A local group opposed to a new boutique hotel in downtown Livermore are working to reverse the City Council's recent approval of the plans and have organized a signature-gathering drive in hopes of bringing a referendum to voters.
The referendum proponents, opposed to the overall city-endorsed vision for revitalizing downtown, have already submitted an initiative petition in the hopes of getting their alternative "Central Park Plan" on the ballot.
If the referendum petition is successful, it could set the stage for dueling downtown plans on the same upcoming ballot -- for Livermore residents to vote on each development proposal individually.
Tamara Reus, chair of Protect the Central Park Vote, told the Weekly that the referendum is a necessary step to "ensure the vote on the initiative is meaningful."
"The problem is the City Council went ahead with developing an agreement for a hotel that's in direct conflict with the Central Park Plan," Reus said. "If they move forward with a hotel on the east side (of Livermore Avenue), it nullifies our plan."
Last month, the council sealed a development agreement for a 65,000-square-foot, 135-room, high-end hotel with a rooftop deck and 1,400-2,000 square feet of conference room set on a 1.4-acre parcel at 2205 Railroad Ave. next door to the Bankhead Theater.
A hotel in the downtown area has been a marquee feature of Livermore's Downtown Specific Plan since 2004, as well as more parking, shopping and retail, a science museum, a blackbox theater, 130 units of affordable housing and a large community park name for the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association.
Both supporters and opponents of the project attended en masse the July 29 council meeting, with the hotel development agreement on the consent calendar the same night as the council debated what to do with the Central Park Plan initiative petition.
The next day, July 30, the recently formed Citizens for a Livermore Central Park (led key members from Better Livermore and Friends of Livermore) had started the process to collect signatures from registered local voters to qualify for a referendum on the development agreement.
The Alameda County Registrar of Voters' Office recently verified almost 7,000 signatures from another petition that the group circulated that advocated for a ballot initiative on their Central Park Plan, an alternative proposal for downtown that would move the hotel on to the west side of Livermore Avenue and add a new park next door to the Bankhead.
At their July 29 last meeting, the council members requested a report from staff with cost estimates for the group's initiative proposal, plus details on effects on land use, infrastructure funding, effects on the city's General Plan and other factors such as traffic.
If the group collects enough signatures for the referendum, the council could either reverse their own decision or put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.
Mayor John Marchand and supporters of the city's downtown plan said they think the referendum effort will be unsuccessful; multiple residents have said that signature gatherers during the initiative petition had misled or outright lied to them about the city's plan.
"A lot of folks that I've talked with are very put-off by the aggression of these signature gatherers, and are tired of having these petitions shoved in their face," Marchand told the Weekly, adding that he and the other council members who won last year's election had heavily campaigned on their promises to transform downtown Livermore.
"This community elected this council to make land-use decisions for this community, and we're now seeing a small group of people trying to change that process," the mayor added.
The opponents' plan also includes a parking garage that Marchand said would be an additional multi-million expense that has "no funding mechanism."
The Protect the Central Park Vote group said they're trying to teach residents about their reason for pursuing a new petition and are confident that residents will sign it "once they understand ... how the city is trying to undermine them," according to Reus.
She insisted that the group provides "accurate information" including data and ads with footnotes, and denied misleading the public.
"They're accusing us of misinformation and we can point to misinformation from them," Reus said. She did not provide details but added "there's a lot of allegations coming from the opposition that are without any foundation."
At least 10% of registered Livermore voters -- or 5,269 signatures -- are needed to qualify the referendum. They will have 30 days from July 29, the date of the council's decision, to collect enough signatures.
The city also has 30 days to produce their report analyzing the initiative, then decide whether to adopt the Protect the Central Park Vote group's plan or bring it to an election. Should they choose an election instead, voters would then decide in either the next general election in November 2020 or in a special election that could cost nearly $800,000, according to Marchand.
Reus did not have a current signature count for the referendum petition available but said "it's going well."