Presenting the Past: SRV Planning Commission | October 2, 2009 | Danville Express | |

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Living - October 2, 2009

Presenting the Past: SRV Planning Commission

by Beverly Lane

On Feb. 14, 1973, a letter went to Contra Costa County asking it to appoint a Municipal Advisory Council and Regional Planning Commission for the San Ramon Valley. Valley-wide incorporation elections had been unsuccessful in 1964, 1967 and 1973. The letter came from the five people who would have formed the Valley's city council in 1973: Roy Bloss, Claudia Nemir, Brian Thiessen, Richard Kennett and Eric Hasseltine. It began, "Failure of the recent cityhood election in San Ramon Valley has not dulled the sense of community interest throughout the area."

County Director of Planning Anthony A. Dehaesus provided a staff report on Area Planning Commissions (APC) on March 20, 1973. He pointed out that County Supervisors were able to create such commissions by virtue of a state law enacted in 1971. Negatives were increased costs and region-wide issues that such a group would not address. An advantage was increased citizen involvement.

Orinda, Kensington and San Ramon Valley had expressed an interest in APCs and, while Dehaesus recommended against Municipal Advisory Councils, he did believe APCs could be feasible. No councils or commissions were appointed by the County Supervisors at that time. In November 1976, San Ramon Valley again voted on incorporation and again rejected it.

By this time Eric Hasseltine had been elected to represent the Valley as its County Supervisor and he advocated for APCs with his peers who argued about "Balkanizing" planning, increased costs, and a possible local vote to approve such panels. Then Supervisor Bob Schroder of Walnut Creek asked the county counsel to draft an ordinance creating APCs. In June of 1977, the Supervisors approved seven-member area planning commissions in Orinda and the San Ramon Valley. The Valley commission's primary responsibilities would be to review subdivision plans, rezoning requests and land use permits for a 112-square-mile area coterminous with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. It would replace the County Planning Commission in that territory.

There was already a San Ramon Valley Planning Committee appointed by the Valley Chamber of Commerce that reviewed major and minor projects and made recommendations to the County Planning Commission. Another voice that commented on proposed developments was the Valley Action Forum, a coalition of homeowners associations and other concerned groups. Hasseltine himself had been on the SRV Planning Committee for two years.

Hasseltine set up a review board and asked it to recommend appointees for the new commission. He called for candidates with the "initiative, time, motivation and, hopefully, the experience." Andrew Young, an Alamo resident on the County Planning Commission, would serve on the new SRV panel, so six more members would be appointed; 51 people applied.

The review board was composed of three local businessmen, Jim Graham, Charles Lowell and Jack Marzluft. They presented six names to Hasseltine on Sept. 6, 1977: John Meakin (San Ramon), Linda Best (Alamo), Dick Kennett (San Ramon), Juanita Burow (Danville), John Olander (Diablo) and Nelson Wright (Danville). Upon his recommendation, the Board of Supervisors appointed them.

Beginning Oct. 1, 1977, the SRV Area Planning Commission was in business. Usually meeting in the board room at the School District's Education Center, it dealt with small and large planning projects, and meetings sometimes lasting into the wee hours of the night. Linda Best recalled that meeting until 1 a.m. was not unusual and that an especially memorable one ended at 4 a.m.

Coverage of the commission meetings in the Valley Pioneer was extensive. Planning densities, developer fees for schools and parks, a possible ridgeline ordinance, traffic improvements and fire district requests for fewer cul de sacs were just a few considerations. At a November 1977 meeting, Eve Auch of the Alamo Improvement Association stated that the APC was created to preserve their quality of life and "we ask that you protect us." Also at that meeting planner Harvey Bragdon said the commission had 200 items in the hopper and some of them were big ones. One new commissioner was quoted as saying on Nov. 30, "Good lord!"

The commission discussed proposed large developments at the Creeks of Alamo north of Stone Valley, Twin Creeks in San Ramon, Sycamore Valley in Danville and Canyon Lakes in San Ramon. In the early 1990s, Dougherty Valley development was the topic, with 11,000-13,000 homes finally approved. Aware of the significance of this project region-wide, the Supervisors set up joint hearings on Dougherty Valley by both the SRV Area and County Planning Commissions. Only the County Planning Commission made final recommendations to the Board.

Several of the commissioners went on to serve on local city councils, including Susanna Schlendorf, Dick Kennett, John Meakin, Barry Nudelman and Pat Boom.

Thirty-two years later, the Supervisors ended the commission. Danville and San Ramon had incorporated in the early 1980s, and Alamo was to have a Municipal Advisory Council. An urban limit line now restricted development in much of the rest of the Valley. Private citizen Eric Hasseltine was again present at the Board of Supervisor's meeting, and this time he said, "It's time to let the area planning commissions sunset."

Sources: Tri-Valley News, June and July, 1977; Valley Pioneer, June to December, 1977; Danville Weekly Aug. 14, 2009; museum archives

Beverly Lane is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon" and "Vintage Danville: 150 Years of Memories."


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