At its July 8 meeting, the Livermore City Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution authorizing staff to proceed with negotiating terms for a development agreement with Presidio Companies for a downtown hotel on the east side of Livermore Avenue at the corner of Livermore and Railroad Avenues.
Twenty-three spoke during the public discussion, 12 against the city’s eastside hotel plan, and 11 in favor of it.
Tamara Reus, the proponent of the Central Park Plan initiative, reminded councilmembers that ¾ of the participants at the council’s $500,000 Outreach Process wanted a relaxed, high-end, wine country hotel on the west side of Livermore Avenue. The signatures for the initiative for the Central Park Plan with its westside hotel are currently being gathered.
She stated, “The Central Park Plan initiative is consistent with the results of the outreach process. It provides a means for voters to express their preference for a westside hotel, as well as a Central Park and more convenient parking.
“Why is the council rushing into a development agreement with Presidio before the vote on the Central Park Plan occurs? Is the Council afraid the Council Plan will be rejected? This agenda item is a transparent attempt to avoid a vote of the people.
“Make no mistake; the Central Park Plan will be on the ballot.”
Linda Milanese, who along with her husband is gathering signatures for the initiative, found that after talking with hundreds of Livermore voters, only about 10% accept the city’s plan. The Central Park Plan has two times the open space and parking conveniently located. “While we are often characterized as a small elite group of people who want to impede progress, our experience says otherwise. We believe we represent the majority.”
Asked by Councilmember Bob Woerner to comment on the comparative amount of open space, Community Development Director Paul Spence noted that in the City Plan, open space is approximately 3.5 acres. Woerner referred to Milanese’s statement that the Central Park Plan then must have 7 acres of open space. “Something isn’t adding up.”
Jean King also mentioned she had been collecting signatures. “The voters really want their wishes to be heard. This is their town.” King believes it is important to delay the hotel agreement until the citizens have an opportunity to vote on the plan. The Central Park Plan has 3 acres of public park, which includes Stockmen’s Park and the Central Park from the Bankhead Plaza to L Street. This is a real park for the public, not just open space between housing units and sidewalks counted as part of the open space. “Open space around a private residence is not considered public space”.
Woerner, who interrupted King’s statement, disagreed, stating that the proposed Central Park Plan has what it calls open space bordered by a hotel and a science center. After the meeting, King explained, “A hotel and science center, as well as theater and retail uses, are open to the public. It is normal for public parks to be located adjacent to them. Space among housing units is meant for those that live there. By the way, the City included in its 3.5 acre open space calculation the site that is proposed for the Black Box Theater.”
Michael Fredrich read a statement from Bill Dunlop, Chair of the Citizens for a Livermore Central Park, who was unable to attend the meeting: “The city council may not proceed with any agreement with Presidio, including the authorization proposed tonight, because such action violates the constitutional rights of Livermore’s voters to act on the Central park Plan.
“The right to place an initiative on the ballot is protected by Article IV, Section 1 and other provisions of the California Constitution. The voters’ rights have already vested.”
According to Dunlop, when enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot have been turned in, the Elections Code requires the council to place the initiative on the ballot. City negotiations for a hotel on the east side of Livermore Avenue are in direct conflict with the Central Park Plan. The resolution before the council “proposes anti-democratic actions contrary to the rights of Livermore voters under the Constitution; they are a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Woerner asked City Attorney Jason Alcala three questions. Does the circulation of a petition or an initiative place any constitutional or other legal restrictions on the ability of the City of Livermore to conduct its business? Alcala answered, “No”.
More specifically, is the council fully empowered to ask staff to negotiate development agreements with respect to all aspects of the approved Downtown Plan? Alcala replied, “Currently, yes.”
Currently, is the city council legally required to incorporate any of the land use aspects from the initiative in a development agreement? Alcala responded, “No”.
Jeff Kaskey stated that Presidio said that they would build on either side of Livermore Avenue, if asked. Kaskey reported that he had recently had a long conversation with another hotel developer. “This billion dollar hotel developer was confident that a westside hotel would not only be successful, but also would support more rooms and a higher room rate based on the better location adjacent to the large Central Park. More rooms and higher rates mean more income to the city and local business.”
Kaskey explained that either plan requires that some parking be built first. Based on the city’s schedule that the eastside hotel will not be completed until mid-2021, a westside hotel could be built without added delay, he noted.
Maryann Brent explained that the Central Park Plan initiative places the 84 legally required affordable units on the perimeter of the downtown site. The initiative also provides for 46 additional affordable units on Pacific Avenue. More than 220 housing units are being built just across L Street to the west.
Michael Ferrucci, Doug Mann, Loretta Kaskey, Donna Cabanne, Susan Putnam and Helen Barnes all asked the council not to approve the Presidio development agreement Monday night.
John Stein asked if the development agreement carried any legal liability if the city, after receiving signatures, adopted the initiative or put it on a ballot?
