A hotly contested plan to build a three-story boutique hotel on the southeast corner of South Livermore and Railroad avenues in downtown Livermore generated intense debate at Monday night's Livermore City Council meeting.
Hundreds of residents packed inside the overflowing council chambers, where council members later unanimously approved a development agreement with Presidio Companies of Davis for the project.
Plans to erect an approximately 65,000-square-foot upscale hotel with a rooftop deck, 135 rooms and about 1,400-2,000 square feet of conference space on a 1.4-acre site at 2205 Railroad Ave. next door to the Bankhead Theater have long been in the works.
Livermore's Downtown Specific Plan has included a hotel as a key feature for the downtown area since 2004, as well as a science museum, the blackbox theater, shopping and retail, expanded parking, 130 units of affordable housing and a large new park named in honor of the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association.
Several years ago a steering committee was established with 19 members, and since then multiple public discussions about the future hotel have taken place, including building height and location specifics.
But opponents of the project said that the fate of downtown Livermore should go before voters during next year's general election. Members of Better Livermore/Friends of Livermore are advocating for an initiative for the ballot called the "Central Park Plan" to move the hotel to the west side of Livermore Avenue and build a new park next to the Bankhead.
Monday meeting's public comment portion drew a total of 63 speakers to the podium; most simply voiced their general support or opposition to the proposal but some people on both sides accused others of lying to garner support for their cause.
Unify Livermore, a group that supports the city-approved downtown plan, criticized the Better Livermore group for blocking and deleting social media posts that they said were reasonable, while opponents of the plan accused the council of acting illegally by not letting residents vote on the issue.
Earlier, several audience members shouted down a speaker who went over the three-minute time limit, prompting Mayor John Marchand to raise his voice to maintain control of the crowd.
"I have allowed people from both sides additional time," Marchand said. "I don't want anybody in this audience trying to take control of this meeting .. I'm the one up here that's running this meeting."
Marchand's reminder did little however to stem the accusations that flowed that evening.
Stockmen members refused to deal with any plan other than the city's and said rumors about their group supporting the Central Park Plan were false. Vintner Karl Wente quoted lyrics from Fleetwood Mac's song "Little Lies" to make his point about the Better Livermore backers, and one woman said she had video proof about signature gatherers lying to her that she offered to show the council.
Several more people also stated that signature gatherers for the Central Park Plan petition had lied to them about the city's plans. Later, Marchand told the Weekly that one petition worker he encountered told him, "'The reason that the mayor and council are lying is that they're being paid off by the downtown developers.'"
Bill Dunlop, chair of the Citizens for a Livermore Central Park Committee, said the council was trying to "avoid the vote of the people" by not bringing the downtown plan to a public vote.
"The voters would use the referendum power to reject any development agreement that the city council contrives to undermine the Central Park Plan," Dunlop said. "This action by the City Council is intended to cut off the rights of Livermore's voters."
Early outreach indicated residents wanted a hotel on the west side of Livermore Avenue, according to Dunlop, who said the city's plan "ignores the will of Livermore residents as an initial expression of the outreach process."
"It didn't work the first time and it won't work this time because we will place any development agreement with Presidio on the ballot for the voters to decide," Dunlop said, adding that last week the Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office verified almost 7,000 signatures from the group's petition.
In an interview before the meeting, Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Dawn Argula said Friends of Livermore members are promoting "the drawings and all the claims they make" on their website but that there isn't anything corroborating the financial feasibility of the Central Park Plan nor does it offer more amenities than what the city already envisions building.
"The city's plan has as much if not more green space than the Central Park Plan," Argula said, adding that the group's suggestion to build housing back up to businesses on First Street is a "non-starter" for most retailers because of delivery truck access, existing trash enclosures and customers entering and exiting stores.
She said that many owners have already planned and invested in their businesses in anticipation of redevelopment.
"They're moving the parts and pieces around, the elements -- the hotel, housing, retail, Stockman's Park being left alone," she added. "It's sort of arbitrary because they're trying mightily to preserve that intersection. It was always planned for a future hotel but for some reason, and I think the question needs to be asked, 'what is it about that corner that you don't want any development on it?'"
Jeffrey Sinsheimer, attorney for Friends of Livermore, argued that the council was legally restricted from entering any agreement that annuls voters' ability to govern by placing a hotel where the Central Park Plan prohibits one.
City attorney Jason Alcala countered that Sinsheimer's reading of the cited case law "patently false."
The city's agreement with Presidio calls for the final design completion by next March; building permits would be issued in May 2021 and the hotel would open by September 2022.