State law violations in Pleasant Hill Dome demolition? Among the many concerns emerging in the wake of SyWest's destruction of Contra Costa landmark

We can’t bring the CineArts Dome movie theater back.

But at Pleasant Hill City Council meetings, the citizens of Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities can voice their concerns about how the city, in dealing with this highly sensitive project, violated the spirit of an open and fair public process and possibly violated state laws regarding open meetings.

Bottom line: City officials didn’t listen when citizens rose up to say the Dome movie theater is a historical and cultural resource worth saving. Intentionally or not, city leaders gave SyWest Development the window to swiftly move in and demolish this treasured building in a manner that can only be seen as an act of disrespect and vengeance to the entire community.

SyWest showed a total lack of respect for all the residents of Pleasant Hill who crowded the City Hall chambers on May 6 to say, please wait. Stop. Think!

Once again, we can't get bring the Dome back, but we can let these leaders know we will continue to hold them accountable for the decision-making processes that led to the Dome's destruction—processes that could further harm the community's safety and
quality of life.

We also can share our hopes for a better future for the city and the region, which would include ideas for commemorating the Dome and for finding new venues for screening independent and
alternative film.

Certainly, when we came together to fight to save the Dome theater, we were under no illusion that we had a good chance of winning. It was always an uphill battle for a number of reasons, but we had to try. The Dome deserved an all-out effort, given its landmark
historical and cultural significance in our community.

We “Domers” were coming late to the process. As city officials and SyWest Development liked to remind us, they had been discussing demolishing the Dome movie theater and replacing it with some kind of new development for years.

But hold on. It's not as black and white as they present it.

Despite those claims, Sywest, the owner of the Dome property, put on hold any kind of development plans in the “Sub-Area II” portion of the Crossroads Shopping Center for more than four years. The recession hit, and it wasn’t financially advantageous for SyWest to move forward. The whole issue of what was to happen to the
Dome fell off everyone's radar.

Meanwhile, SyWestled all along led city planners and officials to believe that it would create some kind of independent, art house cinema in that space, along with restaurants and other amenities that would make the shopping center a Pleasant Hill destination for
culture and entertainment.

This is just one of the many ways Sywest misled city officials and the public.

When SyWest finally unveiled its development plans for the project in December 2012, obviously there was no movie theater, restaurant and other attractive design amenities in the proposal.

Just a big, hulking big-box-style Dick's Sporting Goods.

But alas, city officials went along with the wishes and whims of a company and its president, Bill Vierra, who had kept telling the city how SyWest was a good corporate citizen.

As least, we of Save the Pleasant Hill Dome thought, going into this fight, that we ordinary residents could expect the city and its process to treat us with fairness and respect and to act in accordance with state and local law.

The fact is: We were dealing with a city that was seeing the world through SyWest-colored glasses.

Certainly, there were moments when individual staff were gracious and helpful but the city’s overall conduct throughout this whole process should worry any Pleasant Hill resident.

Notably, Pleasant Hill resident Dorothy Englund has filed a complaint against the city, raising concerns that the city failed to comply with state open meeting laws – under the Ralph M. Brown Act –in conducting its May 6 Building Board of Appeals meeting on the issuance of the permit to allow SyWest to demolish the Dome.

Among the number of concerns Englund has cited was the fact that the city failed to make available to the public the final agenda for the meeting, as well as the staff report and other pertinent documents related to the permit issue -- until the morning of the meeting, some eight hours before the meeting was to start.

The city’s failure in this area is akin to a prosecutor failing to turn over evidence—or discovery—to the defense until the morning of the trial.

There are other possible violations Englund cites. And it’s reasonable to wonder: How else did the city possibly skirt the law to assist SyWest in its aims to destroy the Dome and move forward with Dick's?

The questions are just beginning.

I contend that the city's decision to refer Englund’s appeal of the demolition permit, which was issued on April 1, to the Building Board of Appeals for consideration was an attempt to essentially cover their butts for an error the city made in violation
of the California Enviromental Quality Act.

After the Planning Commission approved SyWest’s Development proposal on March 26, the city’s chief building official Mike Nielsen on April 1 issued a one-page demolition permit to SyWest – with a disturbing lack of supporting material, I might add, from Sywest
explaining just how this demolition would occur in a manner that would not harm public health and safety.

