City Hall fight, part two
Tuesday May 03rd 2011, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Politics

Okay, so here’s the long story.

Compared to some, it wouldn’t have been the biggest nor the densest, but it was so in the wrong place.

I had some friends visiting from out of state last Fall, who, driving around in their rental car, had to ask me this question a little later: why is it that California is full of the weirdness of dense developments in the middle of the strangest places?

And one of the answers is that California’s reaction to air pollution, traffic, etc, was to threaten and fine cities that had too many jobs relative to the amount of housing if they didn’t comply with the order to try to fix that. Didn’t matter if people took the Caltrain or BART or whatever commuter trains from where they could not only more easily afford to live but might prefer to live for being able to have more space–like my husband’s co-worker, who has a guard llama for his horses and… Yeah. In the city, not so much on the guard llamas.

So our fair town’s reaction to that was to open a loophole in their Comprehensive Plan (overused and now closed, I found out last night) to allow office buildings to theoretically be torn down for multi-family housing as long as it wasn’t near single-story homes, which is what most of the housing in the city is. The downturn came, a whole swath of those office buildings came down, and developers made a fortune. All of it at our end of town.

The kicker is this: from what I heard last night, by state law you could not consider the impact on schools when debating building that housing.

I have no doubt who wrote *that* law.

Meantime, back in the ’70s, you had a perfect storm of Baby Boomers no longer being in all those schools that had been built for them and the passage of Proposition 13, which gutted school budgets across the state. Many school properties were sold off to developers.

The school-age population has been rising, even in the unchanged properties as the older generation has been moving on, just like everywhere else.

You see where this is going?

The elementary playground that my kids used to run around on during recess not at all long ago is now, I’m told, having multi-story classroom space plunked on top–and I thought a few modular classrooms in front of the redwoods were bad our last few years there. To quote Cat Stevens, “But tell me, where do the children play?”

Next to our street is a business with a large field behind it, immediately next to a school that was closed but the building still used by the district. I believe that was their old field.

Anyway, the owner of that business is retiring and he wants to cash in bigtime. The would-be developer of the man’s two-plus acres told the neighbors with a straight face that the 26, then 23 houses they were going to build there after we argued, were going to have zero impact on the schools. We guffawed; their rep was immovable on that point–and I wondered what it must be like to have a job that required you to check your integrity at the door.

The school district badly wanted and needs that land but could not match the (undisclosed) price.

The main artery alongside our neighborhood is near a fairly-new Caltrain stop in the next town.  Which is why that town has been redeveloping, with plans for something close to 2,000 new housing units overall a half mile to a mile away from us. And remember our own new housing units on the other side.

It’s getting a little crowded.

There’s more than that, even, like the already-inadequate sewer line that the City had put 30 years out on its schedule for fixing. Our part of town has been being shafted, bigtime. And the only way out of our side of the neighborhood is past that business and straight to what has to be one of the most dangerous intersections in the city.

To her credit, one of the council members drove it to see what the fuss was about and went yowza!

The one great thing in our favor was that that speculative bid was based on the hope that the city would rezone for it. And, traffic concerns aside, the proposal on the table included very little parking and a danger in terms of firetrucks trying to squeeze through the narrow proposed street because you know cars would be lining both sides of it.

The developer threatened the city with a lawsuit if their proposal weren’t passed. Now we’re talking playground bully.

The neighborhood association just north of our small one showed up organized and in force. They did an environmental impact study to a degree the city had not (as far as I could hear), pursuing facts the developer did not want mentioned. They had a powerpoint presentation and a stack of papers to be read off. Each person was only allowed three minutes to speak before the city council, so when their time was up, they would put their finger on the spot on the page and the next person would take it right from there, a relay team fighting our battle alongside us.

When the first resident to speak asked all the residents who opposed the rezoning of our area to allow for that redevelopment, I was one of about 30 who stood. Many who could not be there that night had already emailed the council. Not a one spoke in favor, and online likewise as far as I know.

My hearing stinks, I had a cold, I didn’t dare try to get up to speak when I was just missing too much information to do a good job of it–but they did a good job and I made a darn good guard llama. That I could do. Sitting through hours of meeting and standing together with the others to be counted. Our participation mattered. I’m glad I went.

Those horses did not get past that barn door.

12 Comments so far
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A success story for you! Until the property bubble burst here (big time) the planners would approve all the speculative developers’ plans despite the neighbors’ objections. Good job, guard llama!

Comment by LynnM 05.04.11 @ 12:15 am

Congrats at winning this one! Too often the comprehensive plan (put in place to protect what is unique about an area and reflect citizens wishes) is gutted/ignored for the almighty dollar, with no thought to the future implications of that development. Reading stories like yours helps me to maintain hope in our political process.

Comment by wildknits 05.04.11 @ 5:38 am

Organization is the key to success in a case like this. I am so glad yours worked out.

Comment by Sherry in Idaho 05.04.11 @ 6:44 am

Hooray! From your end, this is how the system SHOULD work!

Comment by Channon 05.04.11 @ 7:27 am

reading this reminds me of some of the things I miss most about living in the Bay Area — there are more people there, and they have learned to work together as a community when things need to get done for the good of the community

and yes, I can see you as a very attractive guard llama!

Comment by Bev 05.04.11 @ 8:03 am

I’m picturing you more as an alpaca–equally watchful, but silkier.

Comment by LauraN 05.04.11 @ 8:44 am

Good Grief! I expect that the next time you have to fight one of these greedy developers, you’ll need to go armed with swords and pikes!

In the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS!

Comment by Don Meyer 05.04.11 @ 9:12 am

I had always pictured you as a border collie with your pretty hair. But guard llama will do. We are watching the ebb and flow of school districts here right now, as they move off-shore due to property taxes. What I dread, and because of where I’m coming from, is the RIFing of teachers from underpopulated districts where the school boards say “oh well, they will just get jobs where the districts need more teachers.” It doesn’t always fit like that and it is just not that easy.

Comment by Afton 05.04.11 @ 9:33 am

YAY! Good Guard Llama, very good guard llama!!

Comment by Knitnana 05.04.11 @ 10:17 am

What an empowering story :-}

Comment by Diana Troldahl 05.04.11 @ 1:56 pm

Oh, good for you!! And good for everyone who was there!! Somehow the part that really gave me chills, though, was people standing up, one at a time, to read in turn from the same page. That’s what I call community, in the best possible way. Thanks for fighting the good fight 🙂

Comment by Jocelyn 05.04.11 @ 4:33 pm

I love the tag team presentation. Congratulations!

Comment by twinsetellen 05.04.11 @ 8:19 pm

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