LIVERMORE — At its Dec. 7 workshop with divided public comment, the city council directed staff to move forward with the Eden Housing Inc. plan in its current downtown location.
A controversial project in the community, the plan for the downtown affordable housing development stacked groups in support of moving ahead with the project approved in 2018 against those who wish to see the housing relocated north of Railroad Avenue. The latter note that the move will help to meet the goal of almost doubling the number of affordable housing units and increasing the size and amenities of the downtown community park.
Sixteen advocates for the plan as it stands included Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Dawn Argula, Rachael Snedecor of Livermore Downtown Inc. and Unify Livermore’s Asa Strout, along with some residents, business owners and Councilmember-elect Brittni Kiick.
“With all due respect to all of the (speakers), the 130 units of housing on the downtown site has already been approved by both the planning commission and the city council,” said Planning Commissioner Gina Bonanno, who expressed her support of the project.
Laning Thompson, current president of Interfaith Housing, spoke as an advocate of affordable housing. She urged the council to move forward.
“Interfaith has 800 applications for its 207 senior apartments. This housing is needed ASAP,” Thompson said. “The city and Eden Housing have been allocated $14.4 million from Alameda County’s Measure A1 funds for the downtown project as it was submitted to the county in 2019. If there were a major change, such as relocation, the project would lose that funding, which the city can’t afford to do ... Amassing the funding can take a long time, so Eden needs to get started soon … Besides this plan would not create all that much of a ‘canyon.’ If you end up feeling oppressed by apartment buildings on L Street, try P Street.”
Concerns of those pushing to move forward centered around the urgent need for affordable units and the money utilized to procure the housing at its current site. Alameda County awarded A1 funds to the city in the amount of $14.4 million, which comes with a deadline to begin construction by January 2022. Eden Housing has applied for an extension.
“Funding from the county really is time-limited,” said Linda Mandolini, president of Eden Housing Inc., the affordable housing developer selected by the council in 2018. “If Livermore doesn’t spend (the $14.4 million), there are many other projects in the county that want to spend it. So people are lining up on a waiting list, trying to seize this cash from us, and we don’t want it to happen.”
Mandolini further noted Livermore is positioned to score highly on its application for the Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which has March and July application deadlines. City staff anticipates review of the entitlement application by the planning commission and city council as early as January and February 2021, respectively. This timeline would enable Eden to meet a March application deadline for tax-credit financing, which is a critical step in the development of the project.
On the other side, 22 individuals — who also call themselves advocates of affordable housing — expressed their support of continuing to explore alternatives to procure a “win-win.”
Mark Palajac, of Livermore Housing Authority and the Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee, stated he’s working with a small group of Livermore residents to identify viable alternatives.
“I would like to first state that an alternative solution cannot jeopardize the county A1 funding or other elements necessary to implement these 130 affordable units,” Palajac said. “We would like the opportunity to interact with Eden Housing to understand their plan and see if we can formulate an acceptable – hopefully preferable – alternative location.”
Speaker Veronica Stewart pointed out that the groups in favor of relocating the units are in favor of additional affordable housing.
"I want to draw attention to the actual place we’re talking about,” said speaker Veronica Stewart. “It is literally the community’s heart. I think that, while we do need more housing, that spot is not the right place for it."
Some also called out Vice Mayor/Mayor-elect Bob Woerner for his alleged change of pace on the topic since winning the mayoral seat this November.
“It seems that while running for election, Mayor-elect Bob Woerner was very willing to encourage residents about his willingness to consider what some folks are calling a ‘win-win’ opportunity that would move Eden Housing to a nearby location, build more housing than this original plan, while allowing for a larger … park,” said David Rounds, a public speaker.
Carol Silva also said she recalled Woerner’s stance, which was published in a September statement to The Independent. During that time, Woerner said he imagined there would be plenty of opportunity for public input and discussion around determining the best feasible location. In September, he noted that working on the housing and open space would create the win-win to which the public speakers referred.
“Parks help people’s emotions and well-being, and it would be nice if Eden Housing could be located somewhere else, where the number of units could be increased,” Silva added.
Woerner agreed that he did say he was open to a win-win solution, adding “if there was one.”
“I laid out that it wasn’t just the number of units that somebody might propose, but it had to leave the city financially whole and the quality of the units had to be equivalent. Anything less than leaving the city financially whole and the size of the units the same … is a win-lose solution,” Woerner said. “To date, nothing has been proposed that’s even remotely feasible … time is of the essence; we have asked for an extension on the deadline for Eden Housing as soon as we found out it was so tight. We don’t know if we’re going to get it or not, so the point of tonight is to work with all due speed to perfect Plan A. If there is to be a Plan B, it has constraints it has to meet — one, of course, is timing.”
Paul Spence, Livermore community development director, explained the timing element, noting that the city owns the current site. On relocating the housing, he said the property on the north side of Railroad Avenue has several different owners, which would entail the process of acquiring the properties and possibly relocating existing tenants.
“If you wanted to move the project and keep the $14 million, certainly you’d have to go and ask the county,” Spence said. “With the tax-credit financing, there is a window of opportunity to apply for those tax credits … it’s a very competitive process.”
After the meeting, Ruth Gasten, a founder of Interfaith Interconnect and a member of the group mentioned by Palajac, said that the citizens are researching ways to make practical a relocation of the 130 Eden Housing Units. She explained that extensive work had already taken place, although more is needed.
On whether Eden Housing would lose its $14.4 million A1 county funds if the 130 units were moved across Railroad Avenue, Gasten referred to a Jan. 29, 2020 email from a county staff member.
The email stated, “The housing project was selected through a competitive RFP process. At a minimum, we would need to evaluate changes against the criteria in the RFP and possibly re-score the project, which might result in a different ranking. We would need Eden to submit a revised application – or at least information related to any proposed changes. If the result of changes were higher scores on ranking criteria and a larger number of affordable housing units, it is likely that the funds could remain with the project … ”
Gasten also reported that her group has turned to an appraiser to assess the value of the six properties that could be acquired. Three are for sale, or open to selling; a fourth is owned by the city. Since timing is critical, at least for 130 of the units, she said that this is good news.
She continued, “The funding that follows city guidelines for the acquisition of these parcels, and other issues, have been carefully studied and look promising, but more discussion will follow.
“Last Friday, the city gave us permission to talk directly with appropriate parties, which will speed up our research.”
Gasten concluded, “Significantly increasing affordable housing, and creating a park with remarkable amenities in the heart of our community are central to our goals.”
The city council spoke unanimously in favor of moving forward with the project. The staff will now work with Eden on architectural concepts and the entitlement application. The planning commission expects to review plans in January before it goes before the council in February.
To watch the entire workshop meeting, visit https://bit.ly/Indy_WorkshopVideo.