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LIVERMORE — Following a public hearing, during which a winemaker raised questions and concerns about the Livermore Valley Wine Heritage District (LVWHD), the council voted to continue the discussion to the next meeting set for Nov. 22.

Monday’s meeting held the final hearing on LVWHD, an assessment district that, if approved, would collect 2% of direct-to-consumer California wine sales for the purpose of promoting the wineries located within the Livermore American Viticultural Area (AVA). In its first year, the LVWHD is expected to generate $693,000 for the 51 wineries in the district’s boundaries in the counties of Alameda and Contra Costa. Since the LVWHD’s Sept. 13 introduction, the overall assessment area has been reduced to exclude wineries in Pleasanton and San Ramon. No reason was provided as to why those cities were excluded.

The first hearing in October this year received three public comments all in favor of the district. However, the hearing this week on Nov. 8 heard the negative testimony of a Castro Valley winegrower William Smythe — owner of Westover Winery.com Inc. — who said not only would he not benefit from the district, but also he wanted questions fully answered. He urged the council to delay approval.

“Why are we duplicating the efforts of a well-established Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, which for over 30 years has claimed membership and due collections to accomplish the very same thing this Heritage District is trying to do?” Smythe asked.

He further noted that the proposed borders were not well defined, and wanted to know why Ruby Hill Winery of Pleasanton — which he reported to be one of the highest earning wineries in the region — was allowed to be excluded. Smythe additionally cited high taxes in the county, and an overall unclear policy for including or excluding wineries.

Councilmember Robert Carling moved to simply exclude Smythe’s winery from the district, but his motion failed to gain a second. The remaining members of the council agreed that they needed answers from staff to better understand which wineries legally fell within the Livermore AVA territory and why Ruby Hill had been excluded. Staff is expected to return to the next council meeting with more information.

Update on the Police Vehicle Fleet Purchase

The city council unanimously approved a revised purchase agreement for police vehicles from Tracy Ford. Instead of the original eight interceptors that had initially been on the order, the city will go forward with acquiring six interceptors and two hybrid vehicles.

The decision followed a pulled consent calendar item from the previous council meeting on Oct. 25, during which time a member of the public and the council expressed a desire to consider more eco-friendly options for its police fleet. The challenge — as outlined by City Manager Marc Roberts — is that interceptor vehicles used by officers are not stock cars; they require high output engines and electrical systems that current fully electric vehicles can’t offer. According to the staff report, purchasing two of the hybrid vehicles initially will allow the police department to evaluate equipment compatibility, operational effectiveness and reliability in patrol use before ordering the next hybrid batch of police vehicles.

“By ordering the two (hybrid) interceptors this time, we’ll put them through the complete paces about all the equipment that we mount in them — from the computers to the lights to the sirens to all of that stuff — and be able to get them out on the street,” Roberts said. “We’ll have plenty of time to see if there are any issues … but we don’t expect to find them. We do think the hybrid is a very good vehicle.”

Report on the Arts Pandemic Recovery

The Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center (LVPAC) Executive Director Chris Carter provided an update on the status of the Bankhead Theater coming out of the pandemic. During the closures due to COVID-19, Carter reported that the theater was forced to cancel or reschedule about 200 events, but LVPAC still managed to deliver 103 art programs and events virtually. He reported a decrease of revenue by 93%. The Bankhead secured several federal loans. The group also received an estate gift.

“It was a home that somebody left to us, and we were able to sell that home in the middle of this last fiscal year for about $670,000,” Carter said.

Carter expressed pride in the staff members who were able to keep things going, and those who waited to come back. Nearly all of the staff returned, he said.

He further said LVPAC wants to continue investing in arts education and outreach.

“We are continuing to do free community events out on the plaza,” he said. “We just had the Filipino Barrio Festival and the Taste of Africa events last month, and we have more events coming up that will be for the community. We’re also continuing to have reduced ticket prices for students and military, and we just started to work with an organization in Livermore called Music Pathways — and they do music instruction for underprivileged students in the district, and part of the program is that they get to keep their instruments when they’re done with instruction.”

He said those students and their families are also offered reduced tickets to attend events at the Bankhead.

“Ultimately, my goal is to activate our space every day,” Carter continued. “We really want to be a presence in this community — a positive presence, supporting the community through the arts.”