The Sign Wars Continue at Diablo Valley Shopping Center

UPDATE:  The Architectural Review Commission's decision to deny the DV Plaza sign permit has been appealed by the developer, Merlone Greier Partners. The appeal is scheduled to be heard by the City Council on Monday, January 25, 2016.  The public hearing notice is available here.


Pleasant Hill’s battle over an oversized commercial sign at Diablo Valley Plaza continues. 

After the Planning Commission approved the 67’-tall Diablo Valley Plaza shopping center sign last October, the decision was appealed to the City Council by PHCRG.  After holding two hearings and soliciting new plans from developer Merlone Geier Partners, on December 14th Council finally denied PHCRG’s appeal and approved new plans for a slightly smaller (but still non-compliant) 50’-tall sign.

Architectural Review Commission Rejects Proposal OK’d by Council

Three days later, on December 17th the City’s Architectural Review Commission (ARC) rejected the Council-approved sign plan on a 3-2 vote.  Commissioners rejected the sign because it is not consistent with the City’s sign design guidelines, General Plan and municipal code.  In fact, the Commissioners rejected the sign proposal for many of the same reasons stated in PHCRG’s appeal.

According to the city's website, the five-member advisory Commission reviews site plans, architectural character and signage for all new buildings in the City. Members “must have a demonstrated talent and interest in aesthetics and architectural design through experience, training, education or occupation” and need not be city residents.

At the ARC meeting, Commissioner Jill Bergman shared that she worked in urban planning before assuming her current position as Economic Development Manager for the City of Danville.  Bergman said she couldn’t find the proposed sign consistent with the City’s General Plan and design guidelines – because it’s not.  She emphasized that such consistency is necessary for project approval and of particular importance to her, given her background in planning.

The Commission’s vote follows its previous rejection of the earlier 67’-tall sign proposal on October 15th, on a tie vote (with Bergman absent).

Developer Appeal Likely

The developer is expected to appeal the Commission’s decision to the City Council and a hearing scheduled in early January. 

During the earlier appeal hearing, Council failed to engage the issues raised by PHCRG.  This time around, however, in order to approve the developer's plan the Council must make findings on the specific issues raised by the Commission.  For example, to overturn ARC’s decision Council must find the project consistent with the citywide sign design guidelines, which specifically prohibit pylon signs of any height.  Quite a trick.

Stay tuned.




Pleasant Hill City Council to Decide Fate of Gigantic CarMax Sign December 14th

Residents Defend City Zoning Rules and Sign Design Regulations

 City Council Bungles Appeal by Soliciting New Plans

As previously detailed on this site, owners of the DVC Shopping Center, Merlone Geier Partners, have spent three years planning a remodel of the old DVC Shopping Center (former site of old Safeway and K-Mart), to include new shops, restaurants a dog park and a CarMax used car lot.  Last summer Merlone began signing tenant leases, conditioned on providing shopping center signage of a type expressly prohibited by Pleasant Hill’s sign design guidelines.

Why would a developer take such risk?  It’s a mystery.

The Fix Was In – Until Residents Spoke Up

In October the Pleasant Hill Planning Commission approved a 67-foot-tall illuminated pylon sign located adjacent to homes around Diablo Valley College, despite the fact such signs are expressly forbidden by city zoning rules and sign design guidelines.  The sign would be seen for miles and block some residents' views of Mt. Diablo.

Following the Planning Commission’s approval, no Councilmember called for review of the Commission’s approval.  Instead, residents challenged the Commission’s decision to approve signage that grossly exceeds the City height and size standards for commercial signs.

Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth (PHCRG), a good government group, appealed the Commission’s approval of the 67-foot sign located off of Chilpancingo Parkway, just south of the In ‘n’ Out Burger/Toys R Us/Target shopping center.

·       Read PHCRG's appeal here.

·        Download and view PHCRG’s PowerPoint appeal presentation here.

City Council Hears Appeal, Goes Off the Rails

The City held an appeal hearing on November 16th, at which the City Council invited the developer to present new plans at a follow-up hearing on Monday, December 14. This unusual move conflicts with municipal code requirements and raises concerns and questions. 

Pleasant Hill Municipal Code Chapter 18.130 - APPEALS AND CALLS FOR REVIEW, states, in part: 

At an appeal or review hearing the appellate body shall consider only the same application, plans, and related project materials that were the subject of the original decision. [Emphasis added]

At the November 16 hearing the City Council expressed concerns about the sign height, but it stopped short of making a decision to affirm, modify, or reverse the Commission’s decision.  Instead, the Council invited the applicant to submit new plans for City Council review.  This action conflicts with city code requirements that require the City Council to “consider only the same application, plans and related project materials” available to the Planning Commission when its decision was made.  In addition, new plans require prior review by the City’s Planning and Architectural Review Commissions.

PHCRG President Michael Flake says the unusual move makes Council’s intentions unclear.  He states:

The City Council agreed with PHCRG’s objections to the sign’s excessive height.  Accordingly, it should have granted the appeal and invited the developer to submit new, compliant plans to the Commissions.  This is the procedure required by the municipal code – they're the city’s own rules.

In effect, the City Council has bypassed its own review process and placed itself in the role of Commissioners.  It is unclear what the City Council will do with the developer’s new plans or what role, if any, City Commissions will play. 

Residents expect that any preferential treatment the City extends to Merlone is likely to prompt requests for like treatment from others, which could bring more non-compliant signs to Pleasant Hill.  

It’s hard to know what to expect at the December 14th hearing because the City appears to be making it up as it goes along rather than playing by the rules.

Special City Council Meeting 12/14

The special meeting of the City Council on Monday, December 14, 2015 is scheduled to begin at 7:30pm.  The meeting will be held in City Council Chambers located at 100 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. 

Strong attendance by Pleasant Hill residents is expected.  Neighbors are circulating flyers to spread the word (http://bit.ly/1TUgeWe). 

Those unable to attend may communicate their views to City officials sending an e-mail via the City website here.

Who Runs Pleasant Hill . . . Developers or Residents?

November 16th City Council Hearing Could Offer Answer

When Pleasant Hill Planning Commissioners recently gave the green light to a 67-foot-tall illuminated pylon sign located adjacent to homes around Diablo Valley College, despite the fact such signs are expressly forbidden by city zoning rules, community push-back was inevitable.  So it’s no surprise the controversial decision has been challenged.

