Voters will decide early next year whether to approve or reject an agreement between the city and a private developer to build a hotel next to the Bankhead Theater on the east side of Livermore Avenue.

The City Council last Monday certified a citizen referendum that had been signed by enough voter signatures to either force the council to rescind a hotel agreement it reached with a developer this summer or to put the agreement before the public for a vote. The council voted unanimously to place the agreement on the March 3, 2020 ballot. As a result, the development agreement is suspended, pending the vote.

The referendum effort was launched after the Livermore City Council signed off on a development agreement on July 29 with 2205 Railroad Avenue LLC, an offshoot of the Davis-based developer Presidio Companies.

Under the 30-year agreement with the city, Presidio would design, build and operate a three-story, 125- to 135-room hotel with a rooftop deck and conference space on what is now a city-owned parking lot on the southeast corner of Railroad and S. Livermore avenues. Construction of the project is projected to begin no later than May 2021, with an opening no later than November 2022.

A citizens’ organization called Protect the Central Park Vote said it seeks to reverse the development agreement because it could obligate the city to have a hotel built on the east side of S. Livermore Avenue, as specified in the city’s downtown plan. The group’s alternative downtown plan provides for a 160-room hotel on the west side of S. Livermore Avenue.

The group does not want the development agreement to interfere with the Central Park Plan initiative set for the November 2020 ballot, giving 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.

To qualify for the ballot, supporters of the referendum were required to collect and submit to the city clerk at least 5,269 signatures, representing 10% of the 52,692 registered voters in Livermore, within 30 days of the city’s approval of the development plan.

Referendum supporters submitted 10,203 signatures before the deadline. The city clerk then forwarded the petition, along with 67 written requests by voters to withdraw their signatures, to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. A random sample of 500 signatures on the petition were examined and compared with voter signatures on file. Based on a state-approved formula, 7,244 were found to be valid, more than enough signatures to qualify.