The San Ramon City Council unanimously denied an appeal challenging the city's approval of the CityWalk Master Plan during its regular meeting on Tuesday, which includes the development of 4,500 housing units among other amenities in the Bishop Ranch property.
Previously approved by the Planning Commission during its regular meeting on Aug. 4, a group of residents challenged the approval of the project mainly taking issue with concerns over increased traffic resulting from the project, the lack of affordable housing, lack of space for parks, potentially negative impacts to schools and an inadequate public review process for the project.
After reviewing the group's findings during the roughly three-hour meeting, city officials dismissed the appellants' claims with council members finding that not only did the Planning Commission adequately review the project, but that the community will greatly benefit from the buildout.
"The majority of the comments were actually already addressed either in the (Environmental Impact Report) itself or as a part of the response to the comment document and, again, the majority of the comments really address opinion rather than technical deficiencies," city planning division manager Lauren Barr said during Tuesday's virtual meeting.
Proposed by San Ramon's Sunset Development Company, the CityWalk housing development area would cover approximately 135 acres and consist of four blocks and 4,500 housing units in the heart of the Bishop Ranch property.
Projected to have a construction and development timeline that will last for 25-27 years, CityWalk also plans to include 166,000-square-feet of commercial space, three new parking structures, publicly-accessible, privately-owned and -maintained park lands and an already approved 169-room hotel.
An appeal of the project was filed on Aug. 14 by local residents Jim Blickenstaff, Joyce Carr, Rama Mehra and Aparna Madireddi, challenging the CityWalk plans by calling into question California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance, public participation, COVID-19 considerations, traffic, affordable housing, water and sewage capacities, schools and other quality of life issues.
A key issue of the appeal is the amount of proposed affordable housing units. The project has designated 15% of the housing (approximately 675 units) as affordable units for low- and very-low-income households. However, the appellants were concerned that the cost and number of affordable designated units were lacking.
"$600,000 for one unit is not affordable by any stretch of the imagination," Madireddi said. "People looking to downsize in our community -- seniors, people with disabilities, teachers -- how are they going to afford this?"
Concerns over the environmental impacts of the project were also a concern. Councilman Dave Hudson said that other Bay Area leaders have pointed to CityWalk as an exemplary model of how to protect the environment and lower emissions.
"When I first received this application for CityWalk… the next day I took it to the air district and to their executive officers. They loved this project; it's exactly what they are looking to do to reduce emissions," Hudson said. "I then took it to the executive director of (the Association of Bay Area Government). He spent less than 5 minutes looking at it and said... 'can I use this as a model for the entire Bay Area?''
Appellants did note that they were not inherently opposed to the project, but believed that it could be done in a way that better increases the quality of life in San Ramon.
"None of the appellants are against the project, Blickenstaff said. "We just say that it is not up to standards for the betterment of the community. It is weak in several areas. Let's make it better for the community."
After listening to residents' concerns, each council member voiced their support for CityWalk, finding that one way or another more housing will be coming to San Ramon, and the approval of this project will help keep homes off of hillsides and in the city's main core area.
"This project will be good for us economically and good for our families to continue to enjoy a great quality of life. My thoughts are that this is a project that protects our open spaces, our neighborhoods, our local shopping centers and will create a great, I think, vibrant walkable downtown," Mayor Bill Clarkson said.
Council members further praised the project's ability to keep jobs and housing in the same area, reducing commuter times and keeping cars off of the road, which counters another top concern expressed by appellants -- increased traffic.
For residents concerned about the long-term effects of the project, council members said the plan is designed so developers and city officials can adapt and evolve the project as needed, with each segment of CityWalk being reviewed by city officials prior to its construction.
"One of the things people need to understand is this is a 27-year master plan. Most cities don't have the opportunity to plan out their cities for 27 years out," Councilwoman Sabina Zafar said. "I've spoken with leaders in other cities and they are actually jealous of what San Ramon has in front of us today. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for us to plan out our city; this is an opportunity of a lifetime where the developer is really working with us to make it happen."
The issue has four of San Ramon's six mayoral candidates on opposite sides of the fence, with sitting council members and mayoral candidates Hudson and Zafar casting their votes in support of the project while resident Madireddi signed on as an appellant challenging the project and Susmita Nayak having vehemently voiced opposition to the project -- although Nayak was not listed as an appellant during Tuesday's meeting.
San Ramon council candidate Luz Gomez was also an appellant challenging the project, with her main opponent, incumbent councilman Scott Perkins, voting in support of CityWalk.
Residents can view the entire meeting -- as well as past recordings of City Council and Planning Commission meetings -- on San Ramon's YouTube page.