On Monday, October 26th, Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth appealed the Commission’s October 13, 2015 approval of the 67-foot sign located off of Chilpancingo near the old DVC Shopping Center (former site of old Safeway and K-Mart).  The City has scheduled the appeal hearing for Monday, November 16, 2015. 

Read PHCRG's appeal here.

Eager for Development

Everyone wants DVC Shopping Center developed to benefit the community.   At the same time, residents expect development to conform to zoning laws that maintain community safety, functionality, and visual appeal.  Development shouldn't be an either-or proposition and development standards needn't be sacrificed to achieve economic growth.

Plans to revitalize the under-performing K-Mart property have been pending for years, as it changed ownership.  The prior owner planned a housing project, with a retail element.  The current owner, Merlone Geier Partners, purchased the property three years ago to develop an all-commercial project to include shops, restaurants and a CarMax used car lot. 

Both the developer and City are eager to begin project construction.  This is understandable because local government agencies are strapped for cash these days and Pleasant Hill is no exception.  Pleasant Hill’s employee pensions have a $25.2 million funding shortfall (according to June 30, 2013 CalPERS reports), which increases costs.  As City payroll costs grow, everything else in the operating budget gets squeezed.  For example, in recent years the City has saved money in the short term by delaying maintenance and repairs.  Today Pleasant Hill estimates its deferred maintenance for streets at $60 million, roughly three times the size of the City’s operating budget. 

Merlone’s development plans will yield significant sales tax income for the City’s benefit, to help balance its budget.  This is a good thing -- but at what price?

Developer Hardball or City Pushover?

The City issued notice of the November 16th appeal hearing at lightning speed – received via USPS mail less than 24 hours after PHCRG filed its appeal with the City – suggesting the City is trying hard to help developer Merlone Geier Partners stay on schedule to begin project construction in January 2016.   Merlone’s property manager, Liz Munger, says the developer has already signed a lease with the national used car chain CarMax for 433,000 sq. ft. of space on the site of the old K-Mart store. 

When the developer purchased the property three years ago, he undoubtedly knew about Pleasant Hill’s strict sign rules.  Nevertheless, during project discussions with the City, Merlone consistently positioned the tall signage as a project deal-breaker, refusing to budge an inch on the point.  

In response to the developer's hardball stance, City staff and Commissioners artfully evaded public discussion of the fact the developer's plans are a complete departure from Pleasant Hill development standards and zoning requirements.  

Fan Dance Around Problems

The long fan dance between the City and developer culminated on October 13th when the Planning Commission threw out the rule book and, absent required analysis and findings, granted everything the developer asked:

  • City zoning regulations limit commercial signs to 8 ft. in height.  The Commission granted the developer’s request for a 67 ft. tall sign that’s over 8 times taller than allowed
  • City zoning regs also limit the size of commercial signs to 64 sq. ft.  The Commission approved the developer’s 1,276 square-foot sign that’s nearly 2000% larger than allowed.

While City zoning regs allow adjustments over the maximum 8 ft. height and 64 sq. ft. size limits, they also establish a 35 ft. maximum height limit for buildings and accessory structures.  The Commission approved a "major adjustment" that exceeds the 35 ft. height limit, though they lack authority to do so.

One purpose of City zoning regs serve is to "provide substantial compliance with city-wide design guidelines."  City design guidelines prohibit pylon and pole signs, a fact disregarded by the Commission.

Further, City zoning regs explicitly state: "Where conflict occurs between the provisions of this title and any other city code, chapter, resolution, guideline, or regulation, the more restrictive provision shall control unless otherwise specified in this chapter."  Consequently, the Commission's approval of a sign that exceeds established height and size limits is illegal.

  • See artist's rendering of sign here.
  • See nighttime view of illuminated sign here.

The Planning Commission’s approval may signal the City is willing to cave in and simply ignore its own policies and procedures that prohibit pylon signs.  Concerned residents are left wondering why the City would abandon community standards rather than representing the public interest.  Residents also wonder why City officials failed to seek a win-win compromise solution with the developer that also satisfies community concerns.  

No Alternatives Considered

In its appeal, PHCRG says the Commission failed to make required findings and ignored conflicts between the proposed project and community goals in the City’s general plan.  In addition, the appeal says the Commission failed to explore alternatives, stating:

Throughout deliberations, Commissioners have accepted -- without question -- the Applicant’s premise that DV Plaza must be seen from the freeway, rather than from the nearest arterial or commercial collector street as provided in the zoning regulations.  Consequently, the Applicant has presented no alternatives.

Finding solutions to tough problems takes time and effort.  For this project the Commission ignored the problems altogether and sidestepped the hard work needed to identify solutions that satisfy both residents and the developer.

Transformation of Community Look and Feel

If the City Council affirms the Commission’s approval, more pylon signs could be in Pleasant Hill's future despite their prohibition by City sign regulations and sign-design guidelines.  Preferential treatment extended to one developer is likely to prompt requests for like treatment from others.  PHCRG’s appeal states:  

If the City radically departs from its City-wide Sign Design Guidelines and sign regulations for this Applicant, the City will set precedent and be pressured to approve similar pylon signs for other shopping centers or businesses in Pleasant Hill.

Residents worry that, by ignoring zoning and sign regulations, the City risks losing its attractive small-town charm -- the very reason people choose to call Pleasant Hill home.  Relaxing development standards could transform Pleasant Hill's low-rise, suburban character into an ugly city characterized by SoCal-style sign blight.

Show Up, Stand Up, Speak Up

PHCRG petitions City Council to overturn the Commission’s decision and “ensure accurate and thorough analysis of the proposed signage to ensure consistency with the policies, standards and procedures in the General Plan and zoning ordinance.”

The Monday, November 16, 2015 City Council meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30pm.  The meeting will be held in City Council Chambers located at 100 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Attend if you can; or let City officials know your views by sending them an e-mail via the City website here.

