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Hetch Hetchy housing standoff

Original post made on Apr 18, 2008

Next Tuesday the City Council will finally decide on a development that has been the source of contentious debate over the last year: a proposal to build 64 homes on the Hetch Hetchy right of way at Whisman Road.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 18, 2008, 11:00 AM

Comments (18)

Posted by DLG, a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2008 at 11:26 am

Isn't Bruce Burman the same developer who made a big mess of that housing development up in Marin called "French Ranch"? Why would the City of Mountain View want anything to do with him?


Posted by Residents for a Quality Development at 450 N.Whisman, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 18, 2008 at 11:31 am

Here is the link to the petition that is mentioned in the story for those of you who might be interested in supporting a Quality Development at 450 N. Whisman:

Web Link


Posted by Proud MV Resident, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 18, 2008 at 7:35 pm

It is amazing that they are considering building 3-story rowhouses next to 1-story homes. Unless the design is done really really well, that be so imposing. From what I know, it is not designed very well. They should build something else there. It's too many homes in a small space.


Posted by French Ranch, a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2008 at 10:36 pm

Yes, this IS the same Bruce Burman who made a huge mess of French Ranch up in Marin. Here are some articles from a Marin newspaper documenting the controversy:

Web Link August 1998
Web Link August 1999
Web Link February 2003

Basically, Mr. Burman's M.O. as a developer is this... He offers enticements that local residents and politicians can't refuse - promises of affordable housing units, donated land, trails, and parks, shared septic systems, etc. with the municipality in which he is proposing his development. In return, he gets accommodations from these municipalities such as development density increases, streamlined approval processes, etc. which allow him to build more units and thus line his pockets more. If he doesn't get these accommodations he holds the municipality hostage by withholding his end of the bargain until they give in. Finally, he pulls a bait and switch on them and, before you know it, walks away from the project without delivering what he initially promised.

In the case of French Ranch, Mr. Burman's septic drain field that was to be shared with the school next-door was shoddily built and ended up causing slope failures and leeching unacceptable amounts of contaminants into the nearby trails and golf course. The septic system was then discreetly repaired without the proper plans, permits and inspections. Mr. Burman also promised all sorts of affordable housing but in the end built only 3 units.

Mr. Burman has been accused of corrupting politicians/city planning officials whose jobs it is to approve or deny his developments. In the case of French Ranch, Mr. Burman's relationship with Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey was called into question. Curiously, some planning meetings were held without public notice/input so that opponents of Mr. Burman's development projects would not be able to protest.

Mr. Burman intimidates and threatens to sue any group that opposes him. Mr. Burman even sends people to spy on the meetings of his opponents and uses this information to strategize against them.
He also tries to pit neighbor against neighbor. In the case of the Hetch Hetchy development he is pitting local Sierra Club members against the neighborhood association and claiming he is an "environmentalist". In reality, Mr. Burman is no environmentalist but is just in it for the money. In the case of French Ranch, Mr. Burman decided to clear the land for development in the middle of winter/rainy season. Rainwater subsequently bled mud, dirt, and other construction contaminants down the slope into the creek below where fish and other wildlife lived.

The names of the companies Mr. Burman is associated with continually change (KMJ Urban Communities, Jazz Construction & Development, Vintage Faire LLC, French Ranch LLC, Honjo USA, Burman and Feldman, Inc., Elliott and Burman, Inc., etc.) making it difficult to check his track record. He is backed by foreign money which also makes it more difficult to track his history.

Since Mr. Burman has developed such a bad reputation in Marin he does not develop there anymore. That is why he now has to develop in areas where he is less well-known (Sunnyvale, Lake County, even in the state of New Mexico). His reputation is apparently not yet very well-known in Mountain View or to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (the landowner) which is why I am posting this comment up on the Voice.



Posted by Burton Stewart, a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2008 at 11:26 am

Bruce Burman is being slandered by people who neither know him nor his reputation, and who have their own selfish agenda for doing so. This reminds me of the people saying Obama is a muslim. I am a Marin resident, living in Tiburon, and have follwed the career of Bruce Burman and his partners since 1986. He has been responsbile for the Old Belvedere School House townhome project, as well as the Chandler's Gate senior housing prjoject, both of which were joint ventures with those respective cities. Not only were the projects completed beautifully and met with terrific market acceptance, but Bruce and his team went the extra mile in working with those cities and their neighbors. French Ranch, the winner a a prestigious national award, resulted in the largest open space dedication in Marin history. I have been a member of the Urban Land Institute, a national organization promoting best practices in land use, for more than 25 years, including serving on its green building council and as Vice Chair of its residential council. Of the thousands of builders whose work I have become familar with in that capacity, I can truly say that Bruce and his partners are among the finest, the most caring and the most striaghtforward in the country. This nonsense about being backed by "foreign money" is just that, nonsense. The rantings of a few West Marin wackos, who remain cowardly anonymous because they know thay are slandering Mr. Burman, should be taken like the rantings of Bill O'Reilly--a lot of ignornant, self-serving lies. If the community of Moutnain View wants a character reference on Burman and his partners, then talk to Dean Macris, the planning chief of the city of San Francisco, who knows Bruce and lauds his work at French Ranch. It's time to grow up people and thank your lucky stars you have Bruce Burman knocking himself out to prodcue yet another extraordinary project in your town, rather than a mass-production builder who won't give a hoot about what you want. If you run Mr. Burman out of town, that's what you'll wuind up with, and you'll deserve what you get.


