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Around the Valley: Growing list of illogical decisions

Pleasanton council majority scrapping plans for popular parks is another baffling move
A look at Delucchi Park in downtown Pleasanton earlier this winter.

A plan decades in the making went poof at the whim of Pleasanton City Council's majority, and the many people who enjoy Lions Wayside and Delucchi parks are mystified and miffed.

The master plan for the parks started 30 years ago, in 1993, according to Richard Larson, a Bay Area landscape architect who has been working on the project since the start.

Public hearings, workshops, a temporary hold due to economic uncertainty, more public hearings and workshops and finally -- finally -- the City Council adopted the master plan in 2014.

Then there was a delicate dance with the regulatory agencies -- the Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Regional Water Quality Control Board -- that took years.

More hoops to jump through, more design changes, more considerations like the deteriorating bandstand and a tree that was a safety hazard ... and a lot more time.

In December 2021, the city was "given the go ahead" from the regulatory agencies on a concept plan that moved and rerouted Kottinger Creek.

In April 2022, the council asked for public feedback concerning the changes in the design that had been made to appease the agencies. Hundreds of people voiced support for the plan and gave suggestions at three outreach events and through a survey.

At the Feb. 7 council meeting, Larson and Matt Gruber, a landscape architect with the city, presented a concept plan that had the blessing of the regulatory agencies and reflected the features the public most wanted. They asked that the plan be adopted and the project prioritized.

Instead, the council majority of Mayor Karla Brown and councilmembers Valerie Arkin, Jeff Nibert and Julie Testa voted to dump the plan and "embrace" the park as it is, citing the cost.

"I do not see our community coming out and asking us to spend $14 million on this and I don't see the value of getting there," Testa proclaimed.

That amount was the high end of a large range given by the presenters. However, it wasn't a solid estimate because an actual estimate couldn't be calculated until the plan was adopted. It was more of a guess.

All this time. All the changes. All the public input. All the support. All for naught.

Chuck Deckert, a Parks and Recreation commissioner and a freelance photographer for us but expressing his personal views, said he was "deeply disappointed" with the council's decision.

"I was excited after years of rework to satisfy all the regulatory agency requirements to see how the Wayside and Delucchi conceptual redesign could become the crown jewel of Pleasanton," Deckert said. "I had envisioned how the plan would align the parks more closely with the Firehouse theater and the planned new main outdoor audience area. It would have resulted in an expanded lawn area in front of bandstand that would draw all elements of our community for multiple cultural activities in addition to our beloved Friday Concerts in the Park."

Deckert continued, "I understand the estimated $10-14 million price tag was prohibitive. However, instead of shelving a master plan 15 years in the making, council could have instead asked staff to complete the work plan process with interest to bring down that cost with modifications, much like they did with revamped skate park project."

Yes, the council could have asked for modifications to the plan to lower the costs as it did for the skate park project, which Testa really wants to move forward, even though it will benefit a very, very small number of people.

But asking for modifications would not have shut down this plan and open up money for other projects -- like the skate park -- as Brown pointed out.

No, I'm not convinced cost was the motivation to nix the plan.

Spending money was not a problem in June, when the council majority of Brown, Arkin and Testa voted to move $2 million out of the city's rainy day fund and put it toward fully funding the $4.8 million necessary to reopen Century House.

While a part of Pleasanton's history, Century House will serve only a handful of people. Lions Wayside and Delucchi parks benefit hundreds, if not thousands, weekly.

According to Gruber, the majority of the park neighbors on First and Second streets liked the general design but had questions and concerns about things that could potentially impact them such as traffic, parking, safety, orientation of the bandstand, rerouting the creek and the like.

But Gruber added he spoke to some neighbors who were opposed to the change, expressing they preferred the parks to remain as they are.

I can't help but wonder if the council majority's decision was influenced by FOMs friends of the majority.

For example, Christine Bourg, who thanked the council during public comment at an August meeting for funding the Century House project, lives on Second Street.

Matthew Gaidos, also a nearby homeowner, was recently appointed to the city's Planning Commission by Brown.

When it was time for public comment, Brown was flabbergasted that there were no speakers for the agenda item.

But nobody thought the council would do the exact opposite of what staff recommended -- direct staff to "finalize the update of the Lions Wayside and Delucchi Parks master plan based on the conceptual plan" -- though this is far from the first time.

"Many of us, including myself, would've showed up at that council meeting if we felt there was any possibility they wouldn't move the project on," Deckert said.

This is not the first time the council majority has done something most of us find illogical: not choosing the best election district map for the community; taking $2 million from the rainy day fund for a project that benefits a couple dozen people at most; lowering the density on the school district site in the Housing Element.

We can add this one to the growing list.

Editor's note: Gina Channell Wilcox has been the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media Group's East Bay Division since 2006. Her "Around the Valley" column runs the first and third Fridays of the month.


Gina Channell Wilcox

About the Author: Gina Channell Wilcox

Gina Channell Wilcox is the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media's East Bay division. She has earned several state and national journalism awards, including for investigative journalism and in-depth reporting.
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