 

 

 

DVC Plaza: Cash-Strapped Pleasant Hill Sells Out to Developers (Yet Again)

On Tuesday, August 11, 2015 the Pleasant Hill Planning Commission will discuss major zoning exceptions sought for a proposed Car Max development at DVC Plaza (the former K-Mart site).  The Commission’s meeting follows previous study sessions held by the Planning and Architectural Review Commissions.

Amazingly, Pleasant Hill staff recommends Commission approval of the developer’s signage requests that far exceed permissible size and height limits established by zoning laws.  The project developer, Merlone Geier Partners, seeks major exceptions to the City’s zoning rules so the Car Max development can be seen easily from the freeway.

The proposed signs are more than 8 times the height and 10 times the size permitted under City zoning laws.

Car Max, a Fortune 500 used car chain with more than 100 locations nationwide, is expected to generate much-needed tax revenues for the City.

The fact that staff recommends granting the developer’s wishes -- which will make suburban Pleasant Hill look like L.A.’s ugly skyline littered with tall, in-your-face signs -- shows the City’s desperation for cash needed to pay skyrocketing pension liabilities.

City zoning limits commercial signs to 8 ft. in height, but the developer proposes a 67 ft. tall sign.  Further, zoning rules limit commercial signs to 32 sq. ft., but the developer proposes a 326 sq. ft. double-sided sign.

Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 7:30pm and is designated as a study session, so no final decisions will be made.  Public comment will be accepted.  Let City Hall know your views.

City for Sale

Most people trust local government to get the job done.  We do our civic duty by voting every couple of years, then assume everything’s working as it should.  We expect city officials to keep their promises to serve residents’ long-term interests.  We have faith they’re on our side and share our values.  We believe they’re diligently doing their homework, asking the tough questions and making informed decisions. 

At least, that’s what we hope they’re doing.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case – as evident at the City of Pleasant Hill.

WHO RULES THE ROOST?

Nearly 30 years ago, Pleasant Hill residents overwhelmingly approved a citizen’s initiative to preserve the City’s small-town character by limiting the height and density of new development.  Afterwards the popular ballot measure, known as Measure B, was incorporated into the City’s land use laws.  In addition, proponents of Measure B were elected to the City Council and served as watchdogs regarding land use issues.

In 2012 Teri Williamson, the City Council’s last Measure B watchdog, ended her long public service career and relocated out of the area.  Since then, the City has radically changed its practices and approved new development that places the interests of developers over those of residents.  More importantly, city officials are unresponsive to information requests and openly criticize those who raise concerns.

TAIL WAGGING THE DOG

Recently the City amended its zoning ordinance.  Notably, some changes were made to accommodate projects that didn’t comply with zoning rules.  Rather than requiring developers to meet city standards, Pleasant Hill is systematically lowering the bar to facilitate new development.  In other words, community standards really . . . aren’t.

Further, proposed amendments contained in a 91-page document were considered by the Planning Commission without adequate time for public review.  The City posted the materials on its website Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, leaving the public one business day for review.

Before the May 26th Commission hearing PHCRG Vice President Dorothy Englund submitted written comments, but staff failed to share her letter with the Commission.  During the public hearing PHCRG President Mike Flake mentioned Englund’s letter.  Only then was Englund's letter provided to the Commissioners, prior to their unanimous approval of the zoning ordinance changes recommended by staff.  Comments made by Englund and Flake were ignored.

Prior to the City Council's hearing on July 20th, PHCRG submitted an extensive list of concerns that, again, were ignored. Ultimately the City Council unanimously rubber-stamped the recommendation made by staff and blessed by the Planning Commission.

Andy Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with.”  Pleasant Hill’s philosophy of governing seems to be, “City government is what you can get away with.”

Imperial City Council Rejects PHCRG Appeal of Hotel Project

Council’s “Exercise of Judgment” Justifies Departure from City Standards

 On May 4, 2015, the Pleasant Hill City Council rejected PHCRG’s appeal of the Hilton Homewood Suites.  In its desperate pursuit of tax revenue, the City has betrayed the trust of residents who expect and deserve to have new development conform with local planning laws. 

The video of the May 4, 2015 City Council meeting, which includes the PHCRG-Hilton Homewood Suites Appeal hearing, is available on the City website here.  A Contra Costa Times meeting recap is here

At the hearing PHCRG President Mike Flake identified the ways in which the project exceeds standards established by the city’s general plan and zoning ordinance.  PHCRG Vice President, Dorothy Englund, offered clear evidence of the project’s excesses, to which neither the developer nor staff offered an on-point response.

Ultimately Council rejected PHCRG’s appeal based on a Kings X argument, essentially saying “We’ll do it because we can -- and no one can stop us.”  Council argued that they have the authority to use “flexibility” when applying planning/zoning requirements to a planned unit development.  They reasoned that even a defective project is better than a vacant parcel, which justifies ignoring community development standards that they consider merely “guidelines.” 

In other words, anything goes . . . if we say so.

Council’s action is significant because the Hilton project sets new precedent for running roughshod over the family-friendly development standards cherished by Pleasant Hill residents.

  •  Never before has the City re-zoned a single, tiny parcel as a “planned unit development” to accommodate a single developer for a single project; and
  • Never before has the PUD mechanism been warped and misused in this way, for the purpose of dodging critical development standards set forth in the city’s general plan and zoning ordinance.  
  • Never before has the mere installation of a sidewalk – a minimal requirement for new development -- been construed as a “public benefit” to justify a zoning exceptions for development. 

Pleasant Hill’s decision to ignore community development standards means it’s likely to do so again for other tax-revenue-generating projects. 

This means residents must continue to keep a watchful eye on new development throughout the City.

PHCRG Appeals Hotel Development Plan

City Council Hearing Set for Monday, May 4, 2015

Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth is invested in preserving our city's unique character and family-friendly neighborhoods.  To do so, we monitor city decisions to ensure they are legally consistent with building height and density issues addressed by Measure B, passed by Pleasant Hill voters in 1986.  

When city officials take actions that are inconsistent with Pleasant Hill's General Plan and zoning ordinance, we speak up!  This is one such case.

The Project

The Hilton Homewood Suites project has been riddled with irregularities from the get-go.  Last June the City Council approved the plan to rezone the area for 4-story, 50-foot tall Hilton Homewood Suites project that significantly exceeds the building height and density allowed by the City’s General Plan and zoning ordinance -- and Measure B.

