I have watched the downtown plan come together for two years now as my husband was a member of the steering committee in 2017. I have participated in City Council Meetings and researched the details of the City’s downtown plan. I was impressed with the outreach process and the amount of compromise that went in to the creation of the plan. I was excited by the ability to create open space, while fulfilling the obligations of affordable housing. I was looking forward to a boutique hotel that would support local businesses, especially the wineries I so adore.
You can imagine my frustration when I learned that a small group of individuals now threaten to hold that downtown plan hostage. Under the guise of promises for less housing, bigger parks, and more parking, the Friends of Livermore created Vibrant Livermore (now Better Livermore or the Community Group). Though their name changes their agenda has always been the same: prohibit development in the interest of creating a 2,000-seat regional theater. Now you may be reading this from your home and thinking, “Well, what if I want a theater? I don’t want more housing in Livermore. We can’t become like Dublin!” to this I have a few responses.
At what cost? The Central Park “Plan” (and I continue to use quotations as the lack of details remain astounding) would cost the taxpayers an estimated $23 million. Perhaps that is worth it to you, but is it worth it to the businesses? In a statement during one of the City Council Meetings, Nancy Bankhead pointed out that the additional costs of upkeep for the park would fall on the merchants. As a friend to many downtown business owners I cannot support a plan that would not only remove revenue, but would even cost more to develop.
If you do not want to become like Dublin you will want to take a closer look at the Central Park agenda. With micro units at 450 square feet, the housing is even more dense than that of the Dublin Bart Area. This housing also fails to fulfill the affordability requirements.
And now we come to the issue of the hotel. Here is a quick summary; the City plan has the hotel on the East side next to the Bankhead. FoL has advocated for the hotel to go on the West side. Why does it matter? When the hotel went to bid there were five developers interested in the East side hotel, and none interested in the West side. A developer was chosen and the hotel was to be developed by 2020. FoL did not want the hotel next to the Bankhead so they purchased a referendum through the use of paid signature gatherers. This alone delayed the unveiling of the hotel until 2022.
During the city council meeting on July 22 it was revealed that Joan Seppala, owner of the Independent, contacted a separate hotel developer informing them that Presidio was backing out of the project and suggested that he would be asked to provide a viable option for the hotel plan. This developer was under the impression that Livermore did not currently have a developer (Presidio) lined up and that he would be the one asked to create the hotel plan. This misinformation made its way to a Senior Executive at Marriot who then contacted Presidio with great concern. All this misinformation was geared towards preventing the development of the downtown hotel.
This is why I am appalled. I fully recognize that Joan has done good things for our City. I am thankful for the spirit behind the Urban Growth Boundary. Still, I am appalled that someone would go so far to get their way. So, I ask you citizens of Livermore, is all this worth it? Are we willing to hurt downtown business for a theater four times bigger than the one we already bailed out? Please remember that the downtown plan is a compromise. There are elements that each of us will not love. There are elements I am not ecstatic about, but I realize that I will not get things entirely my way. The plan is done, let’s move forward.
Editor’s note: Ms. Felker’s first submission of her letter to the editor contained the following assertion, “We have just learned that FoL lied to a Senior Executive at Marriot stating that the developer for the hotel had backed out. If I were the developer, I would see this as a slap in the face.” Because the first sentence was untruthful, she was asked to delete it, along with the follow-up sentence.
Ms. Felker answered that she would provide evidence to support her claim. She sent the statement shown in the second to last paragraph of her letter that replaces the above claim that a FoL member lied to a Senior Executive at Marriott.
In response to Ms. Felker’s initial accusation, The Independent states that Joan Seppala has had no contact with anyone at Marriott.
The facts regarding Ms. Felker’s replacement statement are these: During Ms. Seppala’s extended conversations with a separate developer, he clearly understood then, and continues to understand now, that the city plans to move forward with Presidio’s eastside hotel. Furthermore, this separate developer knows that Presidio has been given an Exclusive Negotiating Rights Agreement with the city. The developer states that he is only interested in a Livermore project on the condition that the city changes its plan to include a westside hotel, and Presidio declines to participate. Since these conditions do not exist at this time, there is no reason why either Ms. Seppala or the separate developer would contact a Marriott executive.