The Friends of Livermore Committee 2018 has collected enough signatures on a petition to referend elements of the City of Livermore’s Downtown Plan.

Livermore City Clerk Sarah Bunting reported that the petitions were turned in last Thursday. The total number of signatures reached 8,888. She said that she counts every one of them. It will be up to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters to verify that a signature is valid. The petitions were delivered to the county on Friday.

According to David Rounds, Chairman of Friends of Livermore Committee 2018, “We went over our target for signatures and are confident that when the Registrar of Voters validates these, we will have exceeded the 5079 threshold, the ten percent number of registered voters needed to qualify the referendum.”

The county has 30 working days to complete the verification. Results are expected before the end of November. At that point, the ball will be in the council’s court. They can accept the referendum and rescind the zoning changes, schedule a special election or wait for the next general election in 2020.

Bunting said that if the referendum were deemed valid, she would expect it to go to the council on either Nov. 26 or Dec. 10.

Rounds said of the referendum, “The Downtown Plan is important to thousands of Livermore residents. The city council did not listen to the results of their own community Outreach Process. For example, the citizens prioritized parking as the most important issue for downtown and housing as the least important. The council ignored their concerns. The referendum will give voters a chance to be heard.”

The Independent sought Mayor John Marchand’s point of view on the possible referendum. Since he could not be reached by the newspaper’s deadline, his comments from recent interviews and public debates are included.

At the Tri-Valley at a Crossroads candidate forum on October 5,

Marchand referred to the referendum as a first amendment right. He would defend that and that people have the right to have their say. He stated the council heard the priorities. They heard the community, and in order to meet the competing priorities, this was the plan that was developed. He named many groups that came together to create this current plan.

In an earlier Independent interview, Marchand stated, “As far as the referendum, it is misplaced. It’s time to get this plan moving.”

On the subject of parking in the Downtown Plan, Marchand noted at the Crossroads forum that the City is splitting the cost of the parking garage; there is going to be increased ADA parking. The amount of long term versus short term parking is still negotiable.

The Downtown Plan is a good one, Marchand stated in the Independent interview. A land swap with the Stockmen’s Association has allowed the city to move most of the housing from the downtown, and on to the City Hall campus. Some workforce and affordable housing must be on the Downtown Plan site, because of the original conditions pertaining to redevelopment money that was brought to the city from an earlier time.

Rounds explained his concern about parking in the Downtown Plan. “Even after Outreach participants placed parking at the top of their list, the city council produced a plan that removes current parking from both sides of Livermore Avenue where it now serves the busy entertainment center of town. It replaces this convenient public parking with a five-story garage far to the west on L Street. We have been advocating for parking on the eastside of Livermore Avenue, something that can easily happen if the city would move the hotel to the westside.”

Rounds said that in addition to parking, the other big disconnect between the city’s current plan and the Outreach results concerns housing. He commented, “The city plan includes 130 units of rental apartments, a number that has been with us since the end of the Lennar fiasco almost two years ago.

“Why this many on this site? With half at four stories and half at three stories, the housing mass would dominate the city center.”

Looking back, Rounds noted, “At the January 29 council meeting this year when the plan was approved, City Manager Marc Roberts responded to a question from Vice Mayor Bob Woerner concerning the repayment of the affordable housing fund. Roberts stated, ‘Ultimately, the 130 units to satisfy the purchase price need to be placed somewhere on those east or west sites (of the Downtown Plan).’

“Now, eight months later, Woerner and Roberts indicated at the October 8 city council meeting that the 130 housing number was not mandated after all. Instead, the number is just what is needed to balance legal obligations, costs and priorities,” Rounds observed.

Addressing the city’s need to pay off the housing fund, Rounds said that thanks to the generosity of the Stockmen’s Association, up to 140 low-income units will be developed on Pacific Avenue. Using the affordable income housing credit of $70,000 per unit, the city will need only another 64 units on any city owned land to retire the $14M+ owed the affordable housing fund. It will not need 130 units.

Turning to the housing covenants associated with the purchase of the site, Rounds pointed out that in a September 4 memo posted on City Attorney Jason Alcala's website, the public was able to learn for the first time that the downtown land purchase agreement requires just 84 units to be built on the downtown site. Rounds added, “We have been told that negotiations with the state could reduce the number further. But for now, 84 units, not 130, need to be placed on the downtown site.“

According to a posting on the City of Livermore’s website, the housing in the Downtown Plan will be discussed at the November 26 Livermore city council meeting. At that time, the council will consider an agreement with Eden Housing Inc. for the development of an affordable housing project on the downtown site.

If the agreement were approved, Eden Housing Inc. would develop plans and identify funding opportunities for the affordable housing project with up to 130 units. Eden Housing Inc. has developed other affordable housing opportunities in Livermore and throughout the region.

The City of Livermore’s current website addresses the rationale for the 130 residential units planned for the downtown site. It notes that some community members have questioned the city council’s decision to limit housing to 130 units downtown. Roberts is quoted as saying, “The number of units was limited to 130 based upon input from the community, and recognizes the legal obligations associated with the housing funds used to acquire the properties.”

Roberts expands further on the reasoning behind the housing numbers. “Essentially, the city invested over $13 million in affordable housing fees to assemble the properties for the Downtown Plan, and those obligations must be satisfied.” The Eden Housing project will satisfy both the state obligation and a portion of the remaining obligation associated with the city’s Affordable Housing Fees, “which reduces the amount of money that would need to be repaid if the affordable housing is not developed.”

Recognizing the broader issue, Rounds observed, “A variety of sources have reported that housing is a critical problem in Livermore and the Bay Area. The Friends of Livermore Committee supports housing in the city. However, we oppose packing residential units into this particular site, the heart of our downtown, one that should celebrate the open space and cultural life of our community.”

Rounds continued, “Most people have seen our examples of what the downtown can be. They are just ideas. They can change. They do represent a vision that was supported by a large number of our citizens participating in the city’s Outreach Process. We are advocating for much of what the city council has included in its plan – a hotel, but placed on the westside, Stockmen’s Park and cultural amenities. We are adding a continuous Central Park from Livermore Ave to L Street, and reducing the housing units.”

Rounds concluded, “It won’t take much to get from where we are today to a downtown plan that will be truly special for decades to come. The citizens want their voices heard. We hope the city is listening.”