Council puts brakes on Rancho Hills Drive project

Suzanne Rodriguez shows a list of foreclosed homes in Gilroy to

The Gilroy City Council has pushed the pause button on a
controversial 71-home development slated for the foothills of
northwest Gilroy. Full article
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The Gilroy City Council has pushed the pause button on a controversial 71-home development slated for the foothills of northwest Gilroy.

By a 4-3 vote, the Council chose to delay approving a crucial final element for the project, located along Rancho Hills Drive, following weeks of protests from neighbors, including roughly a dozen who voiced their frustration Monday night at City Hall. In all, about 60 residents were present.

By state law, the Council was obligated to approve the project’s final map because city staff determined it was in compliance with the tentative map, which the Council approved in January 2007 and gave new life to in October 2010 when it renewed the development’s expired allotments through the city’s residential development ordinance.

Only Mayor Al Pinheiro and Councilmen Dion Bracco and Peter Arellano were sitting Council members when the tentative map was approved, but all current Council members except for Peter Leroe-Munoz sat on the dais when the RDO allotments were extended last year.

Arellano made a three-pronged motion Monday night calling for the Council to delay its vote until an Aug. 1 meeting, for the city attorney to learn if legal action could be brought against the state and to allow an outside party to review analysis of the tentative and final maps to make sure the project should indeed move forward.

“I am not saying our city engineer is incompetent,” Arellano said. “I am asking for a third-party engineer to give me some input.”

Arellano made the motion to approve the project’s tentative map during the Council’s Jan. 22, 2007 meeting, according to city records.

City Administrator Tom Haglund said Monday he had no idea how much it would cost the city to hire an outside party nor could he say how quickly they would be found.

“I can’t guarantee it would get done in two weeks,” Haglund said. “The quicker you’re going to try to turn it around, the more it’s going to cost.”

Haglud said the city had already hired an outside group – Harris & Associates – to review the maps for “technical correctness” before the Council’s vote.

Arellano, along with Woodward, Leroe-Munoz and Councilwoman Cat Tucker voted in favor of the motion Monday night.

Pinheiro, Bracco and Councilman Bob Dillon were against it.

Woodward reminded those in attendance before the vote that only Pinheiro, Bracco and Arellano were sitting Council members when the tentative map was approved in 2007.

“This is a failure of the Council. And I share in the blame on this. I never saw this coming,” said Woodward, who was elected in November 2007.

Tucker called the process of reviewing development “flawed,” and said residents should have been notified when the project’s RDO allotments were renewed.

While neighbors living with 300 feet of the development were given a heads up by the city before the project’s tentative map was approved in 2007, they were not notified when the project was renewed more than three years later.

“In reality, this is a very complicated situation here,” Tucker said.

Later, Bracco said there was “a lot of political wiggling around going on up here tonight.”

Pinheiro said it was ludicrous not to trust city staff that the final map should be approved.

“There’s no way. There’s no way I am going to support that (the motion),” Pinheiro said. “We’ve got to start trusting our process. This is nothing new for us.”

Dillon also voiced his “No” vote, saying stalling the decision was “ridiculous.”

“We all know we have to do this. We’re going to get our shorts sued off if we don’t approve this,” he said.

City Attorney Linda Callon said legal action from the developers – the Glen Loma Corporation and the Arcadia Development Company – was likely if the Council refused to approve the project.

The Council must take action on the project’s final map at its Aug. 1 meeting to stay in line with California law, Callon said. She said the decision before the Council was not discretionary.

In a July 5 letter sent to Haglund from John Filice of the Glen Loma Corporation, Filice wrote that the developers are entitled to the city’s approval without any new or altered conditions.

“We will not accept any modifications,” Filice wrote.

If the Council were to deny the final map, more than $3.5 million in fee revenues would vanish, according to Filice, and some private and public jobs would be lost.

“Today some residents on Rancho Hills Drive do not want neighbors across the street and, at the twelfth hour, they want the rest of the community to pay for it,” he wrote.

For almost two months, residents have sent more than 370 letters to city officials and called for the Council to either delay its vote on the development or decline the project altogether to save the area’s green, wildlife-laden foothills.

Resident Tom Espersen said the Council exceeded its authority when it renewed the project’s expired allotments.

“That is not your job,” Espersen said. “It was dead, dead, dead, dead, dead. You should have taken the RDOs back and re-competed them.”

Moinca Hotak told the Council there were two reasons people moved to Gilroy: the sense of community and the beautiful landscape.

“Now what I am hearing is that you guys are going to take it away,” Hotak said.

Resident Tim Bilyk said the Gilroy Police Department already couldn’t keep up with crime in his area, including recurring vandalism to his Christmas decorations. More homes and more residents would stretch police even thinner, Bilyk said.

“You can’t control the people who live there now,” he said.

Sue Gassler said the Council needed to remember that it worked for the residents of Gilroy.

“The community is who you’re serving,” she said. “It’s like this: You are my housekeeper. We are sovereign over you.”

Other residents said they feared property values would drop if homes dotted the foothills, an area many understood to be open space and protected from development.

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