During a work session for the Oakley Downtown Specific Plan’s draft environmental impact report, only one person spoke up when the public was invited to make comments regarding downtown development. Councilman Bruce Connelley said he didn’t think that was enough.
“We have 33,000 more people,” he said. “I realize the focus of this meeting is to direct staff to conduct outreach programs to our downtown businesses and other stakeholders regarding the specific plan’s EIR, and we’re seeing it tonight that it’s obvious that we need to put forth a strong effort (to get public input.)
“The downtown affects everybody, not just the downtown businesses, and if we have to go knocking door to door to let people know and encourage them to show up, then we need to bend over backward to let them know that we need their input. We need your involvement. I don’t want to see anyone come back and say, ‘You didn’t tell us.’”
Connelley said he understood time constraints make it difficult for business owners to attend council meetings but he advised staff to take whatever steps necessary to make sure everyone in town knows about the project.
Councilman Jim Frazier agreed. He said it’s important to make sure everyone is aware of the project because those who operate their businesses from home might want to relocate to the downtown area once the transformation is complete.
Oakley has been working on the Downtown Specific Plan since January of 2000. The city plans to revitalize an 80-acre area downtown bordered by Main Street, Gardenia Avenue, Home Street and the railroad tracks. The overall plan is to create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown featuring specialty shops, restaurants, cafés and civic facilities similar to Walnut Creek or Santa Cruz.
The plan, which is expected to take 10 years to implement, envisions a realignment of Main Street to direct heavy through-traffic away from the social and commercial areas. The project also calls for renovations and façade improvement of existing buildings and many other changes designed to meet Oakley’s 2020 vision.
The EIR spells out how the city will handle the project’s potentially significant impacts so as to remain compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act. The EIR cites five areas in need of special attention, including noise, transportation and parking, air quality, cultural resources and global climate change. All impacts discussed in the report have proposed mitigations to reduce the impacts to less-than-significant levels.
The council didn’t make many comments or ask many questions regarding the project, but Councilwoman Pat Anderson directed that more language be added to the air quality section to address how mineral emissions, such as asbestos, will be reduced when older building are renovated or demolished.
Paul Seger, the only resident to speak during the work session, said the renovation was an opportunity to utilize more green technologies such as solar panels, and to implement water conservation systems.
Oakley Senior Planner Ken Strelo said the public is still encouraged to submit comments via e-mail or to call the city with suggestions. The public comment period ends on Wednesday, Oct. 28, at which time city staff will address concerns presented during the comment period and then submit the final EIR to the City Council for approval. The council will hold a public hearing on the plan later this year.
Copies of the Oakley Downtown Specific Plan and the draft EIR are available at City Hall and the Oakley Library. The document may also be viewed at the city’s Web site, www.oakleyinfo.com.
Also on Tuesday, Mayor Carol Rios announced that the agenda of the Nov. 10 council meeting would be shortened in order to devote a preponderance of the evening to a special General Plan work session. During this time, citizens would be able to discuss issues such as zoning and future development in the city.
“We’re going to look at the entire general plan for Oakley,” Rios told the audience. “You’re going to get a chance to see what’s planned – what’s open, what has no maps on it and what has maps on it. It’s going to be a time to understand how we got there and where we want to go.
“We want to hear from you. We want to know your concerns.”
A few minutes later, the council picked up where it left off last month concerning an application to rezone 13.9 acres off Laurel Road from a general agriculture district to a planned development district to accommodate the proposed Rosewood Estates housing project. More than 100 comments had been submitted during the Sept. 22 public hearing and testimony lasted for hours. The public hearing had been closed and the issue continued to this week for final action regarding rezoning.
After pulling the item from the consent calendar Tuesday, Rios said comments on speaker cards submitted indicated there was nothing new to enter into the record, and declined to let residents address the council. Most of the cards contained remarks dealing with design and housing densities, she said, while the issue before the council dealt only with zoning.
Audience members responded by calling out their objections, and one woman was granted three minutes to speak. She said that with approval of more housing projects and the addition of more people, the city risks increased crime rates. She shared her personal story about her son, who was beat up in town by some of Oakley’s newer residents. She said she couldn’t attend the public hearing last month because she was tending to her son, who had suffered a shattered jaw.
The woman went on to discuss other ramifications of the project such as increased traffic, but when her three minutes were up, the mayor asked her to step down. The woman continued to speak and the mayor repeatedly informed the woman that her time was up and asked her to return to her seat. After several warnings, the woman sat down.
Because only a handful of speaker cards were submitted, Connelley made a motion to allow the others to make their comments, but there was no second and the motion failed. Anderson then encouraged residents to return for the public hearing, expected early next year, when design would be addressed.
Resident Donald Scheer believes residents should have been allowed to speak. In an e-mail sent following the meeting, he said “... everyone knows that once land is rezoned, the developer will always go for the maximum density allowed,” and said Rios’ actions “demonstrated unprofessional and rude behavior.”
City Manager Bryan Montgomergy said in an e-mail Wednesday morning that the unfolding of events at the meeting was “unfortunate.”
“The residents were primed to believe the Council didn’t want to listen when the reality is that the Council did listen to over 100 comments and speakers when the public hearing was open,” Montgomery wrote. “Technically, with the hearing closed, it shouldn’t be reopened because it wasn’t noticed to be re-opened pursuant to the Brown Act, as it never is with the second reading of an ordinance. Mayor Rios’ comments were that if something new that was not discussed during the public hearing time, then it could be entertained, but it appears no one really had anything new except what was a part of the formal public hearing.”
One issue from the Rosewood Estate discussion will be carried over to a future meeting. A session on the development’s tentative map, continued from Sept. 22, would be held at a date uncertain, Montgomery said. He said the public would be able to comment on density and other issues pertaining to the tentative map at that time.
The rezone was approved 4-0. Connelley abstained, stating that he didn’t agree with the censoring of the public by not allowing the other speakers to have their three minutes.