean size of homes in small, intimate neighborhoods as well as large numbers of homes in one development, city council members seem to cave in to developers and planning commissions whose motives are, at times, questionable. After all we the people should examine the careers and motives of the planning commission members and their influence on city council. If you have any question on this, take a look at the eyesore on teh corner of Diablo and El Cerro in Danville. What began as 7 homes in the 3,000 sq ft single-story range has ballooned to over 4,000 sq ft two story homes now surrounded by a sound wall. An ugly eyesore that surrounds this small housing development of expensive homes that absolutely does not fit into the neighboring community of 70s and 80s style ranch homes with large front lawns facing El Cerro and Diablo where you walk by, say hello when someone is coming out of their house, and get to know your neighbors. For us, we the people, there really isn't much we can do since money speaks louder than do we.

1 person likes this
Posted by Liz
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:36 am

This situation was inherited by our current council. I do not believe that the majority of our current council would enter into the contract that we are currently stuck with if they could make the decision today. I will not punish them for the errors from the past and will support them in making sure we do not have more of the same.

1 person likes this
Posted by Tim
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 25, 2014 at 8:47 am

Who was on the City Council when Faria was approved.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chuck Schaeffer
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Sep 25, 2014 at 9:05 am

[Removed because it addressed only another poster and did not further the conversation.]

1 person likes this
Posted by voter
a resident of Danville
on Sep 25, 2014 at 9:11 am

Your complaints are hollow. Get out there and run for Council, or apply to be appointed to the Planning Commissions in San Ramon and Danville. Or at least volunteer to help a new candidate defeat the incumbents. How many of you have volunteered to help Tony Adamich, the new guy running against the Danville Council incumbents High-density-Developer "Mayor" Robert Storer and his compadre Karen Stepper? Actions speak louder than words on the internet.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 25, 2014 at 9:28 am

The origin of this project actually goes back even further than the previous council. In 2000 a committee of more than 30 residents was formed to develop a new General Plan. At the time, none of the Councilmembers or Planning Commissioners were on the committee. The Plan included the Faria project and allowed for grading of the minor ridgelines. This General Plan was voted on in 2002 and passed by over 70% of the voters.

Everything else that follows is a result of the affirmative vote by the VOTERS OF SAN RAMON in 2002.

2 people like this
Posted by Bob P
a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2014 at 10:15 am

Bob P is a registered user.

There are several facts that people just don't seem to want to face.

The first is that this development is in the General Plan. Remember the General Plan that was voted on by the people of San Ramon. This is rare and unique, as most cities don't give voters a chance to approve a General Plan. This is important because the make-up of the City Council is irrelevant. The project complies with a voter approved General Plan, and it is legal and the land owner has the right to proceed. Yes, the right! If a City Council denies that right to the land owner, then said land owner may sue and will win. SO, if we play that scenario out it looks like this. 1) City absorbs expenses to deny initial application, 2) City is sued by the landowner, and probably the State as well. 3) City absorbs expenses in defense of it's indefensible position. 4) City loses lawsuit, and absorbs expenses to approve the originally denied application.

I am also curious about the 'transfer units back to the housing element' concept that Harry Sachs is proposing. This is something new to me, so I will reserve judgement on it's merits until it is explained to me. Off the top of my head, what I think Harry means is, we remove the requirement to build Affordable Housing at this site, and the planned unit number is reduced by that amount. That number of affordable units has to be accounted for in the housing element. There are consequences of taking this action, as I see it. But I will reserve judgement until it is fully explained.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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