In March, the Planning Commission approved the development plan permit, despite major flaws and inconsistencies.  It is this action that is the subject of PHCRG's appeal.

The City's actions have rendered our General Plan and Zoning Ordinance meaningless.  The appeal addresses ten points, including inadequate parking, noise and other impacts.  Below is the full text of PHCRG's appeal, for your review.  

The link to a recent Contra Costa Times article is here.  

What This Project Means to YOU

The City is desperate for tax revenues to pay for skyrocketing employee pension costs and neglected infrastructure.  So the City has strong incentive to grant developers license to shortcut zoning requirements. Upholding our community development standards is key to maintaining Pleasant Hill's high quality-of-life for residents.

This project has broad implications for ALL Pleasant Hill neighborhoods. By failing to follow its own development standards, the City is setting dangerous precedent for future development in other parts of the City. This is why PHCRG's appeal of this project is of critical importance to everyone, no matter where you live.  

We invite all Pleasant Hill residents to join us at the hearing on May 4.


LINK TO APPEAL ISSUES MATRIX AND EXHIBITS HERE. 

FULL TEXT OF APPEAL:

Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth is appealing the Planning Commission’s March 10, 2015 decision to approve the Hilton Homewood Suites Development Plan for the following reasons:

1. CEQA Categorical Class 32 Exemption

The Development Plan does not qualify for the Class 32 Exemption:

  • The project may cause a substantial adverse change in the significance of a historical resource (Native American Cultural Resources).  Note that our General Plan and the Environmental Impact Report for our General Plan both state that archaeological archival review will be performed for every development project to mitigate the risk of losing significant historical/cultural resources. It is not clear whether or not staff obtained the required review.

  • The Development Plan is inconsistent with our General Plan and Zoning Ordinance

2.  The Development Plan proposes changes to mitigations of potentially significant effects in an earlier CEQA Environmental Impact Report (EIR) without evaluating the effect of those changes:

  • Previous EIR provided for a site survey by an archaeologist who recommended that an archaeologist and an Indian Observer observe the excavation

  • Previous EIR recommended a landscape berm to attenuate noise from the freeway

3.  The proposed location for the swimming pool may create unacceptable noise levels without the landscape berm or other noise attenuation project features.

  

4.  The City introduced a Class 32 exemption opinion by Lamphier-Gregory several months after the Planning Commission and Council voted to approve the Planned Unit Development (PUD) rezoning.

  • Council never reviewed the Lamphier-Gregory document and the public never had an opportunity to provide public comment or challenge the document at a Council hearing.

 5. The City discovered an easement involving 45 parking spaces exclusive to an adjoining parcel (currently occupied by the County Insurance Group) after the Planning Commission and Council approved the PUD rezoning and related Concept Plan.

The new information resulted in significant changes to the project and to the project’s ability to comply with the parking and landscape design standards in the Zoning Ordinance/municipal code.
 
The Planning Commission did not review the exclusive parking agreement/easement in connection with its review and approval of the Development Plan application.
 
Council did not review or consider the exclusive parking easement in connection with its approval of the PUD rezoning and related Concept Plan.
 
The public never had an opportunity to provide public comment concerning the exclusive parking easement, or the resulting project changes, at a Council hearing.
 

  • Depending on the size and location of the 45 parking spaces, the parcel may no longer qualify for PUD rezoning (i.e. if the 2.0 contiguous acre minimum is net acres and if contiguity of the parcel is interrupted by the parking area)

  • The loss of parking area may result in changes to floor area ratio, lot coverage or other measures/limits approved by Council and included in the PUD Ordinance and/or Concept Plan.

  • The total number of parking spaces the project currently proposes is 160 spaces (115 plus 45) which exceeds the number in the PUD Ordinance (“157 on-site parking spaces based on a parking ratio of 1.2 parking spaces per room”)

 
The Concept Plan provides for “up to” 1.2 parking spaces per room. 115 rooms at 1.2 parking spaces per room provides a maximum of 138 parking spaces for the site instead of the 160 approved by the Planning Commission. 

6.  The City discovered a shared parking easement/agreement for 21 parking spaces after the Planning Commission and Council approved the PUD rezoning and related Concept Plan.

  • Given the change in use (from restaurant to hotel), the City should determine whether it can make the findings necessary to support the current shared parking agreement (distances to main entrance for employees and visitors, adequate total parking provided given operational demands of both uses, etc.)
  • This may require approval of a use permit for the shared parking agreement (as part of the overall Development Plan Application approval process)

7. The Applicant proposed changes to the number of parking spaces, composition of parking spaces (regular, compact and motorcycle) and parking space dimensions after the Traffic Consultants issued their report.

  • Conversion of four of the 115 total automobile parking spaces to motorcycle spaces
  • Increase in the percentage of small car spaces from the 50% maximum in our Zoning Ordinance/Municipal Code to 68%
  • No large car spaces meet the 19 foot standard length in our Zoning Ordinance/Municipal Code

The Applicant is proposing 17 feet along the left (north) side of the project and 16 feet (“including overhang”) along the back (east side) of the project.
 
If parked cars protrude into the aisle, Fire trucks may not have the required 20 foot clearance or 45 foot turning radius the Fire Code requires.

The Applicant is proposing to reduce the width of all parking spaces to 8.0 feet (instead of the 8.5 feet standard in our Zoning Ordinance and Municipal Code)

It is not clear what the minimum number of required parking spaces are for this project or whether the changes in composition and parking space dimensions will produce an adequate number and configuration of parking spaces to meet the project’s demand for parking.
 
The Traffic Consultants should reflect any changes in the number of parking spaces, composition of parking spaces, and parking space dimensions in an updated analysis/report.
 
The Traffic Consultants should perform a more in-depth review of comparable hotels (particularly extended-stay hotels) to determine the total number of automobile spaces required, the appropriate ratio of large car to small car spaces, and appropriate dimensions for large and small car spaces.
 
The Planning Commission should make the required findings for approving a reduction in the required number of parking spaces in our Municipal Code:

18.55.050 Reduced parking for single uses.
The planning commission may approve a use permit reducing the number of spaces to less than the number specified in the Schedules 18.55.030A or 18.55.030B; provided, that the following findings are made:
A. The parking demand will be less than the requirement in the schedules; and
B. The probable long-term occupancy of the building or structure, based on its design, will not generate additional parking demand.