On April 8, members of Save the Pleasant Hill Dome filed their appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of SyWest’s development plan. Under all city records related to this project, the demolition was always
a chief component of the overall development plan. Once the appeal was filed, SyWest’s development project had to be put on hold pending the outcome of the May 6 appeal hearing before the City Council.
Putting on hold these project plans should also have included a hold on the demolition permit. CEQA says components of a project cannot
be separated out.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the city did when it issued the permit but refused to rescind or put on hold the demolition permit until after the City Council appeal hearing.

When Englund and others raised this issue, the city’s response was not the honorable one – to say, yes, you’re right, that permit needs to be put on hold.

No, the city got its attorney, Janet Coleson, to drum up some “kangaroo” court-like procedure, referring the demolition permit matter to the Building Board of Appeals—a city committee that had apparently never
met once since it was created by local ordinance back in 2008.

This kangaroo court-like procedure made it necessary for Englund and others to go on this wild goose chase of figuring out how this permit did not meet the requirements of the California Building Code – a code that really only professional builders and contractors ever have need to deal with.

Oh, but, again, what does this all matter now, some of you would say?

The Dome is gone. Putting in so much effort to challenge the city won’t bring the Dome back.

No, it won’t bring the Dome back. But I believe there is value in letting city officials know its constituents are watching how they conduct business—and possibly abuse the public trust in favor of developers. Such scrutiny, we hope, will make sure that the city doesn’t shut the public out of fair and open hearing processes on future controversial issues and developments.

Englund’s concerns about the Brown Act violations in the manner of how the Building Board of Appeals hearing was conducted may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg in how some city staff and elected and appointed officials broke faith with their constituents in an apparent rush to accommodate SyWest Development’s timeline to get the Dome demolished and Dick’s Sporting Goods built -- no doubt in in time for the holiday shopping season.

So, that’s why we who cared about the Dome and continue to care about what it represents to the community will be at the City Council meetings.

And, this is the chance for you to share your concerns, disappointments, and anger about the Dome's destruction—as well as your hope and determination
for Pleasant Hill to do better in the future.


50 Years of Dome Memories Do Not Ever Go Away.

It bothers me every time I drive by where the Dome used to stand. Nothing but an empty space. The optics of this is going to look terrible for Pleasant Hill for many years to come with a store called "Dick's" in 6' high letters right where the dome used to be. The Residents of Pleasant Hill were also not consulted at all by the developer, Sywest, about what a "dome memorial" should be or look like. Instead they farmed it out to somebody in Arizona just giving them an old photo of the Dome and we will have a tile nightmare on the side of "Dick's."

The City of Pleasant Hill just dropped this project on the public and approved this lousy "Dick's" project at the end of last March. City leaders told the public and protesters who were lucky to have even found out about it, "It was a done deal." Without getting any feedback from the public or allow folks to be involved in the years prior to the City Council's decision to dramatically change Pleasant Hill's landscape. The Pleasant Hill Dome movie theater was an iconic landmark, visible from the 680 freeway for almost 50 years.

I first heard of this project in April and then got involved. We worked our rears off trying to try to save the dome theater and there were many, many people involved. It was a tough lift, because normally there is a lot of apathy out here in the suburbs. We had to do a whole year of organizing and raising money in just a few weeks. We had to find a lawyer and try to raise money and awareness - try to get the news media involved - all this while on our own file an appeal with the City over the approval of the project, which also cost money. It was a tough sleepless slog and everyday got tougher and the climb higher. Even after the Dome got demolished so quickly on May 8 after the appeal hearing on May 6, people were still hearing that the Dome was endangered. Asbestos and lead paint wasn't removed from the Dome at all prior to its demolition, as required by State and local laws. Extremely harmful pollutants were flying all over 12 lanes of Freeway for weeks, by how many cars driving by?

Although our beloved Dome may be gone, the issues of the day and problems in Pleasant Hill go on. City leaders must be held accountable and we're trying to engage and work where we can on bringing more Arts to the City as well as Contra Costa. We need folks to stay engaged and be aware that the first Dome theaters built in the Bay Area in San Jose are now also endangered.

