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Editorial: Livermore downtown referendum raises serious questions

Don't sign a petition before doing your research, knowing the consequences

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It's been impossible this summer to shop, dine or even walk in Livermore without being badgered to sign a petition.

Very aggressive signature-gatherers are still everywhere, and the most recent campaign is to get Livermore voters to sign a referendum petition to, according to one signature-gatherer, "get a bigger park downtown."

Just a few months ago, an initiative petition was circulated by Citizens for a Livermore Central Park, led by key members from Better Livermore and the well-funded PAC Friends of Livermore. Enough signatures were collected to put an alternative proposal for downtown, the "Central Park Plan," on the ballot.

Signatures for a referendum are currently being collected by a new group called Protect the Central Park Vote, which is, for the most part, led by the same people behind Citizens for a Livermore Central Park, Better Livermore and Friends of Livermore. They want to bring a referendum to voters to halt development of a hotel and basically overturn the city-approved plan for downtown.

To quote Yogi Berra, it's deja vu all over again.

Last year, the same group of people using the name Vibrant Livermore gathered enough signatures for a referendum on the City Council's adopted downtown plan. Instead of delaying the project, the council voted to reverse its previously adopted version and made changes based on the referendum, such as the height of the hotel. This plan was approved earlier this year.

But height of the hotel wasn't the point of the 2018 referendum and the group organizers did not get all that they wanted. Therefore, we have yet another referendum and more signature-gatherers.

Regardless of what the signature-gatherer was told to say, the newest referendum is not about a bigger park.

This referendum is about placement of a new hotel in downtown, on the east side of South Livermore Avenue or the west side.

On the east side, which is where the city's approved plan has it, it would go next to the Bankhead Theater, where it has been envisioned in the Downtown Specific Plan since 2004. If it is located on the west side, it would leave space next to the Bankhead for a large, regional performing arts theater at some point in the future, which we believe is a goal of a predominant member and major funder of the aforementioned groups -- Joan Seppala, who also owns the Independent newspaper.

The downtown initiative, which qualified for the ballot, is to get the group's alternative "Central Park Plan" before the voters. (Keep in mind, though, that the "Central Park Plan" is more of an idea at this stage, as it has gone through no public input or hearings during its creation, and there has been no traffic or financial analysis.)

The Central Park Plan concept is different from the city's formal plan in a few ways, but most notably that the hotel is moved from the east side to the west side of South Livermore Avenue and a three-story parking garage is drawn in next to the Bankhead. Central Park advocates also want to reduce the number and size of the housing units, making them 84 "micro-units" as opposed to 130 various-sized units for diverse income levels.

According to Protect the Central Park Vote representative Tamara Reus, the Central Park Plan calls for "a black box theater, with flexible seating, that can accommodate small and mid-sized groups, with a maximum square footage of 30,000 square feet. It may include, as ancillary uses, a restaurant, meeting rooms, retail, office space, educational and cultural uses."

To put this in perspective, the Bankhead Theater is 34,000 square feet.

The main goal with the newest referendum is to stop progress on the hotel. The day after the City Council sealed a development agreement with a hotelier to build a hotel on the east side, the Protect the Central Park Vote group started the process of collecting signatures from registered local voters to qualify for a referendum on the development agreement. According to Reus, this was necessary "to protect the voting process and ensure that the vote is not annulled by the council's decision to move forward with its plan while the initiative is pending."

If the referendum petition is successful and qualifies for the ballot, it will delay construction of the hotel even further and it will likely appear on a ballot alongside the initiative measure so residents could vote on each downtown proposal.

Two referendums and an initiative led by a group of individuals representing Friends of Livermore / Vibrant Livermore / Better Livermore / Citizens for a Central Park / Protect the Central Park Vote?

Confused? That might be the point.

The confusion is perpetuated by the spin being placed on the ideas of the Central Park advocates and furthered by ads paid for by Protect the Central Park Vote and by stories in the Independent.

Political spin is not a new thing. It plays on emotion and shows only the side it wants. It's expected with government relations consultants, public relations firms and lobby groups. But it's disheartening to see it in a local newspaper.

Ads are fair game; whoever is paying for an ad can say whatever they want, for the most part, and leave out what they want. However, considering the likely source of funding for said ads (Friends of Livermore, Better Livermore, etc.), one might surmise there is little, if any, actual money being paid. Opposing groups would most likely not be given any discounts.

