Plans to develop a new city hall adjacent to Central Park received unanimous approval from the San Ramon City Council Tuesday night, as well as overall support from residents.
The Council approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which outlines the terms and conditions under which Sunset Development Company, which owns Bishop Ranch, will design and construct a 45,000 square foot City Hall building. The agreement will also allow for renovation of the San Ramon library located at 100 Montgomery Street.
"San Ramon has a rich history in the Valley of great partnerships and I think this is an example of one of those partnerships," San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson said.
The new, two-story facility will be developed at the southeast corner of Central Park at Bollinger Canyon Road as part of the long awaited City Center project. The building will be nearly triple the size of the current City Hall and include a larger council chambers, public meeting rooms and a large lobby, City Manager Greg Rogers said.
"I think this is a great, positive step, lord knows we've been waiting for the time to come when the markets have been freed up a bit," said Sunset President Alexander Mehran. "We're committed to the City Center project, we think it's a big project for Bishop Ranch, for San Ramon and indeed for the Tri-Valley."
City Hall will be financed using $14.8 million owed by Sunset, Rogers said. The development company purchased an 11-acre lot adjacent to Central Park for $7.3 million and several years ago purchased a parcel across the street for $7.5 million, on which the city was collecting interest. Rogers said the city hopes to have $1.4 million left over for library renovation.
"We're going to end up with set of civic uses that are all together instead of having civic uses all spread out," Rogers said, adding that the community center, library and fire station will be nearby. "Usually something that's desirable."
Although plans for the City Center have been debated for years, residents representing a variety of interests -- including slow growth groups -- expressed approval for the new development. Resident Jim Gibbon, an oft vocal opponent of development and a member of San Ramon for Open Government, said he supports plans for a new city hall.
"Over time this city will be transformed with the economy coming back. It would be unforgivable for city to not grow with that downtown and become....a 21st century city hall," he said.
City Council Candidate Thomas von Thury is running on a no-growth platform and told Council that the nature and scope of the city hall or City Center project isn't well known among residents. He suggested that Council conduct more outreach and defer a vote on the city hall project until after the Nov. 5 election.
Resident Lowell Lamb agreed that the city hall project wasn't well known.
"As we get close to pulling trigger, I think it's really important to reconnect with voters and a great way to do that is to put these projects on the ballot and let the voters participate in these big decisions," he said.
Councilmember Scott Perkins said that the process for putting items on a ballot is "long arduous and expensive...the process and progress you make on those things becomes extraordinary slow."
City Center has been the subject of litigation for many years and, most recently, was put on hold because of the economic downturn. One resident said she was tired of the ongoing debate.
"Somebody's got to make a decision to start doing something now," said Roz Rogoff, a blogger for the Express. "Make a decision as soon as you can...I don't think we should just keep dragging this out forever."
Former Mayor Abram Wilson said the city and developers would be making a "drastic mistake" by building a new city hall and renovating the existing library.
"I think we have this backward, we should be putting new library where city hall is proposed and moving city hall into the library because the city hall...is open at 8:30 and closes at 5. Enhancing a community building where it could be used 24/7 is the most important thing," Wilson said, adding that the library should enhance the presence of its large jazz collection.
The MOU outlines a six-month design period followed by construction of city hall specifically, a process that Rogers said will take well over a year. The rest of the City Center project -- approximately 2 million square feet of hotel, retail and office space -- is set to break ground next year.
Now that the MOU has been approved, Sunset is obligated to make minor modifications to City Center entitlements and amend Bishop Ranch and Chevron Park development agreements, among other things. The city of San Ramon must also apply for and process approvals and permits, and process text amendments.
The city is also looking into relocating the basketball courts, which sit on the footprint of the planned city hall. The courts are used year-round, 24 hours a day, said Karen McNamara, interim parks and community services director.
"With 44 acres, there's a lot of space in the park, needless to say they will fit," she said. "The city would have to be sensitive relative to relocation of those and the possible impact noise and light could have past the regular 10 p.m. hour."
McNamara identified four locations where the basketball courts could be relocated -- two sites are located adjacent to Iron Horse Middle School, near Bishop Ranch and Transit Center bathrooms. The use of these sites would remove one soccer field from use. Other cites are located near the fire station and Councilmember Perkins suggested reconfiguring the courts in an area at the corner of Bollinger Canyon Road and Alcosta Boulevard known as the meadow.
"It could be determined at some future point, and it's not necessarily on the table, that (the basketball courts) might be more suited to shut down earlier," McNamara noted.
"Basketball courts are not in a very good spot right now for what was planned for City Center," Rogers said, adding that developers were looking at a hotel or higher end condos for the area. "It was kind of a thing that may have had to be relocated anyway to another spot in the park as City Center developed."
Rogers added that a new city hall was originally planned for a different portion of the City Center site, but the $40 million, 110,000 square foot building plus parking garage was deemed too expensive.