In 1993, Pleasant Hill proposed a law but did not put on the books a law for saving historic buildings that also includes arts. I know, too little too late to save our Dome, and I mentioned that at the City Hall meeting a few weeks ago when this was voted on. But I also mentioned it was a good thing to put this forward now. Many of us are still engaged and trying to work with City leaders on these issues. That's politics, one must leave your house and get to know folks in your community. We still need arts, live music events, independant and art films here very badly. There will be "Workshops" put on by the City of Pleasant Hill that the public, no matter what city you live in, will want to attend. Depending on who shows up and how much input folks offer will shape what the law ends up being able to accomplish.

Personally, I'm very proud of you and all the great people of good will who worked hard and showed up at the May 6 City Council appeal hearing for the Dome - and continue to stay involved now. These issues are not going away. 50 years of Dome memories do not ever go away.



The Pleasant Hill City Council COULD have stopped this BUT DID NOT!


Jack Weir

David E. Durant

Tim Flaherty

Ken Carlson

Mayor Michael G. Harris

Let them know How You Feel BY Clicking here

or you can write to them at:

100 Gregory Lane,
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

There was a great turnout at the appeal hearing on May 6! Over 200 people showed up! Thank you. There were around 50+ public comments (only one was anti-Dome) and in total took about two-and-a-half hours to get through. It was 2:30 AM when the Council voted and it was 3-2 against SPHD.

Jack Weir, David E. Durant and Tim Flaherty voted against The Dome! For that, we are disappointed in them greatly.

Let them know How You Feel BY Clicking here


Mayor Michael G. Harris and Ken Carlson voted for the Dome. But Voted Against it in March 2013. Let them know How You Feel.

Let them know How You Feel BY Clicking here

or you can write to them all at:

100 Gregory Lane,
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

City of Pleasant Hill, 100 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523  Ph: (925) 671-5270


Dear Supporters, Like you, we of Save the Pleasant Hill Dome are grieving, and we are devastated. 

It's gone. 

We were preparing to take further legal action but were blind-sided, in part because we received misleading information from the city, or from misleading information SyWest shared with the city. As an organization, we were trying to move in a responsible way through the process, including reaching out to work with the different parties involved. It's shocking that there are entities out there that could act with so little regard to the overwhelming beliefs, values and feelings of a community. 

We have been so profoundly moved and inspired by everyone's love for the Dome, and your support for our efforts. Again, we wish the outcome would have been different. 

We're trying to figure out our next steps, even with the loss of the Dome. We would like to find a way to memorialize this beloved icon that gave so much pleasure to so many of us. We will soon be in touch with our supporters, and would be interested in hearing from you about what you think our next steps should be. 

Thank you again, and thanks to the Dome for all the amazing memories you have given to us. We will always love you.


Before Demolition FAQs May 8 2013

Save the Pleasant Hill Dome
1630 N Main #425
Walnut Creek CA 94596

Why are you trying to save the Pleasant Hill Dome?

As it approaches its half-century mark, the iconic Dome movie theater is ready to elevate itself into a vibrant, happening cultural destination dedicated to celebrating and presenting great cinema and other arts and to encouraging appreciation for the historical era when Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities came into their own.

The Dome is an architectural landmark of the East Bay landscape. This region boomed following World War II. Young families moved here seeking a new vision of the American dream. That dream included ownership of a home and yard in the safe, quiet suburban neighborhoods emerging east of the Caldecott Tunnel. The Dome became the entertainment destination for these new suburbanites, a movie palace graced with a unique, mid-century, Apollo Space Age aesthetic, a nearly 900-seat stadium theater and state-of-the-art visual arts technology.

The Dome is one of the most recognizable structures in both Pleasant Hill and along the Interstate 680 corridor. The theater remains in good physical condition and is still a great place to see movies-- everything from new epic blockbusters to classics to independent, art-house hits. With a makeover, the theater could become a showcase of the City of Pleasant Hill’s aspirations for its residents and its own identity. As outlined in the General Plan, Pleasant Hill wants to be a city that promotes the arts, a dynamic economy, diversity, services for seniors and gateways that tell people they have arrived.

