Some Oakley residents have filed a referendum petition in hopes of stopping a proposed development by a prominent Contra Costa County homebuilder.
The petition prevents the City Council from approving Discovery Builders' 34-home development proposal along Knox Lane called Cedarwood Estates. If the required number of signatures are validated, the council could either place the referendum on an election ballot in 2010 or repeal its decision to rezone the land.
Knox Lane resident Robert Fierros said the petition resulted from a lack of response to several e-mails sent to council members after a Sept. 8 council meeting.
Residents have complained that the proposed development would not conform to the surrounding neighborhood because of the use of flag lots — square parcels accessible only by a long driveway. Many say the lots also would create traffic hazards and could pose problems for emergency service vehicles.
Other concerns include the number of homes proposed for the nearly 15-acre parcel.
"We're still looking for lower density and a different plan," Fierros said. "Council wasn't acting on us, so we had to do something."
More than 1,600 people signed the petition to halt the approval process, according to resident Paul Seger. The petition, filed in mid-September, must be signed by 1,401 registered Oakley voters to qualify for the ballot. The Contra Costa Elections Department has until the end of October to certify the petition.
Councilwoman Pat Anderson said the council will wait until the petition is certified before discussing the development. She pointed out that the petition likely will cost the city money— either for potential zoning changes or to place the referendum on the ballot. If certified, it could cost the city thousands of dollars.
"There are financial implications, no matter what," she said.
Seger contends the city should require Discovery Builders, owned by Albert Seeno III, to pay the cost of the referendum. He believes the city is attempting to cast a shadow on the residents' efforts by focusing on potential costs instead of their concerns.
"It's a way for them not to confront a growing concern from the public," Seger said.
Representatives from Discovery Builders did not respond to requests for comment.
Council members initially responded to residents' claims that they were being ignored by saying that Discovery's plans were within its rights as the property owner.
Fierros said the council seemed more concerned with the unlawful removal of six heritage trees in 2007 and the possible effect the development would have on burrowing owl habitat. Public hearings were continued twice — once to consider a fine for the tree removal, and again to consider the owl habitat — since the approval process began in July.
Fierros said those issues were the only reason the plan hadn't been approved.
"They'd rather act on the trees and the owls," he said. "That's the only thing holding this up — they won't listen to us."
Seger said the petition was the only way for residents to have themselves heard.
"The only thing the City Council will listen to is a legal challenge," he said, "and it's really sad."
Jonathan Lockett covers Oakley. Reach him at 925-779-7174.