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  • New Livermore General Plan and Plans for Buranis Property

    New Livermore General Plan and Plans for Buranis Property

    Don Trimmer

    Feb. 26, 2002




    The opinions in this document are my own.  My sources of information are 1) the City Council Meeting of Feb. 24-25 (including documents distributed during this meeting), a meeting with the Steering Committee President (Marge Leider) and conversations with City Council members and City Staff members (during the City Council Meeting).


    Background information


    The City Council is working on a new General Plan for Livermore.  This General Plan is concerned with everything within the city limits.  The planning for the downtown is being done separately from the planning for everything else within the city limits.  This document is only concerned with “everything else”.


    The City Council has retained a planning consultant and has appointed a Steering Committee to make General Plan recommendations to the City Council.  I believe this planning consultant is based in Berkeley and the consultation fee is approx. $2,000,000.  There are fifteen members of the steering committee (each member of the City Council appointed three).


    It is apparent from the City Council Meeting of Feb 24-25 and also from comments made by various members of the Steering Committee that the consultant believes Livermore should be “urbanized”.  This means the addition of much higher density housing.  Members of the Steering Committee and the consultant commented several times that the Steering Committee was very frequently in disagreement with the consultant.  However, the consultant very consistently argued for urbanization.  Further, at least during the City Council Meeting, the consultant was frequently asked by the City Council to offer opinions on what was possible as well as for appropriate wording for various amendments.  There were many disturbing statements in the Steering Committee’s recommendations to the City Council and/or made by the consultant.  One example (I am paraphrasing): “the General Plan should not worry about traffic in the downtown area – high traffic congestion is an indication of a vibrant area”.  The consultant is in a position to have a strong influence on planning activities.  It is disturbing that the City Council has retained a consultant with views that are diametrically opposed to most of the residents of Livermore.


    The Steering Committee has also made recommendations on growth rates of both housing and jobs.  Many of the proposed zoning changes will allow high-density housing.  The Steering Committee is recommending that there should be approx. a 1:1 ratio between new houses and new jobs.  Historically, homes in Livermore have been developed much more rapidly than new industrial or commercial space.  The result is that every few years, all of the land zoned for residential development is used and little commercial or industrial development has been done.  Therefore, more land needs to be zoned for residential use so that the number of new homes created will “match” the number of new jobs created.  The result is that the density of housing in Livermore continues to increase with Livermore providing homes for people that work in other communities.  This may be good for the greater Bay Area, but is probably very bad for Livermore.  Both the Steering Committee and the City Council seem to be buying into the idea that many new homes are needed on a very limited amount of space.


    The City Council has also adopted a “City Urban Growth Boundary” (UGB).  This was done without a vote of the citizens of Livermore.  One effect of the UGB is that growth outside of the UGB will be restricted until all of the land within the UGB has been developed.  The idea is to limit sprawl.  While limiting sprawl may be a good thing, the combination of UGB plus the desire to provide a certain number of new housing units results in the few tracts of available land being zoned for high density.  Therefore, by adopting this particular set of rules and/or policies, the result is a need for very high density housing within Livermore.


    Further, the City Council did not give the Steering Committee a free hand to develop a recommended plan.  The Steering Committee was given a long list of things they could not consider while formulating a plan.  This included instructions that if the Steering Committee proposed that the Buranis property (currently zoned R1 – one house per acre) be rezoned, R4.5 (4.5 house/acre) was the lowest density they could consider.  It is apparent that the City Council had a list of things they wanted done regardless of whether they were good or bad in the context of the entire plan.


    It appears as if most (or perhaps all) of the Steering Committee members appointed by Council members Vargas and Dietrich opposed many of the recommendations of the Steering Committee.  During the City Council Meeting, several of the Steering Committee members stated very passionately that the instructions given them by the City Council did not allow them to do a good job – that the rules forced them to develop a plan that they thought would be bad for Livermore.  Many of the critical votes within the Steering Committee were decided by only one or two votes.


    Another example of a Steering Committee recommendation that doesn’t make much sense to me:  Significant land is being held in reserve in anticipation of BART rail service being extended to Livermore.  The Mayor reported that the head of BART had recently stated that the chance of BART rail service being extended to Livermore within the next 40 years was very close to zero.  Therefore, a large tract of land within city limits is being held in reserve for something that will probably never happen.  The owners of this land are not being allowed to subdivide it and/or develop it.  This places additional pressure on putting high density housing on the very few other possible sites within the city limits.


