Hundreds turned out this month to dedicate a $6 million complex that will house a new Livermore City Council chamber, meeting rooms and an Emergency Operations Center next to the city's Civic Center and Library on South Livermore Avenue.
For Livermore, the new building marks the end of the council using an aging, triple-wide trailer at 3575 Pacific Ave., where it's held its meetings for the last three decades.
"The city moved its council chambers out of the old Alameda County courthouse in 1988 into temporary trailers, which were projected to be used for three to five years," City Manager Marc Roberts said at the July 13 dedication ceremony. "However, those of us who work in government know that there is nothing as permanent as a temporary building."
Roberts said that his first assignment after being hired as an assistant city planner 30 years ago was to plan for a temporary City Council chamber.
"I was told to design one that would last five years or so and to make it so ugly that they will want to tear it down," Roberts said. "The first was true, but not the second," he quipped.
The new, 6,500-square-foot building includes a 124-seat council chamber in an amphitheater-styled layout that not only has 29 more seats but also offers a clear view of council transactions and videos, about a third more visibility than the public can see in the trailers.
It also has two adjacent community meeting rooms that can be combined and used for city commission and public meetings and as an Emergency Operations Center. With full audio/visual capabilities in the adjacent rooms, the City Council, Planning Commission and other groups using the main chamber will be able to offer more than 200 comfortable seats for the public at crowded council meetings, Roberts said.
"We also know emergencies are not always over in just a few hours," he added. "They can drag on for days or weeks, so this building can function for a long period of time with adequate data and full power backup that can function for days if necessary."
Added Mayor John Marchand, "We only have to look at the earthquake in Napa or the fires in Santa Rosa and Paradise to appreciate the importance of planning ahead for emergencies and having a building like this.
"Emergencies will come. I've learned that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I agree with Councilman Bob Woerner, who said when we were planning this emergency center, 'Hope is not a strategy,'" Marchand said.
At the July 13 ceremony were the three other Livermore City Council members: Robert W. Carling, a retired director at Sandia National Laboratories; Trish Munro, who also serves with the Association of Bay Area Governments, Livermore Cultural Arts Council and the Livermore Council Subcommittee on Homelessness; and Bob Coomber, who has served on the board of the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District and was a member of the East Bay Regional Park District's Advisory Committee.
Also recognized at the dedication event was John Shirley, whom Marchand called "an iconic member of our community."
Shirley, now 94, served on the Livermore City Council from 1958-66, including two years as the council-chosen mayor from 1962-64. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, he attended UC Davis and then became Livermore's first veterinarian, practicing there from 1954-87.
He also has a long record of volunteer service, including many years as a member of the Livermore Rotary Club, which established the John Shirley Exceptional Service Award in his honor. It was at the urging of the Rotary Club that the Livermore council voted to name its new meeting room the "John Shirley Council Chambers."
"Dr. John Shirley is a veteran, former mayor, statesman and public servant who has served this community for decades and continues to serve," Marchand told the packed chamber, with Shirley sitting at his side.
Council members seated on a sweeping dais in their first gathering at the new chamber, joined the audience in standing applause while Marchand presented Shirley with a plaque that had been posted on the old Livermore library building, which the new council and meeting room replaced.
"Dr. Shirley once told me that even though he served the city in a number of capacities over the years, the old library was the only building in town that had his name on it. And we just knocked it down," the mayor said to laughter. "Here's that plaque, and this is now your chamber."
Also at the ceremony was U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Livermore), who presented Shirley with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for his public service.
"He's a Livermoreian who has taken care of our pets, has shown up as a Rotarian to take care of our community, a public servant and a veteran who served to make sure all of the values that we care about still stand," the congressman said.
Swalwell continued: "I now live in Livermore. As your congressman, I have traveled to a number of cities across the country. I've been to communities where they have to drink bottled water because the public water is poisonous, to communities where the jobs that people have known for decades have been lost because of globalization and automation, and to communities where schools continue to close or generations of black children are lost because of violence, communities where you see so much tragedy and so much hopelessness.
"We have challenges here in Livermore, including traffic congestion and the need for more affordable housing.
"But today is a celebration of civics, of the future. And, I happen to know as someone who represents some 10,000 physicists that we also have the smartest community of any in the country."
Marchand said that because some work continues on the new building, council meetings will be held at the Pacific Avenue facility through early September.
That includes an adjourned regular meeting next Monday (July 29) to consider establishing a new fee and ordinance regulating tobacco product sales that will help pay for enforcement, yearly inspections of retailers and limited "sting operations."
The first regular Livermore council meeting inside the new "John Shirley Council Chambers" is scheduled for Sept. 9.