Note: Joan Seppala, Founder and Publisher of The Independent, is one of the leaders of the grassroots organization that supports the Central Park Plan.
The activist role of Livermore citizens is being threatened in a way that this newspaper has not seen in the 56 years since its founding. Recent actions taken by city representatives and their partners pushing their plan for Livermore’s downtown development ignore, threaten and manipulate ordinary citizens in numerous ways.
In the past, grassroots activists have also fought with the city, developers and other business representatives over initiatives – Livermore’s Urban Growth Boundary, for example. Both sides argued over the issues related to the merits of their cause. However, the city and its business associates never resorted to the strategies now being used.
If left unchallenged, these and similar actions will not only affect the current downtown development process, but also will become the new norm, influencing how the city’s policy decisions are reached for years to come.
Examples of the inappropriate actions taken so far include:
- Public feedback shunned. Presidio, the city’s hotel developer, preferred to build its hotel on the east side of Livermore Avenue. Although the City’s $500,000 Outreach Process found 3 to 1 that participants wanted a hotel located on the west side of Livermore Avenue, the east side was chosen.
- An attempt to render meaningless the Central Park Plan vote. The city’s Development Agreement with Presidio, if approved by voters on March 3, would secure Presidio’s right to build its east side hotel. The goal of that action, taken after the Central Park Plan initiative qualified for the Nov. 3 ballot, is to render the decision meaningless if voters decide in favor of the Central Park Plan with its westside hotel. The Development Agreement is at odds with voters’ rights under the California Constitution to enact the Central Park Plan as designed.
- Intimidation of Central Park Plan initiative signers. In an off-the wall move, Livermore’s City Clerk filed a lawsuit against the Livermore residents who signed the initiative rebuttal ballot argument, stating that the reason for the lawsuit is that the rebuttal arguments were not factual. State law specifically allows opinions to be freely expressed in ballot arguments. The City Clerk is no longer a city employee. She should not have been weaponized in the hope of forcing Central Park Plan supporters to retreat.
- Misuse of irrelevant state housing laws. Four state housing bills have been cited by officials as evidence that the state will force housing developments on the downtown site if the Central Park Plan were adopted. Not one of them would do so.
City representatives and their allies claim SB 50 could require an 8-story apartment complex next to the Bankhead. SB 50 recently failed for the third time in Sacramento. Even if passed, the bill would not have affected the Central Park Plan, because it enabled cities to move a required development to another area in the city.
AB 1486 provides a process for cities to dispose of surplus land. It does not force the development of affordable housing or any other particular land use. And SB 330 allows an exception for its limits on downzoning if a city changes its land use plan to add housing elsewhere, as long as there is no net loss of residential capacity.
Finally, AB 1763 only deals with density bonuses for affordable housing projects. It does not mandate housing, and therefore, is not relevant to the Central Park Plan.
Repeatedly mentioning laws that do not bear on the Central Park Plan is simply wrong.
- Initiative terms misstated. At a recent Council meeting, a staff member showed a drawing of the Central Park Plan site map, with the Science Center sprawling over a large section of the Central Park. The staff person intentionally showed a one-story building instead of a three-story building, increasing the footprint three-fold. In fact, on pages 21 of the initiative, Figure 5-1B is incorporated, setting the boundaries of the park, Science Center and other facilities. The Science Center cannot reduce the park’s size. This act by a city employee was misleading.
- Parcel tax threatened without data to support it. Just this Monday, a discussion of a parcel tax for the November ballot was initiated at the City Council meeting. Voting on Measure P by mail had begun. A parcel tax was proposed to cover the additional expenses that the city said would be incurred if the Central Park Plan were adopted. No council or staff report justifying the need was provided. Audience members supporting the Central Park Plan explained to the council that legitimate costs could be covered without a parcel tax. A Willdan Financial Services study showed that the Central Park Plan would contribute $1.2M a year to the city’s general fund, or $35 million over 30 years. The bulk of revenues would come from the high-quality hotel, with its large number of rooms and high room rates, a common sense opinion that the Willdan study verified. No immediate action was proposed. Speakers questioned whether the goal of the agenda item was merely to scare voters who do not want an increase in property taxes.
These actions taken by the elected City Council, city staff, the hotel developer and their commercial and other supporters are intended to damage a voter’s ability to clearly understand the facts behind the Central Park Plan, and independently determine what is in the city’s best interests before voting. This should stop.
Vote No on P. You will be keeping open the opportunity to make a meaningful vote in regard to the Central Park Plan in November, with its high-level westside hotel, needed parking off Livermore Avenue, and larger 3-acre park. You will also be sending a message that the public sees through the backdoor attempts to influence voters, and does not support them. This will preserve our ability to participate in a meaningful local democracy in the future.