It was standing room only at Danville's Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night, as hundreds of residents turned out to learn about and comment on the draft 2030 General Plan. Many carried signs and cheered loudly as speakers called for change, transparency and local control.
"We want to be a small town, not a city. And we were successful...now the town and people who live in it are under a much greater threat of outside control," resident John Bruhl said, questioning the One Bay Area plan. "What good is it, why do we need it? We don't want it and we'd like (the Town Council) to push against it."
Several dozen speakers expressed concern about transit-oriented planning initiatives One Bay Area/Plan Bay Area, state mandated low-income housing allocation and the development of open space and agricultural land. Many residents, including members of the Save Open Space Danville group, chided town officials for circumventing Measure S, which requires a resident vote on requested land use designation changes to the town's General Plan.
The Save Open Space Danville initiative aims to end the sunset clause on Measure S (it's set to expire in 2020) and prevent zoning that organizers feel is wrong for agricultural or open space land. Under the 2030 plan, developers still need to request a land use change if they would like to develop more structures on land zoned for agricultural uses or as open space, though residents would not vote on the process without petitioning.
The plan also encourages clustered residential development to keep homes off hills and ridgelines, changes zoning regulations after lands subject to the Williamson Act -- an agricultural preservation act which expires after 10 years or whenever the landowner decides -- expire, allowing for one house per five acre (A-2) zoning. Lands currently subject to the Williamson Act are zoned for one home per 20 acres (A-4).
In a quick straw poll, only three people were in favor of passing the 2030 General Plan and nearly every speaker encouraged the town to strike all portions of the One Bay Area plan from the planning document or return all zoning ordinances for agricultural lands to 2010 plan standards. Some worried about the future of Danville's small-town feel, single family home neighborhoods and the environmental and social impacts of so-called "stack and pack" low-income housing which is expect to bring the town's population to 46,810 by 2030.
Town of Danville officials reiterated that the draft 2030 plan is mainly a factual update that reflects plans and programs that have been developed over the past 12 years, including demographic changes as well as changes in state laws and mandates. Although Consulting City Planner Barry Miller said General Plan 2030 incorporates language about Measure S, residents repeatedly said the town was legislating the agricultural land that the measure protects out of existence.
"What you're proposing here is a blatant and transparent attempt to overrule the will of Danville voters. The 2030 General Plan simply designates (agricultural land) as a special area of concern and encourages development," said former council candidate Bob Nealis. "Mayor Arnerich is fond to say that Danville did not happen by mistake, it happened by careful planning. The question is who's doing the planning here. You're taking the right away from the voters that they gave themselves and that is abhorrable."
Still, Miller and other town officials assured attendees that the2030 plan will continue to articulate the town's current policy of clustering homes in a way that preserves hillsides and ridgelines. "The General Plan provides direction as to where the minimum number of homes may be clustered. The language in the plan is important in protecting property rights and achieving Danville's goals," Miller added.
In addition to what SOS-Danville member Todd Gary called a "cat and mouse game" surrounding agricultural land, speakers urged the Planning Commission and town officials to remove itself from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and disregard its regional housing needs allocation (RHNA). RHNA numbers require that the town designate a minimum of 7.9 acres that may be used for affordable housing; the General Plan cites 14 "opportunity sites" to be considered for higher density housing. The potential sites are generally located along Interstate 680 in downtown and commercial areas, and were selected because of their proximity to shopping and transportation.
"Whether we appreciate it or not, the state and regulatory entities…have become increasingly involved at the local level. Danville has been, I believe, very proactive and very consistent in trying to deal with this dynamic," said Town Manager Joe Calabrigo. "Membership in ABAG is what allows the town to represent Danville's best interest and influence the process to keep these numbers as low as they can be. If we don't do this, these numbers will be assigned to us directly by the state."
Opponents of ABAG and potential low-income, high-density housing within Danville's downtown priority development area (PDA) said the housing units will be magnets for crime, congestion and will turn the town into a "crowded, poor 'eco-village.'" One resident compared Danville's future with such housing to the decay of Newark, NJ and said she foresaw a "tsunami of perversion."
"If you allow this to go through, I give it five years and we won't be able to drive down the streets of Danville safely," said Joan Byko.
While some said the private developers who would potentially build affordable housing would be cronies who weren't dedicated to sustainability and others questioned whether clustered development downtown would improve traffic, resident Kim Holmes encouraged residents to work together regardless of political agenda and "grow smart."
"If we are going to be recruiting low income people… we need to think about how are they going to be received by the community, how they are going to be received in schools," she said.
Amid discussion of affordable housing and Measure S, a handful of speakers expressed a variety of beliefs on global warming the need for transit-oriented, smart development. Concurrent with the General Plan update, the town prepared a Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) that shows how the Danville and residents can support a statewide effort to reduce greenhouse gases. The SAP focuses on practices and programs that are already underway, such as recycling and Street Smarts, but is entirely incentive based and not mandatory as part of the update process.
The 2030 General Plan Update has been a two-year effort that has included over 26 public meetings. In the next phase of the process where the draft General and Sustainability Action plans and draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) are available for public review, the Planning Commission will hold another public hearing on Jan. 8, 2013 to discuss any policy or map changes and receive public comment on the draft EIR. The Commission will also hold a meeting on Jan. 22 to possibly consider a resolution to send to the Town Council, which would then hear the resolution on Feb. 5.