Who owns the property?

SyWest Development owns the property.

So do you want to save the building, or just save the opportunities for showing independent, art- house films in Pleasant Hill?

We want to save the Dome, and we want to save it as a venue for showcasing great cinema and other related arts and for cultural, historical and educational purposes.

The City Council on May 6 denied your appeal of the Planning Commission’s March 26 approval of the Dick’s project—and gave the go-ahead to SyWest Development to replace it with a Dick’s sporting goods store. Isn’t that the final word?

No, it’s not, and it shouldn’t be. A tremendous number of people came to that council meeting to speak on behalf of Saving the Dome. They were Pleasant Hill residents and people living in surrounding communities who represented a real cross-section of the community. There was the 18-year-old teenager who said tearing down the Dome would be like ripping out a piece of his heart to residents who again and again spoke about the Dome as the icon of Pleasant Hill, the one structure in town that represents the community’s identity and pride. People shared memories of seeing movies there, and they believe in its potential to become a cultural arts center, dedicated to movies and to other related performing, visual and technical arts.

Meanwhile, we’ve had more than 4,000 people sign our petitions, and in the space of one weekend, we raised more than $5,000 to pay for a retainer to hire an attorney to kickstart our legal fight.

It’s very clear that this council vote does not reflect the will of the people. The people want to save the Dome as a movie theater showing independent, art-house movies. And they want it to become a cultural arts center, a centerpiece in Pleasant Hill’s efforts to provide its residents with such cultural amenities and to raise their quality of life.

All that said, the next step is to go to court, through such steps as a temporary restraining order and an injunction.

On what grounds would you fight?

We believe the city failed to adequately consider the Dome’s historical and cultural value.

In addition to that, another very important legal argument for a TRO and injunction has to do with new evidence related to the public’s health and safety. Our attorney has uncovered the fact that the city failed to do a proper analysis of a potentially dangerous level of toxic air contaminants that would be produced by the co-occurring demolition of the Dome, construction of Dick’s sporting goods and the widening of Buskirk Avenue. These contaminants could have adverse affects on people and school children in the nearby Fair Oaks neighborhood. Our attorney contends that this potential health and safety risk to our Fair Oaks neighbors was never properly studied in any environmental reports the city produced, and believes the city should have to circulate a new environmental analysis on this issue.

So what’s involved in going to court?

The big thing is that going the legal route costs money, a lot of money—into the thousands. Working with the lawyer on preparing the appeal, and hiring an expert to do the air quality analysis, cost around $10,000. Going for the TRO and injunction would cost at least another $10,000.

So, we need to raise money, and we need to raise it fast. We’re hoping that people who have spoken out so eloquently in favor of saving the Dome will contribute what they can. If we had as few as 1000 of our supporters each giving $50, we would have more than enough to cover our legal expenses.

Keep in mind that our attorney, Mark Wolfe, is offering us discounted rates. And no general interest attorney, offering pro bono services, could handle this sort of case. Mark Wolfe is an expert in land-use, environmental laws and historical preservation. We absolutely need that kind of expertise in any potential legal battle. He also has tremendous passion for our cause.

But SyWest has said they have no intention to ever repurposing the Dome or turning it back into a into a movie theater. SyWest also said in devising the project they were following city guidelines for developing that project.

To some extent we understand SyWest’s position, that they feel they were just following the city’s 2006 Specific Plan documents for how to proceed with designing new retail for the center. But history and experience has shown us that “just following orders” is not always the wisest or most moral choice to take.

Some very courageous and forward-looking city leaders are not buying SyWest’s “just following orders” argument.

They have expressed disappointment and dismay with SyWest’s proposal and accordingly voted against it. There were involved in the early planning for the Contra Costa Shopping Center and know the city envisioned something better for itself.
Their votes might be in the minority of elected officials at this point, but we believe their views and votes reflect the will of the people.

Planning Commissioner Jim Bonato, City Council member Ken Carlson and Mayor Michael Harris all pointed out that SyWest went against the intent of those Specific Plan documents by failing to include a specialty theater and restaurants in that area of the shopping center.

They also expressed overall disappointment with the design and concept for Dick’s sporting goods project. Jim Bonato stated at the March 26, 2013 Planning Commission meeting “Pleasant Hill deserves better.”

