While smoky conditions have delayed the ribbon cutting for the long-awaited Stockmen’s Park, city officials indicate plans for a virtual celebration are still progressing.
The project is known for providing both affordable housing and a downtown park for the community at a time when neither were moving forward.
Vice Mayor Bob Woerner – credited with pulling together the deal that created the park – recalled that in 1962, the Livermore Stockmen’s Rodeo Association gave 33 acres of the original rodeo grounds to the city to be used exclusively for civic purposes, with housing excluded.
“A portion was to be reserved for a park to be built by the city to honor the contributions to our heritage by the stockmen and the veterans of Livermore, Pleasanton and Murray Township,” Woerner said. “Fast forwarding to 2017, Laning Thompson of Interfaith Housing approached me to help her get permission to develop a vacant part of the Civic Center site on Pacific Ave for affordable senior housing, which, as it turned out, was the site for the agreed upon park.”
He noted the idea for creating a larger downtown park arose in a July 2017 meeting, arranged by Laning Thompson of Interfaith Housing at Woerner’s request. Representatives from the city, the Livermore Stockmen’s Rodeo Association and Interfaith Housing worked toward a solution.
“In the course of the discussion, rancher Don Staysa mentioned that perhaps a different site could be designated for the promised park,” Woerner continued. “It was then that I suggested considering the new park being planned for the downtown.”
What came out of the meeting became a deal that Woerner called a “win-win” for the community.
“The stockmen and veterans got a prime location for honoring their contributions to our heritage; the location swap made new land available for 140 units of affordable housing for seniors and veterans; and the city was able to finally fulfill its obligation made 58 years ago to build the park,” he said. “As an added bonus, the deal is projected to help offset nearly $10 million of the approximately $14.5 million obligation to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund incurred as a result of the purchase of the entire Downtown Catalyst Site.”
In January 2018, the city unanimously voted to approve the complex deal Woerner brokered with numerous disparate stakeholders.
The culmination of planning resulted in a project that included a downtown park along with retail, cultural uses and the Eden housing development, set to include 130 affordable units – all bound by L Street, Railroad Avenue and Livermore Avenue.
Plans for the project, however, saw division within the community, as residents prioritized different goals for this downtown site. Some wanted affordable housing and others a large, public park with amenities for all age groups.
For Woerner, who recently formed the Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the need for affordable housing remained dominant within the city.
“We need to make sure that all the diverse members of our community can afford to live and work here in order to be actually welcoming to all,” he said. “I expect that the Equity and Inclusion Working Group will play a role in helping the community come together to arrive at the best overall solution to meet the housing needs for our diverse community.
“There are several areas in Livermore that could be considered with affordable housing in the mix. The city’s approval of the Downtown Plan designates the northwest part of the downtown development site for 130 units of workforce housing. In the downtown area, the commercial sites east of P Street and north of Railroad are currently zoned to also include housing. As the sites between 2nd and 3rd Streets get redeveloped, retail on the first floors with residential above could also make sense. Sites in the Isabel Specific Plan also come to mind.”
When asked if moving 130 Eden Housing units off the downtown site – and increasing the unit count – to free up space for the park would unify those at odds over the plans, Woerner had a couple of points to share.
“First, I believe it is still possible in principle to relocate the housing element, assuming that any contractual, financial and quality concerns that may arise are satisfactorily resolved as judged by the key stakeholders,” he said. “The quantity of housing may not be the only consideration. The objective is to figure out the best feasible location by carefully evaluating all the factors.
“Second, how the decision is made will also be a critical factor that impacts how well the community is able to unite behind a common goal. I imagine there will need to be plenty of opportunity for public input and reasoned discussion of the potential benefits. Hopefully, the best course of action will become apparent as members of the community collaborate.
“Once we are clear on the best plan for the Eden Housing project, I will go for it, and look for the opportunity to make it happen. I am sure there is a way to help the community come together.”
Woerner further said he believed that working on the housing and open space would create another win-win for everyone.
Community Insight on Bridging the Divide
According to Evan Branning, Unify Livermore CFO, affordable housing is a major issue in Livermore and the region.
“I want what is best for our community, and I will continue to keep an open mind on the pros and cons of any project,” he stated. “With respect to the downtown site, it has long been envisioned for affordable housing. The land was purchased with affordable housing funds with an accompanying obligation to build housing on the site. Building the proposed workforce housing on that site fulfils that obligation and is the right thing to do.”
He pointed out that the housing downtown will allow local teachers and first responders a location with “amenities worthy of the sacrifices they make for our collective good.”
“If we try to move the housing,” he said, “it is my opinion that it could be met with legal challenges that could increase costs and delay progress. In addition, it is not certain that the $14 million that the county has granted Eden Housing recently will necessarily be given to them if the project were moved across the street. I am looking forward to participating in any discussions on this project as we move forward.”
Mark Palajac, Chair of the Livermore Housing Authority, pointed out the need to get the downtown plan right.
"I voted for the City Plan in the March 3 election, primarily because I wanted to avoid further delays in implementation,” Palajac said. “I do prefer as much open green space as possible, and we only get one chance to do this downtown. There are obvious conflicts between open space and housing. I do think in this case there are good alternatives for locating the housing at nearby sites, including across the street on Railroad Avenue and on Chestnut.”
Palajac stated that he also believes that the city needs to locate affordable housing throughout Livermore, not just in concentrated areas. He noted “there are so many flavors of low-cost housing” to pursue.
“My wife, Jan, and I are both proponents of preserving open spaces as much as possible,” Palajac explained. “She is the board chair of the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District, so she gets to promote that on a routine basis. We’d both prefer the downtown park area to be as large as possible.”
Livermore resident Lee Younker has followed the downtown plans over the years and worked with individuals on both sides of the issue. Last week, while driving down L Street between First Street and Railroad Avenue, he reported his surprise – four-story buildings going up on the west side.
“For the first time, I realized that if the Eden Housing project were to go forward with its four-story residential units directly across the street on the east side, it would create a ‘canyon’ on L Street,” he said. “It would change the fundamental character of downtown Livermore. Citizens have gotten used to the light, sunshine and openness of our city's center. That potential change caught my attention.”
Younker said that, while he strongly supports efforts to provide housing close to transit and within the downtown, he also supports exploring viable locations for the 130-unit Eden Housing project, such as moving the housing across Railroad Avenue to the north. He noted that relocation could preserve the special open character of the Downtown Center by expanding the park space adjacent to Stockmen's Park.
“I understand that more than double the number of units could be placed there, all within a half mile of transit and easy walking distance of the downtown,” he said.
“Perhaps, even more importantly, it could provide a spark to unite elements within the community to put aside previous differences, and work to develop and support plans to aggressively address the low-income housing needs across the city.”