8. The Development Plan is inconsistent with our General Plan and Zoning Ordinance

  • The Development Plan exceeds maximum allowed intensity without meeting any of the policies/programs in our General Plan that support increased land use intensity for commercial uses
  • The Development Plan proposes several changes to parking standards and landscaping standards (due to the late discovery of the 45 car exclusive easement). Those changes are not consistent or compatible with our Zoning Ordinance/Municipal Code or Citywide Design Guidelines

9.  The Development Plan/Project is not consistent with the Planned Unit Development (PUD) Ordinance and the PUD Concept Plan Council approved on June 16, 2014 and enacted on July 7, 2014.

 10. The project should include additional conditions of approval to ensure the project will not be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the individuals living and working in the Ellinwood area and to ensure the Applicant complies with federal and state statutes.

 

Elections Have Consequences

Though November election results won't be official until early December, preliminary vote counts for the Pleasant Hill City Council race show incumbent Michael Harris as top vote-getter, re-elected to his 4th term; and Sue Noack in second place with a narrow victory over Jack Weir.

Naturally PHCRG members are disappointed with these election results, particularly with Jack Weir’s narrow loss to political newcomer Sue Noack.  At the same time, however, we’re impressed with Dorothy Englund’s first-timer showing, achieved through grassroots effort.

Most importantly, we remain optimistic and committed to PHCRG's mission to promote good government that is responsive to residents.  Despite this year’s disappointing political loss, the battle to defend the long-term interests of Pleasant Hill residents goes on.  It's important for all to remember:  This was a close election and thousands of voters supported the Weir + Englund reform ticket.  

We are proud of PHCRG’s achievements.  And we’re grateful to the countless supporters who participated in the Weir + Englund campaign effort by making financial and in-kind donations, walking precincts and participating in many other activities.  Since PHCRG's founding in 1985, what we lack in fat political war chests, we make up in grassroots enthusiasm!


Enormous challenges lie ahead that will require PHCRG and other citizen watchdogs to keep a close eye on the City Council monitoring ongoing developments such as:

  • DEVELOPER vs. RESIDENT TRADE-OFFS:  The City faces increasing financial pressures, which means public officials will be tempted to make concessions to developers, at the expense of residents’ long-term quality-of-life.  PHCRG will continue to demand sensible growth consistent with residents' desires.

  • UNAFFORDABLE LABOR CONTRACTS:  Negotiation of new labor contracts with City employees means elected officials will “pay back” unions for their generous campaign support.  We expect employees to seek to restore benefit cuts made following the defeat of Measure T, the City's failed 2010 utility tax measure.  Look for raises and benefit enhancements for Management and Police employees that will worsen the City's budget deficit and sink the City even deeper in red ink.

  • WHO'S REPRESENTING RESIDENT/TAXPAYER INTERESTS?:  With the departure of Jack Weir from the City Council, Pleasant Hill is left with 5 Councilmembers with strong ties to developers, labor unions and special interests – and none to resident/taxpayer groups like PHCRG.

For over 30 years, PHCRG has made a positive difference in the quality of life for Pleasant Hill residents – and we will continue to do so.  We invite all residents to join us in building a better community by holding public officials accountable to work openly, lawfully and with residents foremost in mind.

You can support these efforts by joining/renewing PHCRG membership today!



Got Shame? Harris-Noack Campaign Signs Violate City Rules

Campaign signs are an eyesore and a big headache for city code enforcement staff. However, the manner in which a campaign manages its sign program offers insight into the candidate and his/her campaign organization.

In Pleasant Hill, volunteers with the Weir + Englund campaigns report violations of City rules by the Harris-Noack campaigns.  For example, Harris-Noack signs affixed to chain barriers on property located across from Safeway at Oak Park Blvd. and Putnam Rd. are in clear violation of the City’s sign ordinance (Chapt. 18.60 of the City's Municipal Code).  As a first-time candidate, it's possible Noack doesn't know better. However, given this is Harris' fourth run for office in Pleasant Hill, he has no excuse.

More troubling are the illegally-placed Harris-Noack signs on private property, on the east side of Pleasant Hill Rd. south of Boyd Rd.  The property owners, the Molino family, gave exclusive permission to the Weir + Englund campaigns to post signs on their property.  When Harris-Noack campaign signs popped up at this location, they were removed by the property owner and the City was notified.    

Later, Harris-Noack signs again were placed on the Molino's property without owner's permission – and with hand-written signs affixed to them stating “sign has owner's permission." Property owner Jim Molino confirms he hasn't given permission to the Harris-Noack campaign to post signs on his property.  (Do the Harris-Noack campaigns need to brush up on the Fair Campaign Pledge?)

City code enforcement confirms that the adjacent area, at the corner of Boyd and Pleasant Hill Roads, is limited to a total of 6 signs.  At the outset of the fall campaign, Weir + Englund signs were the first placed there.  Later, Harris-Noack signs were added in numbers that exceed the permissible maximum.  

The good news:  Election Day -- and removal of all those annoying campaign signs – is just days away!

 

 

 

7 Reasons Why We Oppose Michael Harris' Re-Election

When asked to explain his record at a recent Pleasant Hill City Council candidate forum, 12-year-incumbent Michael Harris replied, “You know me.”   Posturing as everybody’s pal allows Harris to dodge scrutiny of his record. 

Experienced politicians frequently employ tricks like these because they work.  They know that most voters are too busy to pay attention to what city government is doing.  Most people lead hectic lives, trust their elected officials and have neither the time nor interest to follow what's going on at City Hall. 

But it is critical to know what is going on and to understand the facts before you cast your vote on November 4.

Today Pleasant Hill is at a crossroads.  Since the 2012 election, the balance of power has shifted.  Today, instead of five independent Councilmembers, Pleasant Hill has a majority power bloc that:

  • Conducts City business in secret, outside of public view;
  • Ignores rules, procedures, statutes and regulations;
  • Discourages public participation and obstructs the public's right to know “what the government is doing, why it is doing it and how.”

