MARTINEZ, Calif. – Following the guidance of Senior Assistant City Attorney Veronica Nebb, Martinez City Council agreed Wednesday to delay its decision on the Vine Hill Way development for a week, so the full panel could vote on the matter.
The three attending Councilmembers were split after hearing presentations by appellant Tim Platt, a member of Friends of Pine Meadow, who wants the privately-owned former golf course used for a park or open space, Dana Tsubota, attorney for developer DeNova Homes, and multiple members of the public.
Since Vice Mayor Lara DeLaney had a previous commitment and Mark Ross was absent for medical reasons, only Mayor Rob Schroder and Councilmembers Noralea Gipner and Debbie McKillop attended the special meeting. Because of the absences, all three present needed to be in agreement if Platt’s appeal were to be rejected, Nebb said.
But Gipner, who has long advocated for a local residential development that targeted older residents, said she would vote against the plan to put 92 single-family homes on the 25-acre site at 451 Vine Hill Way.
“I support housing at Pine Meadows, but not this project,” she said.
“The city has too much missing information,” she said, adding that lack of housing development has aggravated both the city’s homeless population situation as well as dramatic increases in housing prices. “The state is mandating housing,” she added.
In fact, it was state regulations, not the opportunity to decide the development in advance of Tuesday’s elections, which prompted Wednesday’s special meeting, which heard an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the development’s documents, Mayor Rob Schroder said.
“The council did not rush this, I did,” Tsubota said. “We had a permit streamlining act violation. We needed this heard. This had been sitting for six months longer than it was supposed to.”
The city was falling behind California scheduling regulations to make a decision on the application for the mitigated negative declaration, initial study and vesting tentative map, and had been told it was out of compliance.
Schroder said Martinez is rich in parks, but not in affordable housing.
Instead of fighting over the golf course’s future, McKillop urged residents instead to focus instead on saving the much larger Alhambra Highlands, acreage that already has been approved for a housing development. However, its owners and developers have been negotiating with the city for possible purchase to preserve as open space land once owned by famed environmentalist John Muir, who frequently walked in that area.
Happy that DeNova Homes has chosen to preserve a tree favored by neighboring residents, McKillop said she was ready to give the project her approval.
But Gipner has said frequently she wanted to see a subdivision designed so older residents could age in place in Martinez, in homes and yards that wouldn’t be too large for them to manage, something that other communities have, but not this city, which has an average age of 47.
“Seniors are valuable,” she said. “The city needs us to stay here.” Nor do older residents drive as much, which would reduce a senior development would have on traffic.
After a recess, during which Nebb researched the city’s and California’s government codes and recent changes in state housing accountability legislation before suggesting the Council delay its decision.
“The state Legislature has been more aggressive,” she said. Its drive to assure adequate housing in California has led to what Nebb called “erosion of local control.”
If a development proposal complies with requirements and is determined to be complete, a local government must find “a preponderance” of evidence that would show it would have significant health and safety impacts before it could deny the application, she said.
“This puts us in a quandary,” she said, advising that delaying until the matter could be heard by the entire Council as “the only way to go.”
On that, all three concurred, and the item is expected to be taken up during the 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, Council meeting.
This project, as well as what should be done with the closed golf course, has been a controversial topic for years.
Christine Dean and her siblings, whose father built the nine-hole course, a tavern and other buildings on the site, inherited the land but eventually closed the unprofitable golf course. Initially, the family offered to sell it to the city, but neither the Council nor a majority of the public wanted to spend city funds on the land. Instead, the Council wanted to spend money on roads, she said.
She said representatives of John Muir Trust and the Sierra Club said the golf course didn’t meet their definitions of “open space.”
She said she never received any offer from someone to buy the golf course and convert it to park land, although she did get an offer to turn it into a marijuana grow.
“Since 2009, we’ve been trying to develop this property,” she said. Finally, Dean interviewed six building contractors.
DeNova didn’t offer her the best price for the land – she said Seeno and other companies had better deals. But DeNova is locally owned, and she preferred their design of single family homes, use of union labor and sustainable approaches. Many of the houses would have auxiliary dwellings or suites that would accommodate aging parents or returning family members, she said.
She disagreed with one citizen’s suggestion that the land become a community gathering place, with the tavern kept open and enhanced with the construction of a general store, a community farm and other amenities. That would be unprofitable, she said.
Platt and members of Friends of Pine Meadow, a citizens group that opposes the housing development, see the matter differently.
The organization has contended that the land has been designated open space since it was annexed. At a Jan. 18, 2017 meeting, city staff concurred, and said DeNova needed to request a General Plan amendment and rezoning before its application could be approved.
But after hearing lengthy presentations that extended the meeting to early the next day, a majority of the Council, excepting DeLaney, agreed with Tsubota’s contention that the property has been designated for the equivalent of the current R-7.5 zoning that would allow housing construction, and not “open space and recreation, permanent” designated with Mixed Use District – Open Space/Recreational Facilities zoning.
Family members concurred with Tsubota, saying they had been paying property taxes on the land at a rate set for residential usage.
Platt has been calling the 2017 Council vote a rewriting of history, and his organization has filed a suit to have the decision overturned. A decision on their suit is pending in court.
Should the Council decide to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision, Martinez could face another suit, Tsubota suggested at the meeting. She stated her objection to the continuance of the decision. “There is no reason for denial,” she said, adding that should the Council uphold Platt’s appeal, her clients “reserve the rights we have.”
The issue is expected to be taken up at the next Council meeting, 7 p.m. Wednesday, in the Council Chamber of Martinez City Hall, 525 Henrietta St.