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San Ramon council OKs housing density reduction in west Crow Canyon

GHAD formation not approved, directed to iron out details

Housing and natural disasters took center stage at the San Ramon City Council meeting Tuesday night, attended by about two dozen people.

One of the foremost items on the agenda, the council approved an amendment that would reduce housing density limits around western Crow Canyon Road, from a residential density range of 22-50 dwelling units per acre down to 22-35 units per acre.

"We were in danger of creating a couple of islands, where people would live, rather than a neighborhood," said councilman Phil O'Loane.

The final vote was 4-1, with vice mayor David Hudson voting no.

According to acting division manager Lauren Barr, the density reduction idea came about because the city had been receiving a large number of high-density conceptual review applications for the CCSP -- an area that covers 130 acres and is bounded by the San Ramon city limit line to the north, Interstate 680 to the east, Crow Canyon Road to the south and the San Ramon city limit line to the west.

Of the 130 acres, 41 can be used for housing development, though none are designated specifically as residential.

The greater-than-expected density of the applications is due in part to California's density bonus law, which allows developers to construct a higher project density in exchange for designating a certain percentage of their units as affordable. Regardless of the density reduction, though, the unit cap on the entire CCSP area will remain constant at 735 units.

Three members of the public approached the dais during public comments before the vote to speak on the matter.

"We oppose the proposed amendment to the Crow Canyon Specific Plan," said Ashley Coates, representing the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley. "It’s been mentioned that the total number of housing units would not go down, but what will go down is the ability to build homes that are affordable to people who work in San Ramon as preschool teachers, janitors, retail workers, etc."

Blake Peters, the developer for the Golden Skate apartments, which has a pending development application at 2701 Hoover Drive, agreed with her comments. "This really hampers the ability of the city within the specific plan to provide affordable housing," he said, adding that developers like him would not be able to financially sustain affordable units at a reduced density level.

Peters asked the council to consider grandfathering in the 227-unit Golden Skate project so that the developers could apply the previous density conditions, citing the fact that the project had progressed significantly before the limits changed.

"It's providing 20% of those 227 units at 50% of AMI (area median income), so you get 45 units of affordable housing at the lowest affordability level....To get that many units at that level, it's really a difficult thing to achieve," Peters said.

But San Ramon resident Dennis Noh spoke in favor of the density reduction. He and his wife moved to San Ramon years ago, he said, buying the least inexpensive unit possible, in what is one of the most dense areas of the city.

"This is our home...I don’t think it’s being selfish to put on the brakes on new development just to see where we're at and what's going to happen," Noh said.

In response to concerns voiced by housing advocates and public speakers, councilmembers said that this amendment would not change the 25% requirement for affordable housing, with 15% must-build, according to planning director Debbie Chamberlain.

"I don't think San Ramon has to apologize for how much affordable housing we've generated over the course of time in the 680 corridor," O'Loane said. "We've generated dramatically more than any other community to my knowledge."

Councilman Harry Sachs broached the possibility that density reduction could adversely affect retail development. To which Chamberlain replied that that would be addressed in the next stage of the process.

In other business

*Rob Flaner, senior planner from Tetra Tech, presented an update on the Contra Costa County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. The state mandates through the Disaster Mitigation Act that the plan be updated every five years, and this was the final public meeting for this round's update.

Risks change over the years, Flaner said, and their update needs to reflect that change. He cited this past year's heavy winter rains and the "Hayward fault scenario," a potential East Bay earthquake that he expects to receive a lot of attention in the coming year.

"One of the problems we have is we are a backwards-looking society," Flaner said. "We're the best nation in the world at preparing for the last disaster that happened...We need to start forward thinking."

*The council did not approve the formation of the proposed Northwest San Ramon Geologic Hazard Abatement District (NWSR GHAD), asking ___ Robin Bartlett to iron out some components of the proposal and then bring the item back at the first council meeting in October.

GHADs are formed in order to prevent, mitigate, abate or control a geologic hazard.

The proposed district would encompass The Preserve Project (formerly called Faria Preserve), a maximum 618-unit development located between Bollinger Canyon Road and San Ramon Valley Boulevard. If the resolution had passed, the City Council would have been appointed as the board of directors for the NWSR GHAD.

Councilmembers' greatest concerns revolved around when GHAD would take over financial responsibility for a potential disaster that could strike. Bartlett said that before GHAD takes over, they would have a reserve fund of half a million dollars.

"Who's on the hook for an $800,000 event?" countered councilman Scott Perkins.

Bartlett was directed to continue working with CalAtlantic Homes -- the developers of The Preserve Project -- to "identify a time frame and/or reserve balance and/or other bonding or guarantee methods that you feel would provide a reasonable level of assurance that the GHAD will be fully solvent without resorting to any borrowing mechanisms in the next 10 years," confirmed Bartlett.

*It was the last council meeting for interim city attorney Bob Saxe, who has served on and off as city attorney since the 1990s. All councilmembers thanked him for his lengthy service in their closing comments.

"The ultimate compliment to Bob Saxe," said Mayor Bill Clarkson, "is that I don't recall any occasion that you ever got challenged by any of us or second-guessed by any of us when you gave advice."

Saxe will be replaced by Martin Lysons, currently the assistant city attorney for the city of Brentwood. Lysons' appointment begins Sept. 25.

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