 On Election Day, City Hall needs to receive a clear message that:

  • Residents choose the direction of our city – our public officials represent us.
  • Council members represent all 34,000 residents in Pleasant Hill – not just the special interests and the favored few "insiders."
  • We elect representatives to do what best serves residents' interests -- not politicians’ personal or political agendas 

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Pleasant Hill residents will be properly represented only when the composition of the City Council is changed.  That's why we urge residents to vote for Jack Weir and Dorothy Englund for Pleasant Hill City Council.


 REASON #1:  Incumbent Michael Harris’ Support for New Taxes

Harris was a vocal supporter of the City’s 2010 Measure T tax measure that would have increased utility taxes by an estimated 600%. Voters soundly rejected the tax and those who opposed the tax should reject Michael Harris. 

It was only after the defeat of Measure T -- and with newly-elected Councilmember Jack Weir's leadership -- that the City changed its labor contracts to require employees to pick up a greater share of costs for pensions and other benefits. 

Harris has demonstrated he doesn’t mind raising taxes.  For Harris, government’s “needs” are top priority.  For example, Harris has approved every City Manager contract during the twelve years he has been on Council.  In 2013 Pleasant Hill’s City Manager received $263,000 in taxable income, which is more than the California Governor, as well as more than City Managers in the surrounding cities of Concord, Martinez, and Walnut Creek.

 

REASON #2:   Harris’ Habit of Concealing City Business from the Public

In April 2013, then-Mayor Harris asked Council to establish an “ad hoc” Public Health and Safety Committee that would enable him and one other councilmember to consider issues in private in meetings closed to the public.

Harris’ proposal was illegal because, under state law, such committees must have a specific task and cannot consider general topics in which the Council has “continuing subject matter jurisdiction” – that is, areas that are the City’s ongoing responsibility.  Clearly the subject of public safety does not qualify as an “ad hoc” committee.

Fortunately, at that meeting on April 1, 2013, Dorothy Englund reminded Council that what Harris was proposing was in direct violation of open meeting laws.  As a result, Harris withdrew his recommendation.

It is also noted that Harris previously participated on another illegal ad hoc Public Health and Safety Committee from February 7 to May 2, 2011.  At the January 23, 2012 Council meeting, Dorothy Englund diplomatically reminded Council to exercise care in forming ad hoc committees. She provided staff a copy of another city’s policies and procedures concerning ad hoc committees and recommended that Council consider adopting similar rules.  To date, the City has not done so.

 

 REASON #3:  Harris’ “Classless” Conduct at the December 2, 2013 Mayoral Election

At the December 2, 2013 City Council meeting, Michael Harris again demonstrated his habit of conducting city business behind closed doors.  In what appeared to be a carefully choreographed and scripted exchange, Councilmember Flaherty nominated newly-elected Councilmember Tim Flaherty for Mayor, passing over then-Vice Mayor Jack Weir.  Michael Harris cast the final, deciding vote to bypass Weir and elect Flaherty.  By opposing Weir’s promotion to Mayor, Harris, Flaherty and Carlson abruptly broke the City’s longstanding, decades-old tradition in which the Vice Mayor becomes Mayor.

This crude power grab shocked residents and elected officials throughout Contra Costa.  Councilmember David Durant characterized the move as “classless” and the Contra Costa Times editorial board agreed.

Harris told a Contra Costa Times reporter that he had asked Ken Carlson before the meeting if he would be comfortable nominating “someone” for Mayor. Clearly, that “someone” wasn’t Vice Mayor Weir who was next up in the rotation and eminently qualified to serve as Mayor.  (Carlson denied having conversations with any Councilmembers prior to the meeting, so apparently everyone didn't have their stories straight before making public statements about the controversy.)         

In addition, then-Mayor Harris failed to call for discussion regarding the Mayoral question.  Neither Harris, Carlson nor Flaherty provided the public any explanation for their votes, as the state constitution requires. 

 

REASON #4:  Harris and the City Clerk

In early 2013, during City Clerk Kimberly Lehmkuhl’s first few months in office, a problem emerged:  she was not producing minutes of City Council meetings, which is one of the chief responsibilities of the job.  Week after week, month after month, she produced no meeting minutes.

Instead of taking steps to ensure the responsibilities of the City Clerk’s Office were accomplished, the City’s only action was “talking to” Ms. Lehmkuhl, to no avail.  City Manager June Catalano and then-Mayor Michael Harris did little more than throw up their hands in helplessness while the public was kept in the dark.

As Times columnist Daniel Borenstein observed, “council members let this problem fester too long.”

The throw-up-our-hands-in-helplessness routine is nothing more than a bogus and misleading excuse. The City Manager had the authority — and the duty — to ensure that City business was done. Likewise, Mayor Harris had a duty to lead — not just stand by, doing nothing and pleading “there’s nothing we can do.” 

After the first failed attempt to convince Ms. Lehmkuhl to produce the required minutes, Harris and the City Manager should have promptly brought the matter before Council. Council could have given direction to the City Manager to appoint a Deputy City Clerk to take minutes and to advise Ms. Lehmkuhl that she was welcome to sit with the public during future Council meetings, and either take minutes or continue to tweet on Twitter to her heart’s content.  Read more here.

 

REASON #5: Harris and His Opposition to a Historical and Cultural Resources Commission

On December 16, 2013, Harris vote to oppose formation of the Historical and Cultural Resources Commission (“the Commission”) called for in our 2003 General Plan. Jack Weir voted in favor of forming the Commission.

Because the City Council did not approve the Commission, Pleasant Hill is at risk of losing its historical and cultural treasures – including our World War I Monument.

Harris’ vote to oppose establishing the Historical and Cultural Resources Commission is puzzling to say the least. Harris was on the 2003 General Plan Policy Task Force. He voted to approve the 2003 General Plan. He also approved the 2003 General Plan Environmental Impact Report that indicated the Commission was necessary to mitigate the significant risk of losing our historical and cultural resources.  

At the December meeting Harris expressed concern about individual property rights. However, he has imposed restrictions on individual property rights or businesses in other instances, such as his support for the city's smoking ordinance that imposes restrictions on apartment owners while exempting group homes; and his support for a zoning law restricting sales of firearms and ammunition, currently under legal challenge.  Harris did not explain how these circumstances differ from Historical and Cultural Resources..