    Buranis Property


    City Council Meeting

    The Steering Committee recommended that the Buranis property (currently zoned R1 – one home/acre) be rezoned to R4.5 (4.5 homes/acre) and that the housing density be “feathered”.  “Feathering” is the idea that the portion of the Buranis property adjacent to Cabernet Way would have relatively low density and the portion adjacent to Robertson Park Rd. would have higher density.  However, since there is no legal definition for “feathered”, this recommendation does very little to offer any protection to the surrounding neighborhoods.


    When the City Council asked for public comment, approximately five members of the “Cabernet/Chardonnay neighborhood” made three-minute statements.  A show of hands indicated that approximately 50 people (about half of the audience) agreed with the neighbor’s issues.


    After further discussion between Council members, the consultant, Steering Committee members and City Staff, the City Council made several amendments to the Steering Committee’s recommendations.  While the City Council did not amend the Steering Committee’s recommendation to zone the Buranis property R4.5, they did instruct the City Staff to:


    Work with the neighbors to develop a PDR (specifies how the property could be developed.)


    New homes on Cabernet Way must “mirror” the existing homes on Cabernet Way (this probably means two homes/acre for a depth of two lots, somewhat higher density in the middle of the property and much higher density abutting Robertson Park Rd.).


    Traffic from the interior of the property will not exit on Cabernet Way.


    If an “acceptable” plan cannot be developed, the City Staff can recommend to the City Council that a lower density zoning be considered.


    The City Engineer was asked if it was possible for the development to use Cartier as an exit on Arroyo.  The City Engineer stated that while it was not the most desirable option, it was workable.


    The current schedule calls for the new General Plan to be completed by October, 2003.


    My Comments


    1.      If we can work with the City Staff to get a density of approx. two homes/acre for a depth of two lots and if the higher density housing does not connect to Cabernet Way, then the higher density may have a limited impact on our existing neighborhood.


    2.      We may be able to get a lot more than just similar lot sizes for the new homes on Cabernet Way.  The PDR may also specify house size, quality of construction, etc.



    3.      The City Staff will also consider the affect of the site cleanup on the surrounding neighborhoods.  A previous proposal for cleaning up the site called for excavating approx. 500,000 cubic yards of material.  Some of this material is toxic and would be hauled away.  The remainder would be dried, screened to remove organic materials, asphalt, etc. and repacked.  Assuming a new report requires a similar effort, the City Staff may decide that the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, including potential health problems, makes it undesirable to develop the site.  We can also argue that the bulk of the dangerous carcinogens be removed by alternate means, such as an extraction well, before any excavation proceed.  This would substantially reduce health risks and also add a potentially long delay to the start of excavation.


    4.      I have noticed that all of the site plans that developers have generated have shown an internal park at the same location.  I strongly suspect this location is where a large amount of organic materials are buried the deepest.  Therefore, the developer could limit the cleanup costs by avoiding a substantial portion of the cleanup.  However, LAPRD has already stated that they don’t want to manage any new parks.  Further, existence of this park will result in a substantial increase in the density of the remainder of the development.  If the PDR does not allow a park, then the minimum lot size will increase.  However, cleanup costs will probably also rise, potentially making development of the lot unfeasible.



    5.      With a strong indication that using Cartier as an connection to Arroyo will be allowed, one additional exit from the interior of the development will be required.  It seems an additional connection to Arroyo would be impossible.  I believe this leaves two options for the second connection:’


    a.       LARPD consents to a connection to Robertson Park Rd.  In the past, they have refused to allow this.  Since Robertson Park Rd. is owned by LARPD, the City Council cannot force them to accept this.  However, the city may be able to bargain with LARPD for this access.

    b.      A connection with Cabernet Way.  The City Council has already stated that they do not want this.  However, City Staff may consider than an emergency exit would not violate the City Council’s instructions.  An emergency exit would use a removable barrier to block normal car traffic while allowing access by emergency vehicles.


    An emergency exit to Cabernet Way would allow foot traffic between the existing neighborhood and the higher density housing.  It also may result in a larger negative impact on our property values.


    If LARPD refuses a connection onto Robertson Park Rd. and we can lobby the City Staff to avoid an emergency exit onto Cabernet Way, then this property probably cannot be developed.


    6.      I believe we should lobby the City Staff to begin working on the PDR as soon as possible.  If we don’t like the results, this will maximize the time we have available to pursue alternatives.








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