Stein said that the proponents of delaying the process have stated that their actions would not delay the development of the downtown. He pointed out that if we delay long enough, we won’t have to worry about planning the downtown. The city or the county will do it for us. There are a number of bills in the state legislature with plans to require high density and high-rise housing within a half mile of a railroad station and this area is in that category.
Alexandra Henkelman, Board President of Livermore Valley Wine Growers Association, thanked the council for all the time and effort developing the downtown. The Association supports moving forward with the plan as presented.
Lisa Tromovitch spoke in favor of proceeding, noting that visitors are an important part of the city’s financial viability. She is a member of the Tourism Area Professional Partnership, which developed an ad touting “The Perfect Day in Livermore” featured last week in the Wine Enthusiast. The downtown needs to be finished to back up the marketing and programming efforts. “Let’s not delay. Move forward with this well-designed plan and hotel.”
Allie Felker noted the lack of details on the Central Park Plan. There is no budget for the cost of the park, security, paying for the movement of an entire street, or traffic studies.
Drew Felker, Asa Strout, and Josh are for moving forward without any more delays.
Dawn Argula, C.E.O. of the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce, thanked staff for the comprehensive outreach for the last five years concerning the Downtown Specific City Plan. More time is not going to get us any further. This is disrespecting the thorough process that has already occurred.
Laning Thompson, a board member and officer of Interfaith Housing, asked, “What does the city core really need now? A spread out hotel and more open space, or apartments for moderate income families that work in our schools and health care centers? The initiative would cut the affordable downtown housing to 84 studio type units instead of the city’s plan of 130 two- and three-bedroom units of varying sizes. At the workshops, the majority of those individuals not valuing downtown housing were secure in their own homes.
Nancy Bankhead remarked that the park itself would not be maintained by the City of Livermore, but by the downtown district. The larger it is, the more it will cost the downtown merchants to take care of the park. She stated she was not representing the Bankhead Theater.
Karl Wente discussed the reduction to 84 units, “but at what density and what size?” This is not a plan; it is a drawing on a piece of paper. There are a lot of people who believe in the present plan and we need to move forward. The process worked. This is capitalized democracy.
Councilmember Bob Coomber asked staff how many hoteliers chose the west side, when the RFP went out. Spence noted there were no submittals for the west side. The east side was seen as a preferred location. The market demand was in the range of 100 to 125 rooms.
Councilmember Trish Munro inquired where the hotel was located in the original Downtown Specific Plan. Planning Manager Steve Stewart replied that it was on the site next to the Bankhead Theater, as adopted in 2004. Mayor John Marchand mentioned that was the reason the westside of the Bankhead was stucco and not brick. Stewart agreed.
Councilmember Woerner stated that he heard speakers say the westside hotel could be done just as quickly as a hotel on the eastside. If we made a decision now to go to the westside, what would be the difference in timing? Spence answered that it would be substantial. The overall current plan would be affected, including moving Veterans Way, the utilities. A new RFP would have to be initiated. Woerner continued that switching to a westside hotel would, therefore, take a number of years. “We have the legal right and the obligation to move forward with this development agreement.”
Vice Mayor Bob Carling discussed the criticism about the previous referendum not going to a vote. The council rescinded the amendments that we made. Criticizing us for not letting the people vote is not sensible. We need to move forward. I have a problem with paying people to gather signatures. I was told that their opinion was that “all five of us were on the dole to the developers. That’s just so insulting and a terrible thing.” We had nineteen people on the steering committee and only four were for the plan on the westside.
Coomber mentioned that many members who spoke against the City Plan during the meeting were members of the Steering Committee who agreed on the eastside hotel. He disagreed with the statement read about this being unconstitutional. “What constitution is he reading?” Coomber supports the resolution. He continued by complimenting Mr. Patel, the hotel developer, for being very patient.
Munro noted that when you have enough people out telling stories you can get anything through on a ballot. This was not a random sample. There is a group of people who do not want the hotel on the eastside. It doesn’t mean that it is the wrong place for it. She said that when she was talking to the public, 90% of people “just want to get it done.” She does not believe that this is what the majority of the city wants. She absolutely supports moving forward on the agreement.
Marchand told the audience that he heard during the meeting disappointment expressed by both sides. He agreed with them, since for the last year there have been full page ads telling them they should be disappointed. They are misinformed. He said that by the time this whole thing is said and done, those funding this initiative will have spent almost $750,000 trying to manipulate the voters of Livermore. “That’s very disturbing to me.”
He said that 19 groups on the Steering Committee figured out what the community wanted, and developed this unified plan, including a hotel having an iconic presence on South Livermore Avenue. He noted that of the 14 responses received from developers, there were none for a westside hotel.
Marchand related that he, too, had heard from the signature gatherers that the council members were “taking contributions from the developers. To have this scripted that this council is corrupt is unconscionable, vile, wrong and beyond offensive.”
Marchand asked where the financial and traffic analysis was on the Central Park drawing.
He explained that in the Outreach Process, nobody wanted microunits. The proposed Central Park plan for 80 units would make the sizes 400 sq.ft. per unit, the size of a two-car garage.