Air quality, dust control and the need for better communication were among the themes during a three-hour-plus public workshop on the Faria Preserve housing development hosted by the San Ramon City Council on Wednesday.
San Ramon planning staff and representatives from private developer CalAtlantic, which owns the Faria Preserve site, joined together to give a short presentation and proceed into a question-and-answer session with local residents about the project, which the council approved nearly two years ago as a 740-home development.
All five councilmen were present Wednesday evening but did not participate during the discussion that took place a day after the council indicated its intent to adopt an initiative ordinance that could allow the residential project to be reduced by 122 homes.
Located near Interstate 680 north of Crow Canyon Road, east of Bollinger Canyon Road, the development would sit behind existing houses and apartments in the Deerwood neighborhood. Faria Preserve home construction hasn't started, but grading and dirt-hauling has begun.
"This is a large project," CalAtlantic representative Kerri Watt said, explaining that the entire development will take about six years to be constructed.
Corrective on-site grading, which is currently in progress, is expected to be finished by the end of next year, but some of the key grading near neighboring homes will be completed in three to six weeks, according to Watt.
Phase one of the new Faria Preserve Parkway is tentatively scheduled to begin this fall and take six to nine months to build. Phase one of neighborhood development is set to start next spring, according to CalAtlantic officials.
A new initiative ordinance, which is on track for adoption by the council rather than heading to city voters, would allow the developer to apply to reduce the project's Neighborhood 5 from 302 units down to 180 -- which would put the overall project at 618 homes instead of the approved 740.
The result of a public petition organized by former City Councilwoman Carol Rowley and Sentinels of Freedom CEO Mike Conklin, the initiative proposal would also allow for all 180 homes in Neighborhood 5 to be sold at market rate and for the developer to pay a per-unit fee into a new city affordable housing fund instead of building affordable apartments that were previously approved.
About 40 people attended the council's Faria Preserve workshop, which lasted about three hours and 20 minutes Wednesday evening in the Terrace Room of the San Ramon Community Center.
Attendees received lists of frequently asked questions along with a printed version of the meeting's visual presentation, which included topics such as the project's approval process, regulatory and local agency permits, construction status, and visual maps of the grading process and the landscape plan.
One of the most frequently discussed topics of the evening was the project's methods of dust control and whether air quality in the surrounding neighborhoods is up to standard given the amount of dust in neighbors' backyards.
Michael Jones, who lives behind the project, said he measures the amount of dust that is coming through his backyard by looking at his dog's water bowl.
"Every single morning, I have to clean it out because it has a residue of dirt at the bottom, and every single night, I have to clean it out again," Jones said.
Much of the dust is coming from the grading that is involved in the initial construction of the neighborhood. According to the developer, approximately six million cubic yards of dirt will be moved in the process but it is anticipated that all of the cut and fill will remain on-site.
Neighbors expressed complaints Wednesday regarding a keyway -- a graded cut into an existing embankment -- that backs to many of the existing homes and has caused more dust problems. The keyways are in place to reach rock or firm material, and once they are formed, the graded cut is then backfilled with compacted soil material to stabilize the slope, according to the developer.
"We are trying to be responsive to your concerns and comments," Watt said, adding the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has visited the project site twice.
"Air Management has found us in compliance with all of our dust control measures," Watt said. "However, we understand that people have concerns beyond that. In response to continuing concerns, we've tried to use additional measures to control the dust."
Watt said crews have added more water trucks in response to concerns. The developer has also added tackifiers to the truck with the hopes of keeping the dust levels down, and will be adding additional stabilizers to the earth slopes that have already been completed, she said.
However, many residents in attendance did not seem satisfied with the answer.
One man approached the CalAtlantic team with three photographs of the dirt on the windows of his house, saying that his children, ages 4 and 1, can't go out and play because of the dust levels.
Another resident, a man who lives on Claremont Crest Court, said he had concerns about construction workers who looked like they were living in a trailer at the project site.
"There are people living up on the hill," he said. "There's a trailer, they live in the trailer, there's three people, a husband and wife that I met personally," he said.
The CalAtlantic representatives did not seem to be aware of the situation and said that they would be looking into it.
Other talking points raised by neighbors included solutions to what they suspected would be an increase in traffic, as well as overcrowding problems that could arise in the local schools since there is not a new school planned on site.
Eric Figueroa, assistant city manager, told the residents the city is not in charge of determining issues related to the schools' population or facility needs, but instead, that is the job of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, which was present during the project's approval process.
Many speakers also said they have noticed a lack of communication throughout the whole process.
While Watt and CalAtlantic colleague Bridgit Koller gave community members their contact information, neighbors in attendance thought there should be one specific contact person from CalAtlantic who is solely in charge of meeting and communicating with neighbors.
Former San Ramon mayor Greg Carr said the city and the developer needed to create a person who could work full-time to meet the needs and concerns of residents being affected by the development.
"Someone who is going to go over, understand their problem, understands yours, and is going to try to find a solution," Carr said.
Editor's note: Amanda Morris is a freelance writer for DanvilleSanRamon.com.