This guest commentary comes from Tom O’Brien, a resident of the Almond/Shuey neighborhood, right next to downtown.
His commentary comes in advance of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting at which members will be asked to approve the construction of nine new homes, on a half-acre lot, at the Oakland Boulevard edge of this charming, historic neighborhood.
The homes, to be built on the oddly shaped lot at the corner of Oakland Boulevard and Almond Avenue, will be detached, and on their own lots, including one that will consist of a duplex. Most of the homes are two-bedroom, ranging from two to three stories, and between 1,400 and 1,900 square feet.
The project has been debated and discussed since 2004. The Planning Commission approved it, but not unanimously. Four commissioners praised the the developer for making several concessions and revisions to reduce its density (from 12 units to nine). Two commissioners said “no,” based on continuing concerns about insufficient onsite parking, access to the homes, and traffic issues.
With regard to concerns about density and parking, O’Brien, on his website about the project, says these “tightly-packed” homes are of a higher density than zoning permits in that neighborhood. He adds that each of these homes would feature a double-master bedroom design. “The developer has stated that one target market he has identified for the homes is young professionals who need to take in a roommate to afford their first home. Since it is reasonable to assume that a number of these homes will be occupied by unrelated adults, each of whom is likely to own a car - the neighbors believe that at least two parking spaces should be provided per unit. Throughout the hearings, staff has indicated that only 1.5 spaces per unit are called for, per the BART Proximate Parking Ordinance. "
You can read more about the pros and cons of this project at O’Brien’s website and in the staff report prepared by the city’s Community Development department in advance of the City Council meeting. The Contra Costa Times also covered the issue back in early October.
Meanwhile, O’Brien believes this issue raises larger questions about city responsiveness to neighborhood concerns about projects and whether the city shows favoritism to developers—over those of residents. Read his commentary, and see what you think, whether you agree with O’Brien or not.
Thanks Tom for raising this question. I know it’s something that’s on the minds of residents, in the wake of the Neiman Marcus controversy. It has also come up as a topic in the series of Community Conversations the city has been holding to prioritize its goals for the future.
Anti-neighborhood bias in Walnut Creek
The questionnaire given to all applicants for the Walnut Creek Planning Commission points out that “frequently, at a public hearing, you will hear testimony only from those opposed to the project," and asks how the applicant would respond. (I sometimes suspect that the preferred answer is that you will listen politely, but not let the ravings of those whining malcontents influence your decision to approve the project.) If the City of Walnut Creek included the neighborhoods in the planning process, public hearings might not be so confrontational. But the City has chosen a different path.
When a developer comes to the City with a new project, the developer and the City Planning staff sit down in private and craft a proposal amenable to both. Staff then works to push the project through the public hearing process. All the neighborhoods can do is to try (often futilely) to voice our concerns over staff-level decisions we never had a say in. The Parkmead neighborhood was put in this position with the Mark Scott homes. Homestead had their battle over the Homestead Hilton. Now it’s the Almond/Shuey’s turn with the “Almond Bungalows."
Without consulting the neighborhood, the City staff decided that the zoning on the lot at the corner of Almond Avenue and Oakland Boulevard could be raised, the parking didn’t need to meet current standards, and the driveway for what is essentially an Oakland Boulevard infill project could be sited on our quiet neighborhood street. From the very first public hearing, these decisions have been presented as settled, and the neighbors’ attempts to have the impacts on our neighborhood mitigated have been rebuffed. Staff has even reinterpreted City codes and ordinances in support of their position. The Design Review and Planning Commissioners have followed along with the Staff’s recommendations – after all, Staff has more credibility than those whining neighborhood malcontents – don’t they? The project has been forwarded to the City Council for final approval.
You can see what we’ve been up against to date at http://www.inertboom.org/bias. Our neighborhood’s final stand will be this Tuesday, November 17th at the City Council meeting. If you agree that neighborhood issues aren’t given a fair hearing in Walnut Creek, please come support us.
Almond/Shuey neighborhood resident.