City Councilman Carlson, on May 6, said “I am not fully convinced we are getting the best can at this point,” while Mayor Michael Harris said the project fails to meet the letter and spirit of the specific plan.

“I don’t see the quality in this project I had expected when I worked on [the earlier planning] process,” he said. “I remember this grandiose proposal with a movie theater with magnificent architecture, anchor shops, other shops. That has all disappeared.” He questioned about much SyWest cares about the city and it’s quality of life.

So does anyone want Dick’s to come to Pleasant Hill?

Aside from SyWest and its employees? Not that we can tell, which makes us wonder if this gives us a chance to get SyWest to meet with us to look for a better solution that would be a win-win-win for SyWest, the city, and the public.

SyWest has to know that their project is unpopular. None of the people coming out to speak at any of the public meetings held on this project since December 2012, when SyWest first submitted its Dick’s sporting goods plans, has spoken in favor of Dick’s or SyWest’s vision for that area (called SubArea II) of the shopping center. A major complaint among Pleasant Hill residents is that Pleasant Hill simply doesn’t need another sporting goods store in town.

So, we know the people of Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities oppose the loss of the Dome and the arrival of Dick’s. We know many in city hall oppose the project. We wonder whether Dick’s corporate knows that a store isn’t wanted in Pleasant Hill, at least at that location.

We hope that if we can delay this process legally, Dick’s would become wary of moving into that location. We can also all write to Dick’s corporate and express our concerns.

The more pressure we put on SyWest through legal and political means, the more they might come to realize that it would be better business for them to meet with us and work with us on coming up with a solution that would be workable for everyone involved – and maybe, just maybe, that solution would involve preserving the Dome.

What about other political strategies, such as mounting campaigns to oppose council members who voted against the Dome or a ballot referendum to save the building?

Those are all interesting ideas and we’re looking at all possible strategies. Some would take more research and also take some time to set into motion.

What about pursuing historic status for the Dome?

We are indeed working on that process right now, gathering the necessary information and evidence of its historical and cultural value and talking to various people at the local and state levels about the process involved. Again, that process takes several months, but we are definitely working on it.

At this stage, do you really believe you have a chance to save the Dome?

We won’t sugarcoat this. We are facing an uphill battle. But we also know we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t fight the hardest we could to save a landmark that means so much to so many people in this region. We also wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe we were acting on behalf of the people of Pleasant Hill and the surrounding communities. Of course, the next few days and weeks will tell us whether the people want to continue the fight – in terms of whether we are able to raise the money to pay for legal expenses.

SyWest has said they don’t want to be in the movie business. If some miracle occurs and you are able to save the building, who would run the theater? Is it even financially feasible?

We have been in talks with other nonprofit and for- profit groups around the country that have saved historic movie theaters and operate them as first-run, or art-house cinemas. They are sharing the challenges and successes on the business side of theater management.

We are also reaching out to organizations and individuals—White Knights—who have strong track records and passion for rescuing and refurbishing historic movie theaters. We’ll keep you posted!

If you have any ideas for White Knights, let us know!

FAQs May 8 2013 PDF


The Pleasant Hill City Council COULD have stopped this BUT DID NOT!


Jack Weir

David E. Durant

Tim Flaherty

Ken Carlson

Mayor Michael G. Harris

Let them know How You Feel BY Clicking here

or you can write to them at:

100 Gregory Lane,
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

There was a great turnout at the appeal hearing on May 6! Over 200 people showed up! Thank you. There were around 50+ public comments (only one was anti-Dome) and in total took about two-and-a-half hours to get through. It was 2:30 AM when the Council voted and it was 3-2 against SPHD.

Jack Weir, David E. Durant and Tim Flaherty voted against The Dome! For that, we are disappointed in them greatly.

Let them know How You Feel BY Clicking here


Mayor Michael G. Harris and Ken Carlson voted for the Dome. But Voted Against it in March 2013. Let them know How You Feel.

Let them know How You Feel BY Clicking here

or you can write to them all at:

100 Gregory Lane,
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

City of Pleasant Hill, 100 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523  Ph: (925) 671-5270