Any councilmember who says s/he will preserve Pleasant Hill's small town character should do everything possible to preserve and protect our historical and cultural treasures. Dorothy Englund and Jack Weir both support the formation of a Historical and Cultural Resources Commission or other measures to preserve and protect our historical and cultural treasures.

 

REASON #6: Harris and the Hilton Homewood Suites Hotel

During fall of 2013, the City quietly commissioned a hotel-feasibility study. Six months later, the City blindsided residents with plans to build a massive, four-story hotel in the Ellinwood neighborhood, at more than double the maximum allowed density in our General Plan.  Harris expressed support for the tax-revenue-generating prospects of the project.

It must be noted that Pleasant Hill's General Plan is its local land use Constitution.   The General Plan is developed with extensive public participation and designed to guide future development consistent with residents’ wishes.  Accordingly, residents expect and deserve to have public officials vigorously defend our General Plan.

At the Hilton Homewood Suites Hearing on July 7, 2014, Jack Weir was the only councilmember to defend the development limits contained in the General Plan. Michael Harris did not.  In fact, Harris’ questions to staff appeared scripted and invited staff responses that were misleading.  Confronted by a room full of angry residents, and given there were already three votes to support the project, Harris' vote to oppose it smacks of election-year pandering.

 

 REASON #7:  Harris and the Library

On August 27, 2014, Harris met privately with two members of the Recreation and Park District Board of Directors to discuss a proposal to build a new library at Pleasant Hill Park on Gregory Lane.  This became public knowledge when others present confirmed what was discussed at this private meeting

Harris is the Chairman of the Library Task Force.  As a long-term elected official, he knows that California’s open meeting laws require committee meetings with representatives from two or more agencies to be noticed and open to the public.  Residents have cause for concern about Harris – he knows better than to conduct city business outside of the public view.

The future of our Pleasant Hill Library concerns every Pleasant Hill resident as well as residents from surrounding communities.  All residents, including the many students and families at Pleasant Hill Middle School, should know about any plans to move the Library to a new location.

Dorothy Englund and Jack Weir are both vocal proponents of open government. They will eliminate hidden agendas and “backroom deals.”  They’ll ensure all public meetings are properly noticed and the public has access to all public meetings, records and information.

 

Council Candidate Sue Noack and the Fair Campaign Pledge

One day following our publication of an article comparing qualifications of Pleasant Hill City Council candidates Dorothy Englund and Sue Noack, Noack sent an e-mail to her supporters that stated, in part:

As we get nearer to Election Day, there has been a bit more negative and factually incorrect campaigning. I will not participate. I signed Pleasant Hill’s Fair Campaign Pledge and I intend to honor it . . . .

We wonder what Noack is talking about.  This blog doesn't represent or speak for candidates, thus Noack's remark can't be directed at our recent blog post that summarized the candidates’ resumes and public statements.  But it’s impossible to know because Noack doesn’t say who she thinks violated the “fair campaign pledge” and why.

Noack’s failure to present evidence to back up her statement amounts to a smear of her opponents.  Making vague, unsubstantiated inferences is a favorite technique some politicians use in the last days of a campaign.  We’re surprised a political neophyte would resort to such unseemly conduct, though we wonder whether Noack’s neighbor Michael Harris may be coaching her from his bag of tricks.

For the record, we publish the Pleasant Hill Fair Campaign Pledge in its entirety below.  We invite Ms. Noack to explain her comment regarding "negative and factually incorrect campaigning."  And we’d also like an explanation of how Noack's remark squares with item #3 of the pledge regarding defamatory attacks on the character of opponents.

We’d like to hear what she has to say and would much prefer that she – and all candidates for public office – back up their statements with facts, rather than hiding behind unsubstantiated accusations and innuendo.

Pleasant Hill voters deserve as much.

* * * * * * *

PLEASANT HILL FAIR CAMPAIGN PLEDGE

1. I shall conduct my campaign for city office openly and fairly.

2. I shall discuss the issues and participate in fair debate with respect to my views and qualifications.

3. I shall not engage in, or permit, defamatory attacks on the character of my opponents; nor shall I engage in unwarranted invasions of personal privacy unrelated to campaign issues.

4. I shall not, at any time, use or permit the use of any campaign material or advertisement which misrepresents, distorts, or otherwise falsifies the facts regarding any candidate or the candidate’s position on issues.

5. I shall clearly identify myself, or my campaign committee(s), as the sender of all of my campaign mailings.

6. I shall personally approve, in writing, all of my campaign materials, advertisements or mailings prior to their use.

7. I shall publicly repudiate support derived from any individual or group whose activities would violate this fair campaign pledge.

8. I shall file all campaign statements as required by the Political Reform Act and municipal code on time, with full disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures.

9. I shall not duplicate or use any lists of contributors filed by any other candidates for the purpose of compiling my own mailing lists without the permission of the other candidate.

10. I, the undersigned candidate for election to a city office in the City of Pleasant Hill, hereby voluntarily endorse, subscribe to, and solemnly pledge myself to conduct my campaign in accordance with the above principles and practices.

Pleasant Hill Municipal Code Article III, Chapter 2.55.150

Reality Check

The latest mailer from the Jack Weir re-election campaign may be considered "negative campaigning" by opponents.  Why?  Because it identifies real problems facing Pleasant Hill that many prefer be swept safely under the rug.

Denial is an obstacle to finding solutions.  Hoping problems will go away "if we just don't talk about them" isn't a strategy for success.

Our support of Jack Weir and Dorothy Englund is based on our belief that facing reality is an essential first step towards building a better community.  Let's elect Weir + Englund and get to work!



City Council Candidates Dorothy Englund and Sue Noack: What's the Difference?

The 2014 race for Pleasant Hill City Council offers voters a clear choice.  

Three-term incumbent Michael Harris and challenger Sue Noack represent the old-guard, business-as-usual power structure, funded by special interests and responsive to real estate developers and public employee labor unions.

First-term incumbent Jack Weir and challenger Dorothy Englund represent the reform-minded, grassroots, citizen-led movement to make city government more accountable and responsive to residents.

