Livermore Mayor John Marchand, in his State of the City address at a Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce-sponsored assembly, called on the community to reject an effort underway that would undermine already-approved plans for multimillion-dollar improvements to the city's downtown.
He said the so-called "Central Park Plan Initiative," being championed by the Livermore Independent newspaper, asks voters to sign to petitions that, if qualified, would delay proposed downtown improvements, including a new boutique hotel.
"This would mean going back to the drawing board and endlessly redesigning this project by initiative and at the ballot box," Marchand told the sold-out luncheon crowd at the Robert Livermore Community Center on East Avenue on May 23.
"The Livermore Independent is writing stories about people circulating an initiative to stop the progress we are having in our downtown today. I hope you will stand with me to oppose this attempt," he said to loud applause.
The Independent followed Marchand's address with a full-page advertisement on May 30 promoting the initiative, stating it was paid for by "Citizens for a Livermore Central Park." The newspaper also printed a letter signed by Bill Dunlop, chairman of the organization.
In a press release and on Facebook, Dunlop stated, "The Central Park Plan provides better parks and better parking, for a better Livermore. The City Council was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something special on the 8.2 acres of city owned land in the downtown core; they failed to do so."
Opposition to the city government's planned new downtown amenities came early last year when the Livermore City Council adopted key land-use elements to form the new downtown plan for city-owned land on the east and west sides of South Livermore Avenue.
The downtown plan responded to the priorities identified by the community through an extensive public engagement process by adding to the existing parking supply, carefully controlling building height and location and incorporating a large new park to be named for the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association. Other improvements will include a science museum, Blackbox theater, limited retail and 130 affordable housing units.
Most controversial was the council's approval for a four-story hotel on the northeast corner of South Livermore and Railroad avenues, next to the Bankhead Theater. Dunlop, Joan Seppala, publisher of The Independent, and others have urged the council to relocate the hotel to the west side of South Livermore Avenue and create a park, instead, next to the Bankhead.
"I for one believe this community has no interest in delaying the downtown project," Marchand said.
While seeking re-election as mayor in 2018, Marchand voiced strong support for the downtown plan. He won with more than three-quarters of the votes. Another supporter, Trish Munro, was elected to the council for the first time. Incumbent Councilman Bob Woerner, also a downtown plan backer, received more votes than both the of the opposition candidates combined.
"In other words, the community supported our downtown plan at the ballot box," said Marchand, adding, "I'm excited about the progress that we are making toward turning this plan into a reality. We have waited 17 years for completion of this plan. We have waited long enough."
Also in his State of the City remarks, Marchand said Livermore's municipal finances are climbing with a current budget of $120 million, with sales and property taxes expected to generate more than $60 million this fiscal year, including $1 million from the San Francisco Premium Outlets, alone.
Livermore continues to gain accolades in various surveys, Marchand said.
A recent National Citizen Survey showed 96% of those responding gave high marks to the quality of life in Livermore, rating it as an excellent place to live. The city's hospitality and wine country amenities also earned high marks from Huffington Post, an online news source, which wrote:
"If Italy is a little too far from home, but wine is a must, consider booking your tickets to the Tri Valley area. Smaller places like Livermore have been making a name for themselves."
For retired folks, Marchand said the city has been named by a national publication as a great place to live.
"It's Livermore comfortable and casual," he read from the magazine's story. "The area has a lingering cowboy feel, but the wineries have just popped here, and there's plenty of arts and culture."
That's a fitting report, Marchand said, since this year is the 100th anniversary of the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association.
He concluded: "Today, our city continues to expand its wine-making industry and celebrate its cowboy tradition with our annual rodeo taking place this weekend from June 7 to June 9. Come celebrate."