Two-week Rancho Hills reprieve

Locals cheer after Suzanne Rodriguez finishes speaking to the

This done deal isn’t quite done. After hundreds of critical
letters and nearly two months of ardent pleas from frustrated
residents, the Gilroy City Council has momentarily balked at state
law and spurned the city’s own process, halting a controversial
71-home development destined for the city’s northwest
This done deal isn’t quite done.

After hundreds of critical letters and nearly two months of ardent pleas from frustrated residents, the Gilroy City Council has momentarily balked at state law and spurned the city’s own process, halting a controversial 71-home development destined for the city’s northwest foothills.

A split Council also directed city staff to hire an independent engineer to review the development’s final and tentative maps and asked City Attorney Linda Callon to explore possible legal action against the state.

And the city attorney says all must be finished by the Council’s Aug. 1 meeting.

“I feel that my colleagues violated one of the first rules of politics: You always give bad news immediately,” said Councilman Bob Dillon, who voted against the motion. “We give hope essentially where there is none.”

The Council was obligated to approve the final map for the development, projected for 70.7 acres along Rancho Hills Drive, because city staff found the document was in compliance with the project’s previously approved tentative map, Callon said.

But a coalition to save the wildlife-rich area from development has gained some traction, with residents saying the city didn’t do enough to inform residents of the impending project, especially when the city renewed its expired residential development allotments, first issued in early 2007, in 2010.

“The community is who you’re serving,” said Sue Gassler, who told the Council she had taken a role of spokeswoman against the project. “It’s like this: You are my housekeeper. We are sovereign over you.”

Councilman Peter Arellano made the motion to delay the vote, with Perry Woodward, Cat Tucker and Peter Leroe-Muñoz agreeing.

Dillon, Mayor Al Pinheiro and Councilman Dion Bracco voted against the motion.

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

While neighbors living within 300 feet of the development were given a heads-up before the project’s tentative map was approved in 2007, they were not notified when all the current members of the City Council re-approved the project more than three years later. The renewal vote was 6-1, with then-Councilman Craig Gartman voting no.

Callon said the Council must take action on the map during its Aug. 1 meeting or face potential litigation from the project’s developers, the Glen Loma Corporation and Arcadia Development Company.

Calls to Tim and John Filice of the Glen Loma Corporation have repeatedly not been returned, but in a July 5 letter sent to City Administrator Tom Haglund, John Filice wrote that the developers had met all requirements for approval and that new or altered conditions could not be imposed.

“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 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.

Kristi Abrams, the city’s community development director, said early Thursday evening the project plans had been provided to CSG Consultants. She said she wouldn’t be able to provide a cost estimate until today, as the firm needs to conduct a preliminary check to determine how quickly it will be able to complete the review.

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

“The quicker you’re going to try to turn it around, the more it’s going to cost,” Haglund said.

Only Pinheiro, Bracco and Arellano were sitting Council members when the tentative map was approved – a fact Woodward pointed out prior to Monday’s vote – but all current Council members except for Peter Leroe-Muñoz were on the dais when the RDO allotments were extended last year.

“It’s like joining a discussion that has been going on for a while. You certainly recognize there were decisions made by previous Councils and equally, we have to make decisions that we think are appropriate.” Leroe-Muñoz said. “I can certainly respect what previous Councils thought was best, and now it’s my turn with this Council to decide what we think is best.”

Woodward said he opted to delay the vote after hearing that one resident who opposes the project was given “the bureaucratic shuffle” when trying to receive copies of the tentative and final maps. Resident Tom Espersen said he was originally told by City Development Engineer Daniel Hughes he could purchase full copies of the tentative and final maps, but was later informed those maps were copyrighted and Espersen would instead have to file a public records request to receive smaller copies.

Hughes confirmed the story Monday night.

“They (staff) admit that they caused some confusion and delay over allowing the residents to view the final map,” Woodward said. “To then say to them to contact the city clerk and make a public records request is not how open government works.”

Woodward said he wished he had made his contention clearer Monday night, though he said Wednesday he feared his comments might offend city staff.

“I didn’t want to berate staff at that point, but that was wrong, and it troubled me,” Woodward said of the map confusion. “By all means, let’s give them the time so they can have a fair chance to review them.”

Woodward said he didn’t think the city had any shot at challenging the state legally, but said he voted for the motion because it included the delay.

“That’s why I did what I did. Unless the city engineer is wrong, which I don’t think is the case, nothing’s changed,” Woodward said. “It’s been a two-week delay and we’ll have to approve the final map.”

Bracco said the Council needs to follow the law and immediately vote to approve the map.

“We need to do our job and make a decision,” he said Monday, adding there was “a lot of political wiggling going on up here tonight.”

Approximately 60 residents attended Monday’s council meeting, and 11 more voiced their displeasure during a public comment period.

Espersen accused the Council of exceeding 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.”

Regarding the RDO renewal, William Scheid said, “Nobody knew about it.”

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