Posted by Good Neighbor, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 20, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Bruce Burman misrepresented himself to the neighborhood and made it sound like the project he is proposing in Mountain View was a "done deal". He made it sound like he was doing the neighbors a favor by asking neighbors what kind of trees they wanted to see on the project.

In reality, the project has not been approved by the Mountain View City Council (it comes up for a vote on Tuesday) and has actually been rejected by both the City's Development Review Committee and the City's Zoning Administrator.


Posted by WMG, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 20, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Mr. Stewart, did you attend the Development Review Committee (DRC) meeting on March 6? Did you read the minutes? The DRC described the architectural design as repetitious and monotonous. In response, Owen Byrd, representing Mr. Burman, said that we should just call it was it is ... "production housing". That certainly does not sound like yet another extraordinary project. That sounds like mass-production to me.


Posted by C.T., a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:16 am

I can't speak about what he did in Marin but in this case Bruce Burman is definitely not going "the extra mile" in working with neighbors and the City of Mountain View.

He's already lied to neighbors about his proposal being a "done deal" to suppress any public input/opposition against his proposal. Now he's still adamantly taking his proposal to the City Council despite denials by both the Development Review Committee, a committee of professional architects, and the Zoning Administrator, a professional community planner, who are both employed by the City of Mountain View.


Posted by D.M, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 21, 2008 at 3:21 pm

I live in a townhome which backs up to the proposed project and do not look forward to having the peaceful area destroyed by a road with cars coming and going at all hours! It's too bad that this area might become a high density, trafficked housing development. What was once an attraction to live in Mountain View may soon be lost.


Posted by D.M, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I live in a townhome which backs up to the proposed project and do not look forward to having the peaceful area destroyed by a road with cars coming and going at all hours! It's too bad that this area might become a high density, trafficked housing development. What was once an attraction to live in Mountain View may soon be lost.


Posted by B.E., a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Regarding Bruce Burman's "largest open space dedication in Marin history" at French Ranch... The open space was a requirement of ANY development anyway - it was mandated by the zoning and environmental constraints of the land! Also, there was NO way Burman wanted to pay the property taxes on the 300+ acres of open space.


Posted by Good Neighbor, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 21, 2008 at 6:16 pm

One of Bruce Burman's business partners on the Hetch-Hetchy project, a developer/attorney named Owen Byrd, has been touting an award given to them for the project's design by the Greenbelt Aliance. They've been using this environmental group's sponsorship of the Hetch-Hetchy project to get backing from other environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.

Well, it turns out Owen Byrd was once director of policy and legal defense at the Greenbelt Aliance. Maybe I'm wrong but isn't that a gigantic conflict of interest that he stands to profit with the help of an award given to his project by his former organization?

Web Link

I'm not saying that Mr. Byrd as an environmentalist is not allowed to be a developer as well. I am saying however, that, similar to how the Mountain View City Council members recuse themselves and do not vote on projects that are located in their respective neighborhood, Mr. Byrd should not be using an award from his former organization to help his own business projects make money.

Bruce Burman, Owen Byrd, and others are very adept at cloaking themselves in "Green" and fooling people into thinking they are environmentalists. When the cloak comes off though, they are just like any other developer and the bottom line is still just about making money.


Posted by Mountain Brook resident, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 22, 2008 at 11:47 am

In Autumn 2007, the Mountain View City Council signed the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement. This means the city, a certified green business, has made a commitment to help stop global warming. Does it also mean Mountain View residents should do all they can to reduce greenhouse gas pollution? We can take pride in backyards that store carbon and reflect our social values. The Wagon Wheel association can consider putting in a tree where any view of the hills might become obstructed.

There are many ways to tackle global warming. One fundamental step, more powerful, and absolutely critical, is building cities in a greener way. Not simply using recycled materials but making it easy for people to get around without having to drive. Residents should embrace the creation of more vibrant, compact neighborhoods close to jobs, Caltrain, and Castro Street. The North Whisman development location is less than a mile to Light Rail! It will be good for people, good for the environment and good for business, in line with the city's ideals. We should be asking for more units, not less!

The single largest contributor to California's greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. Over the last several decades, sprawling patterns of development have put jobs and homes far apart, and made us dependent on our cars. Here in Mountain View, the number of jobs has grown, but the supply of affordable homes has fallen far behind. We are now dealing with the social, economic, and environmental consequences: traffic, unaffordable homes, and greenhouse gas pollution. We have to change. Car dependence no longer makes sense in a world whose climate is warming. Reducing the number of homes in the North Whisman plan while companies such as Google are expanding will worsen the imbalance.

