Alibi V.16 No.35 • Aug 30-Sept 5, 2007 

Council Watch

What, Exactly, Are You Building?

Whether big-box stores, regulations, ponds or neighborhoods, the motto of the Aug. 20 Council meeting might have been the carpenters' warning, "Measure twice, cut once." Certainly the Raging Grannies, who showed up calling for an end to the disastrous occupation of Iraq, would have advocated more careful upfront planning.

Council President Debbie O'Malley's bill calling for higher standards in the design and traffic management of big-box stores passed 7-2, Councilors Sally Mayer and Don Harris opposed. Harris withdrew a bill authorizing a study of neighborhood and property owners' associations, saying stakeholders were making progress with less formal discussions.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Not Just Any Old "Water Feature"

Steve Wentworth of the Alameda North Valley Association and Larry Caudill of the Wildflower Neighborhood Association appealed the Environmental Planning Commission's approval of a reflecting pond to be built at Balloon Fiesta Park. They said input from groups, including Balloon Fiesta officials, favored changing the ornamental reflecting pond to a multipurpose lake. Wentworth said health and safety "were being ignored in favor of some expensive landscaping."
Councilor Michael Cadigan said the reflecting pond did not meet master plan requirements that the feature be a functional part of a water reuse system, furnish active and passive recreation, or match the master plan drawing. He asked whether the design had received the required permission of the mayor to violate the wastewater ordinance. Assistant City Attorney Kevin Kern thought the mayor had "implicitly approved." The appeal passed 6-3, Councilors Mayer, Ken Sanchez and Craig Loy opposed. Caudill kept referring to what is currently a large, shallow hole in the ground as the "Marc Schiff Memorial Reflecting Pond," a not-very-kind reminder of pond architect Schiff's association with the recent courthouse kickback mess. Unfortunately, the design raises other questions. Balloonists were supposed to see themselves reflected below in the pond, but 75-foot high jets disturbing the water would destroy any reflections. Also, "blinding" might more accurately describe the pond's effect at the wrong sun angles.
We're Greening With You, Not At You

Councilor Isaac Benton said, "We've come a long way since the last meeting." He was referring to the Council's building code energy-conservation bill, which councilors are trying to reconcile with a competing bill put together by a mayoral task force, NAIOP and the Home Builders Association. Bill co-sponsor Councilor Martin Heinrich said the various groups had reached a great deal of unanimity, and that they had isolated the few areas of disagreement.
Co-sponsor Cadigan said they might need more time to work out the last few issues. Several members of the design and development industry thanked the councilors and mayor and encouraged deferment. Benton deferred the bill again until Sept. 5. The implication is that remaining areas of disagreement are few, but important. More public discussion is scheduled for the Aug. 29 Land Use, Planning and Zoning meeting. Ideally people should practice conservation because of integrity, foresight and market pressure rather than regulation. But regulation levels the playing field for builders intent on producing the best, most sustainable houses since it removes many financial incentives for cutting corners on quality. Besides, the main reason regulations are so complicated is that human ingenuity is so good at finding ways around the rules.
Keeping Nob Hill Nobified

After years of work, the Nob Hill Highland Sector Development Plan passed unanimously, updating zoning and building standards for the area bounded by Girard, Lomas, San Mateo and Zuni/Garfield. Zone changes allow mixed-use development and taller buildings adjacent to Central and Lomas, with a goal of greater density along major corridors but less traffic in area neighborhoods.

Design guidelines encourage wider sidewalks, more transit options, bicycle paths, redevelopment of alleys, secure solar access and preservation of historic resources. Street-level commercial buildings will have requirements for lots of windows, awnings and balconies.
During public comment, architect Anthony Anella objected to the ban on drive-up service windows. Anella said his family's property at Girard and Central included the Walgreens lot. He said a pharmacy was different from a fast-food place and that people buying prescriptions needed a drive-up window. Anella said the store, which does not currently have a drive-up prescription window, might move.

Heinrich and other councilors said Nob Hill residents strongly opposed drive-up windows, and they felt obliged to follow the mandate. Two amendments allowing pharmaceutical drive-ups failed, with support from Mayer, Loy, Sanchez and Harris.

The majority of speakers were very supportive. Heinrich summarized the long process and said his Council term would be "remembered, one way or another," for the bill.
Nob Hill is a desirable area. Without some protection, it would probably be overbuilt until desirability disappeared. Heinrich's plan seems to steer the tricky path between overdevelopment, stagnation and the ersatz, mass-produced cuteness typical of some "village street" mall developments. But drive-up pharmacy windows also make sense--they're hardly the same as wheeling up for an order of chili cheese fries.