The Livermore City Council certified the validity of a resident-submitted petition challenging the council's Downtown Specific Plan on Monday night, opening the door for city voters to possibly make the ultimate call through the ballot box.
The initiative petition contained 8,111 signatures in total, and the Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office conducted a sample examination and determined the petition achieved the minimum threshold of 5,269 valid signatures (10% of registered Livermore voters), according to city staff.
During their regular meeting Monday, council members unanimously decided to delay a final decision on whether to rescind their plan in favor of the initiative proposal or send the issue to the ballot, and instead they directed city staff prepare to an informational report -- referred to as a "9212 report" -- on the petition and proposed plan alternative.
The topic is expected to return to the council for consideration during the Aug. 26 regular meeting.
"What we need is information and we, for the approved downtown plan, we went through a lot of that analysis, the cost of the infrastructure," Livermore Mayor John Marchand said at Monday's meeting, which was attended by nearly 100 residents.
"And I think as I've mentioned before, the (design) drawing associated with the initiative -- we don't have that information; we don't have the costs, the traffic impacts," Marchand said, later adding: "I think people need to understand what the costs are associated with both the city plan and the drawing associated with the initiative. We need to make sure that all of those will be included in the report."
Approximately 40 residents spoke to the council Monday night, debating the pros and cons of the city's plan and that of the petitioners, with roughly half vocalizing support for each side.
A key point of contention for the petitioners, from the resident group Better Livermore and supported by Friends of Livermore, is advocating for the replacement of a proposed boutique hotel next to the city's iconic Bankhead Theater with a large central park and moving the proposed hotel to the west side of South Livermore Avenue.
The council held an hours-long hearing last week before authorizing city staff to move forward with a development agreement with PresidioCo East Bay and/or 2205 Railroad Avenue, LLC for proceeding with a boutique hotel next to the Bankhead. The council adopted an ordinance confirming the agreement on Monday's consent calendar.
In addition to the hotel, which would hold 135 rooms on a 1.4-acre site at 2205 Railroad Ave., Livermore's Downtown Specific Plan contemplates a black box theater, science museum, shopping and retail options, additional parking, 130 units of affordable housing and a large new park named in honor of the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association.
But supporters of the initiative petition think city voters should make the final decision on which downtown plan to proceed with.
"I ask you not to adopt (the city's) development agreement for a hotel on the east side. By adopting, you are interfering in the voters' right to choose a better plan," said Jean King, chair of the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center board of directors, although she did stress that comments represented her personal opinion. "Put the 'Central Park Plan' on the ballot let the voters vote and then adopt the development agreement for the downtown plan that the voters want."
Unify Livermore, a group that backs the city-approved downtown plan, has criticized the petition proponents for pushing an unvetted plan and has accused them of using misinformation to garner support for their alternative.
During the meeting, Marchand called out the Central Park Plan for a lack of detail and public outreach, saying, "People keep referring to it as the citizens' plan, the Central Park Plan; it's a drawing. Where were the scheduled workshops and public hearings in the development of that drawing? I never heard of one ... I never saw any public outreach on it."
"Financial sustainability, to those of us sitting up here, is really important so where is the financial sustainability on this drawing? There were no public hearings there was no analysis no traffic analysis," the mayor added.
Now presented with the initiative petition, city staff will now prepare a "9212 report" to analyze the proponents' petitioners' plan alternative and review the plan's fiscal impact, effects on land use, infrastructure funding, effects on the city's General Plan and other factors such as traffic impacts and potential effects on local businesses.
After the report is reviewed at the Aug. 26 meeting, the council will have the choice of adopting the petitioners' proposal without alteration, placing the measure on the Nov. 3, 2020 regular municipal election ballot or calling a special election that must be held within the following 88 days.
City staff added that the report is estimated to cost approximately $100,000.