At the July 22 Livermore City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to direct staff to file a Notice of Determination to introduce an ordinance authorizing execution of a development agreement with Presidio Co. to build a downtown hotel on the eastside of Livermore Avenue.
Presidio is proposing to build a three-story, approximately 65,000 square foot, 125-135 room upscale-branded hotel. The hotel will include 1,400 to 2,000 square feet of conference space and a rooftop deck.
Speakers in favor of the present City Plan with the hotel on the eastside of South Livermore and Railroad Avenues numbered 31, with 29 against.
The initiative supporting the Central Park Plan has qualified for the ballot. On Tuesday, July 16, 8,110 unverified signatures were submitted to the city; 5,269 signatures must be qualified voters. On Friday, July 19, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters reported to the city that 6959 signatures were valid, 32.08% more than needed.
During the public hearing, Tamara Reus related “If you proceed, we will file a referendum. You need to stop your illegal interference with the citizens’ initiative.” Denise Leddon and Richard Ryon concurred.
Rich Buckley stated that the council’s highest duty was to honor the community directed initiative, not subvert it.
William Dunlop, Chair of the Citizens for the Central Park Committee, declared that the council moving forward “is intended to cut off the rights of Livermore’s voters. The voters will use the referendum power to reject any development agreement the city council contrives. Stop your actions now.”
Sally Dunlop, Mary Ann Brent and Johnna Thompson asked the council to reject the development agreement until after the required election.
Tom Ramos was concerned about the traffic plans for an eastside hotel.
Jean King believed that the council should not sign any agreement for the hotel until the citizens had a chance to vote on the plans for downtown. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make the downtown great,” she said.
A letter from Walter Davies complimented Joan Seppala for her years of support for what she felt was the best for Livermore.
Michael Ferrucci favored the westside hotel, and the less housing the better.
Jeff Kaskey chided councilmembers for using land use titles to block the initiative.
Jeffrey Sinsheimer, an attorney representing Friends of Livermore and Citizens for a Livermore Central Park, read the statement that he sent the city attorney. “City Council may not proceed with any development agreement that annuls the right of the voters to act on the Central Park Plan as a matter of law under the California constitution. The record as read into the proceedings this evening by staff does not adequately identify the constitutional crisis that you have created. The city council authorized city staff to pursue negotiations with Presidio to enter a development agreement to build a hotel at a location where one is not allowed by the Central Park Plan.
“Last week, the Central Park Plan initiative signatures were submitted for verification. The California constitution reserves for the people, under Article 4 Section 1, the ultimate right to legislate. It is beyond the council’s right as a matter of fact and you must respect it or you will annul their right. Section 5.04 violates the rights of the people. An amendment to the California constitution in 1911 providing for the initiative and referendum process signifies one of the most outstanding achievements of the progressive movement in the early 1900s, drafted in light of the theory that all power of government ultimately resides in the people and a power reserved to them as one of the most precious rights of our democratic process.”
Jason Alcala, City Attorney, responded by claiming that the reading of that case was incorrect. Councilmember Bob Woerner asked Alcala whether the Council could proceed with the Development Agreement.
Alcala replied, “The city council is not prevented from moving forward today, since the initiative has no effect until it is voted on, and only then, if it is voted on in favor by the people.”
Linda Milanese referred back to a council meeting 16 months ago in which Rikesh Patel, the Presidio hotel developer, was asked if a hotel on either side of Livermore Ave. were feasible. Could more time be taken for staff to study the implications? The developer answered, “yes” to both questions, but stated his preference was to have an immediate decision. “It appears that our council is more concerned with serving a developer,” Milanese said.
Jim Perry, who served on the Livermore Planning Commission for 16 years, spoke in favor of the agreement. During that time, in the late 1990s, the eastside was designated for a hotel location. He told the council to continue with its downtown plan.
