The City Council spent a good chunk of Monday’s marathon meeting lambasting backers of a citizen’s referendum that is scheduled to go before voters on March 3.

Separate items related to the referendum were placed on the Council’s meeting agenda.

The first concerned an attempt by city officials to solicit from referendum supporters the identity of a hotel developer the group says would be willing and able to develop a downtown hotel west of Livermore Avenue.

The group seeks to reverse a

development agreement they

argue obligates the city to have a hotel built on the east side of

S. Livermore Avenue. Voters in March will decide whether to reject or accept the city’s agreement with the hotel developer, Presidio Companies, of Davis.

A second item discussed Monday involved the preparation of a council-backed informational campaign related to the referendum.

As the meeting dragged into its fifth hour past midnight, some on the council abandoned all pretenses of politeness.

“If you really want to ‘referend’ or ‘initiative’ everything that comes up, where are you at budget time?” Councilman Bob Coomber asked the citizens group. “Where are you when we have to consider the really difficult tasks that we have to undertake looking at a several thousand page budget? Nowhere. Our budget meetings are attended by one or two members of the public. And quite honestly, unless you are willing to do that, shut up.”

Solicitation for Westside Hotel Developer

The first referendum-related item concerned discussion of a status report on a Nov. 4 letter the Council directed city staff to send to individual supporters of the referendum. In their letter, city officials asked for the identity of developers interested in building a downtown hotel west of Livermore Avenue in what’s known as the Central Park Plan.

Several referendum supporters pointed out that Presidio previously said it would build on the west side if that’s what the city preferred.

The letter to members of the citizen’s group requests detailed information about the potential westside hotel developer’s experience, a full site plan, information such as the brand of hotel it would construct, a timetable for construction and a financing plan.

Lynn Seppala, a referendum supporter, was among those who received the city’s letter. Because the city had already entered into agreements with 2205 Railroad Avenue LLC, a Presidio offshoot, and the Council has already made clear its preference for an eastside hotel, Seppala said the city had already been informed the potential westside hotel developer with whom the group had been speaking for the past year was unwilling to step forward with a detailed proposal.

“Is it possible that the sole purpose of this hearing is an inappropriate effort to cast doubt about the feasibility of a west side hotel, leading up to the March referendum?” Seppala asked.

Some members of the Council concluded the lack of response was proof proponents of the referendum were bluffing.

“The point of this letter was we really owe it to the citizens, if there is going to be a claim there is another viable plan, let’s see it,” Councilman Bob Woerner said. “But you’ve got nothing.”

Jean King, another recipient of the city’s letter, was unable to attend the meeting. In a written statement that was read to the Council on her behalf, King said the potential west side hotel developer stated he would be willing to work with the city, but not in a manner that would interfere with its current agreement with the Presidio developer.

“He has always said that he would apply to develop a top quality hotel, 150-160 rooms, full service with a restaurant, if the city were committed to a westside hotel location and Presidio were no longer interested. Because neither of those two requirements have been met so far, he is not able to respond to the city at this time,” King wrote.

Informational Campaign On Referendum

The second referendum-related item concerned planning for an informational campaign to counter what members of the Council called inaccurate campaigning by referendum supporters.

The referendum group, which seeks to reverse the city’s development agreement with the Presidio hotel developer, launched a signature gathering effort this summer to put the referendum on the ballot in order to protect its Central Park Plan initiative which had already been placed on the November 2020 ballot.

The ballot initiative, if approved, will give voters a west side alternative to the city’s east side hotel. They say there is room on the west side to build a resort hotel that’s larger, full-service, and offers an upscale restaurant; this would attract leisure and business travelers to the wineries and downtown.

On Monday, the group provided the Council with a copy of a financial report prepared in September by Willdan Financial Services of Oakland. The analysis compares revenue estimates for the city’s approved downtown plan and the citizen group’s Central Park Plan. It shows that the Central Park Plan would provide $15.04 million more to the city's general fund than would the City Plan.

Several Council members dismissed the report. They also said the alternative proposed by the citizen’s group is little more than conceptual drawings, as opposed to its more detailed plan, which has been subjected to a public vetting process.

While the Council is permitted to take a position on a measure, City Attorney Jason Alcala cautioned that the Elections Code prohibits the use of taxpayer money to campaign for or against the referendum.