Posted on Mon, Dec. 01, 2003

Lafayette Homeowners Council likely to sway plan vote

Whether the city of Lafayette continues to be a part of a county-wide growth management process, known as Shaping Our Future, depends on the City Council's vote Dec. 8.

But, as some Shaping Our Future participants have learned, how the council votes may depend on the opinion of the Lafayette Homeowners Council.

The Homeowners Council, an umbrella organization representing roughly 40 Lafayette homeowner associations and neighborhoods, consistently has spoken against Shaping Our Future, calling the process flawed and mismanaged.

Weighing in on such issues is nothing new for the Homeowners Council. Since its founding in the late 1980s, the 15-member group frequently has influenced the direction of Lafayette's growth.

Members have sat on countless commissions and committees, including the General Plan Advisory Committee, of which Homeowners Council founding member Guy Atwood was chairman.

They have contributed to and sat on council re-election campaigns. Council members helped create Lafayette's Redevelopment Agency, shape the hillside/ridgeline ordinance and direct the update of the General Plan. The group was also instrumental in the successful 1995 campaign for Lafayette's $6 million road and drain bond -- the city's first bond.

During hearings to establish the city's Redevelopment Agency, the Homeowners Council lobbied to keep residential neighborhoods out of the redevelopment area. The group also recommended against using eminent domain in residential neighborhoods. The City Council agreed with the group's recommendations in both cases.

"The Homeowners Council was influential in the formation of the hillside/ridgeline ordinances," said 19-year City Council member Don Tatzin. "They are homeowners. They are interested in property rights and not just their own."

Support of the Homeowners Council also ensured approval of the Town Center Apartments, near the BART station, Tatzin said.

"They pay attention to the elections in Lafayette, so they are in turn paid attention to by those people who get elected," City Manager Steve Falk said. "And the Lafayette Homeowners Council has earned that right. They are at every council meeting. They are at every significant political meeting in town."

Mayor Erling Horn said he is listening to what the group says about Shaping Our Future matters because it is representative of Lafayette's residents.

"I have a personal opinion that is somewhat different (about Shaping Our Future), but in this case the people have a different opinion and as an elected representative I have to listen to the people," Horn said. "They want the best for the city and they look at Shaping Our Future as a threat to local control."

By members' rough calculations, the Homeowners Council represents about 3,000 of Lafayette's 10,000 homes.

"The Council really got together as an outgrowth of the individual homeowners associations that didn't have the time or the energy to work on issues of interest," said Guy Atwood, a 35-year Lafayette resident. "Individual associations were not prepared to deal with the larger issues."

Member Lynn Hiden maintains that the people on the Homeowners Council have no more influence on the City Council than any other Lafayette resident.

"That would be nice from our position," Hiden said. "The (City) Council values our opinion but they make up their own minds."

Louise Clark sees things differently. She said her proposed project, which would have brought 73 units of senior housing to a 6.5-acre parcel she owns on Deer Hill Road, was derailed by strong opposition from the Homeowners Council and particularly the Happy Valley Improvement Association, the largest group represented by the Homeowners Council.

She said the project was withdrawn in 2001 because of prohibitive planning fees and pressure from the Improvement Association on the city to deny a subsidy. The Improvement Association opposed the multi-unit project on a low-density residential parcel.

"It is not fair that the (City) Council puts so much weight on the Lafayette Homeowners Council's opinion; I think it is a negative influence," Clark said.

Homeowner Council members say they are dedicated to the preservation of Lafayette's neighborhoods, ridgelines, traffic and safety, and that Shaping Our Future could be contrary to those goals.

The group has sent a representative to every committee meeting and workshop since early 2002, roughly 15 meetings.

The group already has had influence, said Shaping Our Future's project manager.

"There have been changes to the principles of agreement, as a result of this particular group," Don Blubaugh said. "Early on it became clear that Lafayette is very sensitive about its general plan, and as a result we made sure Shaping Our Future was aligned with those goals."

Reach Meera Pal at 925-284-4728 or

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