Opponents of a possible bid by Costco to build a new membership-only retail store on Johnson Drive in Pleasanton filed a petition with the City Clerk's Office on Tuesday to place an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would ban stores that large from being built there.
Karen Gonzales, Pleasanton's deputy city clerk, said her office began an initial count Tuesday of boxes of petitions containing signatures of registered voters who support the initiative.
If the number of signatures appears sufficient, the signed petitions will be sent to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, whose office will examine the signatures against its list of registered voters in Pleasanton to determine their accuracy.
Based on the Alameda County Registrar's 154-day report of voter registration for the primary election held on June 7, there were 40,154 registered voters in the city. At least 10% of those voters must have signed the petitions to have the initiative placed on the ballot.
The citizens' coalition that is backing the referendum claims it has the signatures of more than 7,000 residents who stated that they are registered voters.
The group, Citizens for Planned Growth, wants to ban stores over 50,000 square feet from locating on the site.
"We are concerned that the (city) commissions and council have not listened to the people, and we want everyone to have a say in what happens in their community," said Bill Wheeler, owner of Black Tie Transportation, which has its operations on Johnson Drive next to the proposed big-box site. "This initiative will simply give Pleasanton citizens the right to vote on a zoning decision that affects a large percentage of the population."
The initiative, if placed on the November general election ballot and approved by a majority of voters, would prohibit construction of big-box retail stores on the 40-acre Johnson Drive site, but it would allow other potential developers including several hotel interests to build there.
Retailers with stores under 50,000 square feet also could build there, including another Walmart grocery store and Trader Joe's, which have indicated interests in the site.
The site, once occupied by a Clorox research center that has since been torn down, is currently under consideration by a city-appointed task force as an economic development site that would change its zoning to allow major new development, including Costco-size retail stores.
Wheeler has been an outspoken opponent of allowing big-box stores on the site, particularly Costco.
"The area identified for the Johnson Drive EDZ (Economic Development Zone) is currently designated as 'Business Park' and 'General and Limited Industrial' in the city of Pleasanton's 2005 General Plan which allows for high-quality, campus-like development, including administrative, professional office, research and limited industrial uses," Wheeler said.
The city's new zoning plan, however, would amend the General Plan to allow several new uses, including a large "club retail" store, he added.
"Some of the new uses would generate significantly greater traffic and air quality impacts," Wheeler said. "The significant and unavoidable traffic impacts and related air quality impacts associated with some land-uses will significantly reduce the suitability of the area for (other) uses."
Speaking at a recent Planning Commission meeting, Wheeler said that in spite of statements by Mayor Jerry Thorne that the rezoning effort will get a full public hearing, "It seems like the project is proceeding without adequate public input."
"It is already being talked about as a 'done deal,'" Wheeler said. "At a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting, I personally heard Dan Rosenbaum from Nearon say, 'Costco has signed the lease. They are here.'"
"What we've seen from the informal polling that we've done in the last few months is that what the Pleasanton community overwhelmingly doesn't want is 'more' -- more traffic, more big box, more congestion, more crime, more pollution," he added.
If the citizens' initiative qualifies for a November vote, it's likely that the City Council could place the proposed Economic Development Zone plan also on the ballot for voter approval. That would be like the dueling Measures PP and QQ over hillside development that went to voters several years ago where the majority number of votes won the day.
It could be the same with a November vote if there are competing initiatives facing Pleasanton voters on the Johnson Drive zoning issue.