Because the two female challengers are not well known to voters, many wonder how they differ from one another. This summary may help:

DOROTHY ENGLUND vs. SUE NOACK:  

HOW DO THEY COMPARE?___________________________________________________________________

COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE

DOROTHY ENGLUND:  23 years of experience

  • Pleasant Hill Elementary Education Foundation (PHEEF) Founding Board Member, Treasurer
  • Pleasant Hill Elementary PTA, Auditor, Member of the Board
  • Advocate - Children with Special Needs
  • And much more too lengthy to fit in this space

SUE NOACK:  7 years of experience

  • Foundation for Pleasant Hill Education (FPHE) Founding Board Member, Treasurer
  • Strandwood PTA and PHMS PTSA President, Member of the Board
  • Chair, 2010 MDUSD Measure C Bond Oversight Committee

______________________________________________

CITY GOVERNMENT KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE

DOROTHY ENGLUND:

  • SIX YEARS AND THOUSANDS OF HOURS of research, analysis, and participation at City Council, Commission and Committee meetings.
  • Working knowledge of city and state laws governing Pleasant Hill.
  • Extensive experience as a citizen watchdog, combating abuse and representing the interests of all residents on a range of issues, including:

Real Estate Development and Land Use

General Plan and Zoning Ordinance

Traffic Safety

Economic Development

Budget, Controlling Costs of  Employee Compensation and Pensions

Worked to Defeat Measure T  –  City Utility Tax rejected by voters in 2010

Organizer for 2014 City Clerk Recall Campaign

SUE NOACK:  NONE                

___________________________________________________________________

PUBLIC AGENCY FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE

DOROTHY ENGLUND:

  • CPA - KPMG Peat Marwick, Senior Audit Manager and Business Advisor

 Audited Financial Statements

  • Budget vs. actual performance
  • Income and expenses
  • Assets and liabilities
  •  Pension audits

            Dorothy's clients included large, complex public agencies, including:

  • Contra Costa County
  • Alameda County
  • University of California
  • City of Oakland

SUE NOACK:  NONE

___________________________________________________________________

LEADERSHIP ON ISSUES THAT MATTER TO RESIDENTS

DOROTHY ENGLUND:

  • Safe Neighborhoods Alliance Program, President
  • Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth, Vice President

Tireless dedication to representing residents on development and other issues that impact health, safety and property values in Pleasant Hill.

SUE NOACK:  NONE

___________________________________________________________________

WITH EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE

AND A PROVEN TRACK RECORD, 

DOROTHY ENGLUND

WILL BEST REPRESENT RESIDENTS!

Join Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth in supporting Dorothy Englund and Jack Weir for City Council 2014

Join Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth in supporting Dorothy Englund and Jack Weir for City Council 2014

VOTE NOVEMBER 4

Visit www.rightteam4ph.com

 

Weir + Englund = The Right Team for Pleasant Hill

As proud supporters of Jack Weir and Dorothy Englund for Pleasant Hill City Council, PHCRG members are excited to watch the Weir + Englund campaigns gain momentum through word-of-mouth, neighbor-to-neighbor conversations.

As Pleasant Hill residents, we want local government focused on residents' needs and priorities.  We reject public officials who sweet-talk voters with empty campaign promises, then smugly make backroom deals and practice "you-couldn't-possibly-understand, we-know-best" policymaking.  We expect innovative ideas and productive partnerships among city, recreation/park district, schools and other local agencies that serve Pleasant Hill.  We deserve public officials who thoughtfully and correctly define problems and then devise responsive solutions with full public participation, -- bringing residents in on the ground floor, involved in community decisions right from the start.

Most of all, we want representatives who trust and respect residents -- and never, ever forget who they work for.

A new ad from the Weir + Englund campaign is generating buzz all over Pleasant Hill.  Please share with your Pleasant Hill neighbors, friends and associates!

Jack Weir and Dorothy Englund are the right team for Pleasant Hill.

Jack Weir and Dorothy Englund are the right team for Pleasant Hill.



November's City Council Race: What's at Stake for Residents?

Preserving quality of life for Pleasant Hill residents is the defining issue of this year's Pleasant Hill City Council race.  This November four candidates are running for two Council seats:  Incumbents Jack Weir and Michael Harris; and challengers Dorothy Englund and Sue Noack.   
 
Based upon review of the challenges facing Pleasant Hill and the candidates' backgrounds, your Board recommends endorsement of:

Your Board is proud to recommend Weir and Englundboth of whom are PHCRG members.  PHCRG bylaws require approval of candidate endorsements by the general membership, so we'll vote on the Board's recommended endorsement at the September 3rd meeting.
 
The September membership meeting will also offer an update regarding current and upcoming development projects, including the controversial Hilton Homewood Suites project proposed for the Ellinwood area.

Weir and Englund 2014

Pleasant Hill OKs Unpopular Hilton Hotel Development project

Despite no public support, strong resistance from neighborhood residents, and reservations from its Architectural Review and Planning Commissioners, the Pleasant Hill City Council has approved a plan to allow a massive hotel development project adjacent to a residential neighborhood on Ellinwood Way, on the 2.4-acre site of the former Chevy’s restaurant.  Read More...

 

Hilton Proposal Revives Growth Worries in Pleasant Hill

The Pleasant Hill City Council will consider a proposed 4-story, 50-ft. tall Hilton Homewood Suites at Ellinwood at its meeting on June 16, 2014.  The city says the project could generate an estimated $450,000 in annual tax revenues to benefit Pleasant Hill. The proposed Hilton Homewood Suites project in Pleasant Hill, California, has generated strong opposition from residents and rekindled community interest in growth control.  Read More...

The Silver Lining of Pleasant Hill City Clerk Scandal

As a rule, City Clerks don’t seek the limelight. But Kimberly Lehmkuhl, the infamous former City Clerk of suburban Pleasant Hill, California, has made a sport of breaking rules and marching to her own drummer. So it’s no surprise her unprecedented job failure and wacky resignation letter made nationwide news.

While public attention to this story has focused largely on Lehmkuhl’s failures and Twitter antics, the enduring lessons of this story have nothing to do with her. Rather, City mismanagement of the problem offers an instructive case study in what-not-to-do when things go wrong. Read More...