An ordinance approving a Development Agreement (DA) with Presidio Co., a hotel development company, to build a downtown hotel on the eastside of Livermore Avenue was unanimously approved at the July 29 Livermore City Council meeting.
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.
Thirteen speaking in the public hearing opposed the ordinance and eleven supported it.
Tamara Reus, secretary for Citizens for a Livermore Central Park, stated, “The DA action is an illegal and unconstitutional decision to annul the voters’ rights to legislate by initiative. The council is hurrying to lock down the terms of its downtown plan to prevent the Central Park Plan from gaining further support from the voters. The goal is to render the initiative meaningless. Our only option is to launch a referendum.”
Johnna Thompson observed that when she went door to door in her neighborhood, people wanted to sign the petition because they did not like what the city was doing.
Speaking for herself and not any organization to which she belongs, Jean King asked the council “not to adopt the DA for a hotel on the eastside. By adopting this, you are interfering with the voters’ rights to choose a better plan.”
King cited statistics from the public workshops and online comments to support the conclusion that those participating in the city’s Outreach Process supported a westside hotel. She explained, “Using the outcome of the public workshops and the online Concept tool, of those who registered a preference for the location of the hotel, 109 preferred the westside, while 59 preferred the eastside. This gives a preference of 65%, or 2/3 for the westside hotel.
“Including the additional input to the online General Concepts and Four Concepts, of those who registered a preference, 255 preferred the westside and 88 preferred the eastside location for the hotel. The preference was 74% or 3/4 for the westside hotel.
According to Donna Cabanne, “Livermore residents want to vote on the downtown plan without council interference.” She suggested the council add language approving the agreements only if they can be reversed or applied equally without penalty to either initiative election outcome. “You leave us no choice but to file a referendum and we are prepared to do so.”
Kaskey remarked on how surprised he was by the lack of civility at the previous City Council meeting. Kaskey believed that members of Unify Livermore would continue to comment negatively about the Citizens for a Central Park group, by suggesting that its members were “horrible people.” Kaskey disagreed with the characterization expressed by Unify members that the initiative would kill the downtown and Stockmen’s Park.
Supporting the DA, Sherri Souza, Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce Board Vice-Chair, wanted the community to think about the entities impacted by the DA, including businesses currently in the downtown area, as well as those that may wish to move to the area in the future.
Lynn Naylor, CEO of Innovation Tri-Valley, representing a large number of business leaders all across the Tri-Valley, supported the Downtown Plan. She said that the plan serves the public’s interests both in Livermore and the Tri-Valley.
Rachael Snedecor, Executive Director of Livermore Downtown, Inc., thought that implementing the Central Park Plan could affect the livelihoods of business owners, and the abilities of businesses to pay their bills and serve the community. “They are the fiber, the backbone of what has made the downtown come alive.” Snedecor suggested that a shuttle service be used to provide door-to-door service from the parking lot to the Bankhead, if needed for seniors.
Lisa Tromovitch, Artistic Director of Livermore Shakespeare Festival, said that Livermore Shakespeare has supported the Downtown Plan for 15 years, while it was carefully crafted with the contributions of multiple consultants.
According to Evan Branning, living in town and paying property taxes should not give him an extra vote or make him any more important than someone who rents or is homeless. “This is not the way it is supposed to work. The council was elected to come up with a plan that would meet the needs of all in this city and not just a select few.”
Councilmember Bob Coomber stated, “The characterization of this council as being against the will of the people is wrong and misinformed. I have not spoken to a single one of you, not an e-mail, not a call. I see very few of you at budget meetings. The City Plan was created because we have a budget to maintain. We do not want to see new enterprise districts that will cost downtown merchants more; nor do I want to see taxpayers burdened with an additional assessment. We need to vote on this tonight since this has been talked about for years. We found out that when we put out an RFP, not a single hotel developer wanted a westside location, not one. We owe it to the downtown merchants, the winegrowers; we owe it to every small business, the community, the chamber, to everybody else who lives in Livermore to have a place for visitors to stay downtown.”
Vice Mayor Bob Carling stated, “I think what councilmember Coomber was saying was just right.”
Carling asked the City Attorney whether passing the Development Agreement would affect the people’s right to vote. Alcala said “no”.
Carling continued, “We were never tasked to pick a plan. We picked elements of a plan that we put together.” Carling maintained that the Mayor led a deliberate process where the Council worked on each element that then became the City Plan. “Other than the people in this room tonight, I haven’t heard from a single person in Livermore by e-mail or face to face that doesn’t support the plan that we, the City Council, approved.”
Councilmember Trish Munro appreciated Evan Branning’s statement. “When I think about what my property taxes are and what the property taxes of my children are, I recognize that in fact, people of my generation owe a debt to the people of the next generation, and I hope that we would pay that forward.” Munro identified the referendum as the cause of a two-year delay on the downtown development. “I want to get this done, so let’s do it.”
Councilmember Bob Woerner focused on the process and the elements. “They want a bigger park. If you put the hotel on the eastside, there is more room for a bigger park. It’s about the parking, and it really gets down to a very small demographic who actually wants that. According to LVPAC’s own survey, 94% of the people who go downtown are happy with their parking. A third garage next to the Bankhead would be a waste of a $20 million cost to the city. We have so many pressing problems in this city that could use that money so much better.”
Mayor John Marchand said the first location for the westside hotel was on the site of Blacksmith Square. He thought that a hotel in that location would have “destroyed” the downtown character people emphasized in the outreach process. “The Central Park Plan was a drawing with no scheduled workshops or public hearings, no traffic, financial or other analysis in the development of that drawing.” He reminded all that financial sustainability was ranked next to last in the outreach process, when community members were asked to decide the importance of different factors pertaining to the downtown development. “We were elected to serve this community. Livermore is a remarkable community and we want to keep it that way. That’s why we’re here.”