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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Battle over downtown Livermore plan heats up

Uploaded: Sep 20, 2018
The Friends of Livermore just made this fall's election season even more interesting.

When the Livermore City Council approved the downtown plan this month, the group announced a referendum to overturn the decision. In a press release, retired newspaper executive David Rounds, chair of the Friends of Livermore Committee, wrote, "During the Outreach Process, participants overwhelmingly supported a Westside Hotel because of the benefits to the entire plan. However, the City Council kept its Eastside Hotel.

"We believe for something as important as our Downtown Center, we need something better than the City's plan. The voters need to have their say."

Ironically, every member of the City Council has been backed by the Friends of Livermore with their efficient campaign money laundering process. Mayor John Marchand earlier fell out of favor when he exercised an independent voice, and now Councilmen Bob Coomber and Steve Spedofwski are writing about the referendum drive on Facebook.

Coomber put up a lengthy post Tuesday, "I'm annoyed and dismayed at the current 'referendum' concerning our downtown plan, a plan in which the proponents of the plan enjoyed a seat at the table with 18 other community members.

"As those meetings wrapped up, the consensus of the committee was to move forward, and specified the most interest was for a hotel on the east side of Livermore Ave., not the west, as I had championed. The Council voted, and the east side plan was approved 4-1.

"Other elements came into play -- fewer housing units, which I also wanted. More parking for downtown visitors, which we approved. Additional disabled parking next to the Bankhead Theater, which I felt was necessary. A retail presence built by a respected local builder. And a park, which would commemorate Livermore's ranching heritage, while providing housing for low income seniors and veterans off site...

"Enter Friends of Livermore, a group who backed me in 2016. Late Monday, as we cleaned up language in the Downtown Specific Plan to remove references to the 2,000 seat regional theater, they had filed for a referendum to let voters determine the public's feelings about downtown. They failed to ask me for an opinion ahead of time, which really concerned me.

"...I am aware that by owning the city's only weekly newspaper, this group is capable of spinning information that will be unflattering to the Council. Already we've been called Nazis and "corrupt" by their serial letter writers - a group composed of...wait for it....FoL members or sympathizers! Who'd have believed?

"Today I was told by a signature collector I was "unAmerican" for refusing to sign his petition. But the reality of this vote will be this: another delay building downtown. Winery owners hung out to dry as they wait for a nice hotel downtown, one from which downtown restaurants and businesses will benefit. Stockman's Park delayed, maybe lost, as the Stockmen's Association is tiring of these last ditch efforts.

"As for me, I feel completely betrayed. I will always be independent, a fact which my record will attest... I'm opposed to the referendum. Our public outreach and steering committee outreach is almost unparalleled. Livermore deserves better than to be held hostage by big money and special interests."

Spedowfski later wrote, "I am in the same ship as Bob. Not wanting to participate or speak out on social media, but current actions by some individuals compelled me to. This issue is bringing a lot of people together. We keep posts to what we have said at prior meetings and straight up politics, we are good. "

The referendum is not surprising given the history of the Friends of Livermore leadership. It's simply been their way or the highway for years. Since the council decided on the east side hotel, the Vibrant Livermore group has been publishing weekly full-page ads in the Independent criticizing the plan and keeping it in the public eye.

The group leadership includes Independent Publisher Joan Seppala along with former school board member Bill Dunlop, Jean King and Lee Younker.

One new dynamic this time around is the group that came together and developed key elements of the downtown plan approved by the council. It includes the rodeo association, the winegrowers, the chamber, Innovation Tri-Valley and other community leaders.

Operating under the banner of Unify Livermore, the group purchased its own full-page ad in last week's edition of the Independent. The linchpin to the downtown plan was the rodeo association's willingness to allow affordable housing on the former rodeo grounds that now is the civic center in exchange for naming rights to the downtown park.

The signature gathering adds a fresh wrinkle to the council campaign with four candidates, including incumbent Bob Woerner running for two seats. Spedowfski did not stand for re-election.
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Posted by Bob Koelle, a resident of Livermore,
on Sep 20, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Thank you for this article! How refreshing to see reality in print. Every member of the board was backed by Friends of Livermore, as you state. And FL can be commended for excellent work in the past. But how upset they are that their one-time candidates have become actual public servants! One of the FL members you list has been publicly overheard to prefer leaving that parcel as a gravel parking lot, rather than not getting the plan she wants. The plan is good, it has some compromises which were necessary to move it forward, but that's ok. The plan development was community-driven by all the other groups you list. The referendum is so disingenuous, but you'll never read truth like this in our one-paper town.

Posted by Larry Dino, a resident of Livermore,
on Sep 20, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Thank you for posting this article and articulating the Livermore Politics. This City went through and extensive community input process, and they did gather input and listened to the community. However, Joan Seppala's group (currently call the Friends of Livermore) didn't get what they want, so, they will pay their way to delay the downtown development, and possibly kill any chance of core downtown ever getting developed. The FOL says its about the Hotel placement, traffic, parking, etc... These issues have been discussed in nausium over the last 2+ years. They have fought every single plan the City has come up with. The plans they have brought forth all have serious flaws. Case in Point: they complain about traffic issues with the hotel next to the Bankhead, today they say they want a parking garage next to the Bankhead, a parking garage next to the Bankhead will create twice as much parking space and thus making the traffic issues even worse. Also, why do we need to parking garages stacked next to each other? It seems to make more sense to me to have the parking garages on each side of the downtown to support all the businesses. They also complain that there is not enough Open Space with the design, however, they want a bigger hotel placed on the West Side where the open space is. You can't have it both ways.

Lets let the City Planners do their job! They have come up with an excellent plan. Are the "so-called" issues that FOL bring up worth jeopardizing the downtown development? Apparently Joan thinks so.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Sep 21, 2018 at 12:51 pm

The signature threshold for a referendum really needs to be raised.

Posted by Pete, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Sep 22, 2018 at 7:29 am

Why,Bill? Because it is a violation of your political play book? It violates direct your mind? Two current council members, in Pleasanton, were voted in with less votes than a referendum would require. Go figure...I'm interested in learning more about the "rights' of the people, Bill. Note...I do not like special elections...and...I do not dislike or not support our one way or another.

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