The Pleasanton City Council approved the first update of the city’s Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) in more than a decade on a 4-0 vote on Aug. 20.

A city-appointed task force worked for two years on the proposed language of the new DSP prior to the council’s vote, and email response about the plan has been high.

Debate during the meeting focused on several specific issues, including maximum building height, new housing, and the future of the current Civic Center site.

The council took a series of votes at the meeting on various aspects of the plan, with Vice-mayor Karla Brown voting against them, although she did join the others in approving the overall plan. Brown’s dissent on the individual votes had mainly to do with her preference for lower building height allowances.

There are three zoning districts in the DSP. One is Downtown Commercial, which is along Main Street. New commercial has to be on the main floor in that district, but a range of uses may exist on upper floors. Residences already there may remain and be remodeled. There will be a 40-foot height limit.

The second district is Mixed-Use Downtown. The intent here is to encourage a “more dynamic” area in the south Downtown, including a hotel, entertainment, and food halls. The height limit is 40 feet. A maximum of 124 residential units are permitted in the district.

The third use is Mixed-Use Transitional, which incorporates lower-intensity commercial uses with residential areas. The primary location is between Main Street and Peters Avenue. Retail, banking institutions, personal services and food establishments are examples.

Residences, including historical homes, may remain and be remodeled or enlarged. The maximum building height is 36 feet.

Brown’s disagreements came when some of those specific areas were discussed and voted on. In general, she wanted lower height and story limits, but Mayor Jerry Thorne and Councilmembers Jerry Pentin and Kathy Narum preferred the standards that were approved as final.

Councilmember Julie Testa left the room before the council discussion began, because of a conflict of interest ruling by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Testa told the audience that because a sliver of her property line is within 500 feet of the boundary of the DSP, she would have a conflict of interest in voting on approving the entire plan, or even discussing it with the council.

Before leaving the chamber, Testa said that she will be allowed to cast votes on projects within the DSP as they come before the council. Those projects will be more than 500 feet from Testa’s property line, so there would be no conflict there.

Residents turned out to speak for more than an hour at the audience rostrum, including a dramatic speech by former Councilmember and Mayor Tom Pico.

Pico said he had not been to a council meeting in 14 years, and the last time the council discussed the DSP, he was a downtown property owner and had to recuse himself like Testa.

But he was clear in his strong opposition to an idea that some have proposed, namely locating a new Civic Center outside the DSP, where the current one exists north of Bernal Avenue and south of Old Bernal Avenue.

Pico was referring to what is called the Bernal Property, land south of Bernal Avenue that has been reserved by the city for park and open space use.

“That (shifting of the Civic Center location) will never happen. If the city thinks it will approve an office complex there, good luck. It’s not going to happen,” said Pico.

Pico said that if the public gets a chance to vote on the decision, voters won’t approve it.

He added that the same is true for building a new library to replace the current large structure next to City Hall. “Do we need to build a big mega-library, or a branch library, like Livermore has?” said Pico, adding that Pleasanton needs to study the library needs, including any advantage a branch library would have for the community. “We are talking about major pillars here, for example, about moving the police station.”

Pico, who serves on the county Local Agency Formation Commission, said that the agency has had a drive to consolidate public agencies. He said merging the Pleasanton and Livermore police departments could work out as well as the merger of Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department has done. There should be a study, and not an automatic assumption that there should be a new police headquarters in Pleasanton, he said.

Representatives of the business community backed the DPS.

Steve Baker, who was on the DPS Task Force, said that although some council members may have judged by their email flow from critics of the staff recommendation to adopt the DSP and the height limits in it, the backing of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and the Pleasanton Downtown Association should carry more weight with the council. The merchants are the ones most impacted by commercial policies and have a financial stake in it, said Baker.