The Pleasanton City Council on Tuesday voted to place an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would in effect ban Costco from building its proposed 148,000-square-foot membership store on Johnson Drive.
The vote followed the county registrar of voters' certification of a petition by Citizens for Planned Growth to limit the size of new retail buildings on a 40-acre commercial property on Johnson Drive along the east side of I-680 to no more than 50,000 square feet. Two hotels also planned for the site would still be allowed, although it's unclear if they are part of Costco's development plan.
The proposed measure would become part of the city's General Plan if approved by a simple majority of those voting on the issue on Nov. 8.
The council's 4-0 decision came at the end of a three-hour public meeting and after a surprise announcement by Mayor Jerry Thorne that he would not participate in the hearing or cast any votes because he owns Costco stock.
"Although this meeting is really about whether we're going to allow buildings on Johnson Drive greater than 50,000 square feet or not, I'm going to recuse myself because I found that my stock portfolio includes Costco shares," Thorne told a packed council chamber.
He then stepped down from the dais and turned the meeting over to Vice Mayor Kathy Narum.
More than 50 of those at the hearing also addressed the council. Most favored putting the question of changing the current zoning to ban big-box stores like Costco on the ballot and a majority also said they didn't want Costco to build a store in Pleasanton. They said Costco members could just as easily drive to Costco stores in Danville and Livermore without adding traffic congestion in west Pleasanton.
Bill Wheeler, owner of Black Tie Transportation and the driving force behind the citizen coalition, told the council that Costco would bring too much traffic to Johnson Drive where his business is located.
"It isn't the only choice for the site and not the best choice," he said. He added that smaller businesses, including restaurants and hotels, would provide more jobs and serve those in the Tri-Valley who aren't Costco members.
"I about fell out of my chair when I heard Costco wanted to build on Johnson Drive," said John Ryan, another speaker. "If that happens, I won't be worrying so much about traffic, I'll be worrying about fatalities."
Kevin Goebel, general manager of the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel, also located on Johnson Drive, said a Costco store "will create traffic nightmares" in that part of Pleasanton.
But Scott Raty, president of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, disagreed.
"We support development, and this would be a catalyst for new businesses in our city, new jobs, increased tax revenue and provide funds for needed traffic improvements," he said.
Nancy Harrington said a local Costco would keep the tax dollars in Pleasanton that are now being spent at its stores in Danville and Livermore.
Another speaker warned that if big-box stores are not banned, Costco could get all the approvals it needs and then sell the site to Walmart, which he claimed would like to build one of its superstores here.
Dave Rand, an attorney representing Costco, urged the council to provide a detailed report on the traffic and financial impact the store would bring to Pleasanton, which members of an economic redevelopment task force have prepared. With that information, they could make an educated decision in voting on the Nov. 8 measure, Rand said.
City Attorney Dan Sodergren and City Manager Nelson Fialho said they will prepare that report for the council to read and approve next month. They will then make it available to the public on the city's website.