Mountain View residents who truly care about the community can stand up and demand that the city build greener. We already have plenty of examples of sustainable development, an attractive downtown and compact neighborhoods near public transit. This new neighborhood association is effectively saying that providing housing is some other city's problem: “Let Morgan Hill build the homes for the people who work here!" I cannot go along with them. It makes no sense, and it sure is not green. The results of their actions would be more cars on the road- especially on Highway 101- and more greenhouse gas pollution. It will mean more traffic, longer commutes for everyone, and fewer homes that young people, seniors, and local workers can afford. It is time for residents to join their leaders in their pledge to fight global warming.

Let's see how greenâ€"how cool a cityâ€"Mountain View can be.


Posted by Elizabeth A., a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Has anyone thought about what might happen to these proposed homes, their inhabitants, and their property if the rusty, aging Hetch Hetchy pipelines underneath the site were to rupture, either due to wear and tear or due to an earthquake?

I've seen regular-sized municipal water supply pipelines break and cause huge sinkholes on TV. I can only imagine what might happen if these giant pipes that deliver around 300 million gallons of water daily to San Francisco and Silicon Valley were to fail.

Also, what happens when it comes time to fix or replace the pipes?

I'm all for reducing greenhouse gases but isn't there a reason why this lot has sat undeveloped for all these years?


Posted by Burton Stewart, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Rule of law or mob rule?

As an observer of many anti-development battles, it amuses me to see a vocal minority of NIMBYs in Mountain View attempt to take over the governemtnal process and turn Mountain View into another Berkeley.

The development process is controlled by laws adopted by the citizens, specifically the city's General Plan and Zoning Ordinance. These laws are put in place to give private sector participants a road map for complying with the city's requirements. The idea is that the city benefits by attracting private capital and talent to address its housing shortage. The City Council, as the representative of the ciitzens, oversees the application of the laws.

It is in no one's interest to allow a vocal minority, whose interests stop at their own backyards, to corrupt or delay the legally established process. When a private developer complies with all the laws, rules and requirements specified by a city, as Mr. Burman's group has with this project, the city is obligated to grant the approvals which its laws explicitly promise. To not do so would turn the city into just another socialist outpost wondering why no new housing is being built within its borders.

And it also ignores the wishes and support of the not-so-vocal majority. This project has attracted the endosement and support of legitimate and important organizations. These organizations include:

The Sierra Club
Greenbelt Alliance
The League of Women Voters
Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail
Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Santa Clara Housing Coalition

Together, the members of these organizations represent thousands of votes, as opposed to the 50 or 60 signers of a NIMBY petition. The majority has made thier wishes known, and they support this project and want it built. The vocal minority doesn't like it.

Well, that's how democracy works, folks. That is, so long as the elected representatives understand their role is to act in the best long-term interests of the city, rather than reacting to the heckling of a mob. Let's hope the City Council understands that a small band of self-interested NIMBYs, no matter how shrill, is not the majority. The rule of law must take precedence over mob rule.


Posted by Marla Wilson, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2008 at 3:56 pm

This year, 2008, marks 50 years of Greenbelt Alliance's efforts to protect open space and promote livable communities around the Bay Area. We have protected over 1 million acres of open space around the region, and the success of this work depends upon making sure new homes, jobs, and shops end up where they should be. For more information on Greenbelt Alliance, go here: Web Link

For 20 of those 50 years, the Compact Development Team of Greenbelt Alliance has been endorsing and advocating for residential, mixed-use, and commercial development that is pedestrian-oriented and transit-accessible, uses land efficiently, and provides homes we can all afford.

The fact of the matter is, we have a choice in Mountain View and around the entire region. Whether we like it or not, the Bay Area is set to grow by 1 million people by 2020, so our choice is this: do we want these new homes and residents to worsen our quality of life, causing traffic jams and skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions, or do we want to usher new growth to our existing cities and towns, into walkable, compact development so that people can use transit, bikes, or walking to get around?

In Mountain View, job growth continues, and so we should all support responsible housing growth so people can have the opportunity to live near work. Otherwise, we will all suffer when commuters clog our roadways, traveling in from as far away as Tracy where more homes are available. And when everyone has no choice but to travel by car, this will also have disastrous effects on climate change.

I manage the Compact Development Team, which has endorsed and advocated for over 60,000 homes, over 12,000 (18%) of those affordable for families of modest means. For more information on the program, including the guidelines we use to evaluate all developments, go here:
Web Link

In the case of 450 North Whisman, Greenbelt Alliance proudly offered its endorsement to the development because it met our stringent guidelines.

Fortunately, we don't need to pave over natural areas and farmland to accommodate new residents--by growing smartly, we can choose a climate-friendly future for Mountain View and for the region.


Posted by DLG, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:15 pm

The Mountain View City Council was savvy enough to recognize that Bruce Burman's proposal was a bad design and voted unanimously to reject it last night!


Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:34 pm

The criticism aimed here at Owen Byrd is unfounded. I dont know him except by reputation, but he has done a lot of good within the community.


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