LIVERMORE — Last week’s General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) meeting raised the issue of possibly moving the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) further out to allow for future development.
On Dec. 8, Joanna Jansen, a principal with PlaceWorks — the city’s consultant tasked to conduct the General Plan and Housing Element Update 2045 — provided an overview of the process to create draft of land-use alternatives. She explained to the 19-member committee that the role of land-use alternatives is to explore possible General Plan map changes.
“I think my expectation would be that the majority of (land-use) designations that are in place today will probably remain the same, but Livermore is changing, and it's going to continue to change, and we're looking ahead for 20 years,” Jansen said. “We've already heard from the community and from many of you about ideas for ways that Livermore can adapt and change over those 20 years, so we do need to think about how in the future ... and where Livermore is going to accommodate housing, jobs, services, entertainment, parks and open space to serve all those new people and new visitors. And so that’s the goal of the land-use alternatives process.”
The topic opened the question of altering the city’s boundaries that were established through community initiatives intended to protect open space from urban sprawl. Livermore has two UGBs, one on its southern boundary and one on its northern boundary. The South Livermore Valley Specific Plan and Urban Growth Boundary — different from Alameda County’s UGB for unincorporated areas called the South Livermore Valley Area Plan — found success as a Livermore ballot measure and won voter approval in 2000. In 2002, the council adopted the North Livermore Urban Growth Boundary after more than 10,000 signatures had been gathered to qualify it for the ballot.
Steve Stewart, City of Livermore principal planner, noted that the UGBs have been in place for a while.
“We've done a lot of good work to stabilize uses beyond the Urban Growth Boundary, but I think, you know, the General Plan offers an opportunity to look at not only areas within the city, but areas around the city where perhaps we think a better job could be done about planning what goes on beyond Urban Growth Boundary,” he continued.
Committee Member Asa Strout — who ran for election in 2020 for a Livermore school district seat and CEO of Unify Livermore — said the current land-use was too restrictive to meet the goals of 2045.
“When we look at how we plan the city, especially around housing with the Urban Growth Boundaries, we either, you know, build up to provide enough housing, or we have to look at changing (the UGBs) to build out to provide enough housing,” Strout said.
Member Thomas Matt Graves, also a project developer for Eden Housing, asked whether an initiative would be needed to revise the UGBs, since they were instated by initiatives. City Senior Planner Andy Ross confirmed that a community vote would be required for revisions.
“We're in the very infant stages,” Ross said. “It's not our intent to undo the Urban Growth Boundary, but we are having the community conversations; we're having conversations with this committee; we're having communications with stakeholders. So we're just kind of trying to understand what our vision is, what our obligations are, and how best we can achieve that.”
Strout asked if the land-use alternatives outside the UGBs could be established with a clarifying statement.
“So, like in 2045, it's going to be a very different city, and we're going to really need to start, you know, effectively thinking out of the box — and our rural boundaries are box,” Strout said. “So (can we) get some alternatives that include like an … ‘if/then’ kind of statement? Like — ‘If we eliminate the Urban Growth Boundary to the north, via council action, then we could have Alternative land use that looks like this,’” he said.
According to Elections Code section 9217, a council has the option to adopt an initiative without putting it on the ballot if enough signatures are gathered to qualify it; however, once adopted, it has the same force as if the voters have approved it, and would require a vote of the people if repealed or amended.
Ross restated that it was too early in the process to discuss policy, which could be a year out, but said that if the committee were to propose land use outside the UGB, they would need to have that conversation about what it would entail. In a later interview with The Independent, he clarified that the committee shouldn’t discuss land-use changes outside the UGB without explaining the actions that would be required.
“If there’s an action required to make an amendment to the city’s UGB — either the north one or the south one ... if there was an alternative land-use map that showed land uses beyond the UGB, that would have to be explained as part of our evaluation,” Ross said during the interview. “It would be irresponsible of us to say, ‘Sure, let’s explore these uses’ and then not talk broadly about what that actually means.”
No committee member spoke against revising the UGBs. Jansen noted the timeline for creating the land-use alternatives could take about a year. She said it would begin with an initial draft of alternatives, followed by review from GPAC, the planning commission and city council.
“And then we'll come back again, starting over with sharing with the community the alternatives,” she said.
After gaining the community feedback, the timeline Jansen presented detailed another round of reviews by GPAC and the planning commission before gaining direction from the council.
Committee Member Ellen C. Peete raised an issue with the timeline.
“I'm concerned that we present the alternatives to the community before we ask the community to give us some input,” Peete continued. “And it may be too late to go back and deal with that, but that's something I think we should do in the future ... Always start with community, and then create the alternatives, and then present the alternatives. And I think that way the community feels like they were in it from jump.”
In response to Peete’s comment and input during the meeting, Committee Member John Marchand — a former Livermore mayor — said that the community became involved through the General Plan website and workshops.
Jansen said that with every step of the General Plan, getting community input will be important.
She continued, “We envision a series of workshops, pop-up events and online activities building on the lessons learned and the successes of the visioning outreach and seeing how we can continue to improve on that.”