Lisa Tromovitch, Founding Artistic Director of Livermore Shakespeare Festival, backed the eastside hotel, which she said had been a part of the General Plan since 2004.
Chris Chandler, Executive Director of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, supported the conclusions reached in the public process and by the council. John Marion and Asa Strout wanted the plan to move forward as quickly as possible.
Winery owners, David and Darcie Kent, stated that the eastside hotel would already be open if it had not been combined with the redevelopment of the supermarket site.
Rachael Snedecor, Executive Director of Livermore Downtown Inc., explained that she and other downtown business owners attended city meetings and workshops to ensure everything tied in with the entire district. “You are doing the right thing for the business community,” she said.
Maxine Brookner noted that the opponents have spent an awful lot of money to oppose the plan the city approved.
Steve Larranaga and Dawn Argula from the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce wanted the council to continue with the schedule for the hotel and the rest of downtown, as did Mike Allen, Travis Fisher and Kathy Streeter. Beth Wilson urged moving ahead with the project noting that Livermore has 43 parks already, as well as Sycamore Grove.
Mony Nop asked when was enough, enough. How much was it going to cost the city if we don’t move forward?
Ali Felker questioned the accuracy of the numbers of people in favor of a westside hotel put forward by those supporting the Central Park Plan. Lynn Naylor, CEO of the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group representing Valley businesses with a GDP of $42 billion, fully supported the downtown plan.
Vice Mayor Bob Carling asked Alcala whether it was true that if the Development Agreement were approved that evening, would it be truly illegal and annul the right of the voters to vote on the initiative. Alcala answered that was not true. Alcala said that the appropriate action would be a referendum separate from the initiative.
Carling asked what percentage of the public involved in the Outreach Process supported the westside hotel.
Paul Spence, Community Development Director, answered that 50% were for the westside, 34 % eastside and 16% undecided.
Councilmember Bob Coomber said, “I wonder why we got into this? Every time we are in disagreement, we are issued an initiative or a referendum. I was the one councilmember who voted for the westside hotel. But I respected the process by which the other four members approved the eastside, and I went for that. It was what we decided on, and it’s done. That we are still here talking about it versus breaking ground a year ago is obscene.”
Councilmember Trish Munro said that getting enough signatures to get an initiative on the ballot means nothing. “Being a longtime resident and paying property taxes doesn’t mean a thing. What matters is do you vote in Livermore? It’s the voting that matters.”
Woerner stated that the initiative was irresponsible. He asked staff if they had had any contact with the hotelier/developer Kaskey mentioned at the last council meeting.
City Manager Marc Roberts replied that Adam Van de Water, Director of Innovation and Economic Development, had talked with that developer. After the meeting, Jean King, a supporter of the Central Park Plan, stated that she, too, had spoken with him. “He is one of the largest hotel developers in the country, and is interested in the westside if Presidio is not interested. He believes there is a demand for a life-style, destination hotel on the park, with surrounding wine-related retail that would greatly benefit the Livermore wine industry. I understand that this would bring higher room rates. with more property and sales tax, as well as Transit Occupancy Tax to the city.”
Carling quoted from one of the Letters to the Editor in last week’s Independent newspaper. It stated that the council “adopted another design foreign to the public process, but friendly to seven self-interested groups,” and that on the last night of the official steering committee meeting, one of the speakers from the public said we should pick a plan. Carling said that was never the intent. He maintained that the committee was to collect information from citizens, residents, experts, and from the staff. Then, it was up to the five council members to make a decision from that information. “Everything we did was out in the open.” Carling said that the people backing the Central Park initiative did not go through a public process.
Marchand mentioned concerns about traffic problems on the site, comparing a 133-room hotel on the corner versus the initiative proposed parking structure. “That defies logic,” Marchand stated. “Also, there has been no financial analysis or traffic analysis on the Central Park Plan, which also proposes multi-family micro units each 400 square feet in size. Nobody in the public outreach wanted this. We need to move this project ahead.”