Then there is the opinion under the guise of news.

For example, a recent front-page headline read, "Referendum launched to protect Livermore voters' right to choose." This headline interjects opinion and emotion into what appears to be a news story because of the placement on the front page. While this would be appropriate on an Editorial page, on the front page it goes against journalistic practices and ethics.

To sum this up, if 10% of registered Livermore voters -- 5,269 -- sign this petition, a referendum will be placed on the November 2020 ballot to overturn the plan for Livermore's downtown that a group of citizens, community leaders and business owners spent over two years creating and will undermine a specific plan that has been in place since 2004 and further delay a well-supported, approved project. It will also likely prompt dueling downtown plans on the ballot, creating even more confusion and strife.

The signature gatherers are paid per signature, with funding from Protect the Central Park Vote. There is nothing illegal or even unethical about having people paid per signature, but they are not unbiased as their goal is to get Livermore residents to sign so they are paid.

Think twice before signing. Ask questions of the signature-gatherers before adding your name to their petition. Do your own research. Know your sources, and their possible agendas. And if you have already signed and are now having "signature remorse," you can rescind your signature with a written request for the withdrawal with Livermore's city clerk.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


4 people like this
Posted by RDJR
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 20, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Rich Buckley conspiracy theory comments in 3... 2... 1...

3 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Aug 20, 2019 at 5:38 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

Wait. Why does this paper care about Livermore? At least why to the extent of calling out a vaguely competing newspaper that focuses far more on their issues than this one does or should?

I'm inclined to give PW the benefit of the doubt. But I'm also confused why this is a story. I guess it's fascinating to see that Livermore has their troubles too, but I feel like a stranger being asked to weigh in on a family feud at a restaurant on who should pick up the tab. And my answer to that is they should definitely pick up my tab for the privilege of interrupting my lovely experience to ask.

So, Livermore, wanna buy us in Pleasanton a parking garage? We won't say no.

5 people like this
Posted by skynet
a resident of Mission Park
on Aug 20, 2019 at 6:26 pm

skynet is a registered user.

Do I recall that the Bankhead Theater went BK and required Livermore to bail them out? Dose not give one confidence that another downtown theater will do any better.

1 person likes this
Posted by Pete
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2019 at 6:48 pm

You are right skynet, if editorial is true...as written. The Independent over the years has “always” demonstrated more detail that a resident could use to understand an issue. My family spends a lot of time in Livermore and finds some of this article not true...from our experiences. Interview Mrs. Joan Seppala.
Go face to face...otherwise quit placing your importance above the Independent.

3 people like this
Posted by jackie c
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 20, 2019 at 7:30 pm

it's maddening! these people have lied, they say they have a plan, they don't they have a drawing, they've done NO impact studies our city leaders WE VOTED IN have asked for our participation in creating this plan and these OBSTRUCTIONISTS will never let up.. all because they their TRUE agenda is another damn THEATER!!! We want our downtown as we've approved and worked on for years.. quit the friction #RESIST... yes same people.. always!!!!

4 people like this
Posted by Jackie C
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 20, 2019 at 7:36 pm

[Post removed due to name-calling and other violations of terms of use]

4 people like this
Posted by RDJR
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 21, 2019 at 7:46 am

Grumpy, people in Livermore are tired of the filtered news in the "Independent". They have proven to be biased in their reporting. Many times providing pre-written statements for people to read at council meetings. You can see their supporters reading off of cards then handing them directly to the Independent reporter on TV 30. Suddenly they are quoted prominently before the fold on the first page. Hmmm

3 people like this
Posted by Adam
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 21, 2019 at 12:53 pm

The Independent is a joke of a local paper! The owner is completely oblivious to the wishes of the majority of the people who live in Livermore. We voted for the current council to do what has been talked about the past 15 years. Let’s get of the pot, roll up our sleeves and start the construction! Stop this waste of time and MONEY, which it certainly will cost more if this keeps dragging out!

2 people like this
Posted by R. Ather KnotX
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 21, 2019 at 2:26 pm

I will employ one (1) criteria. Anything that cost me one (1) additional penny will get a thumbs down. Not to mention traffic impacts.Already paying way more in taxes and "fees" than I care to. Let the Chardonnay and brie crowd pay there own way

2 people like this
Posted by Bob Koelle
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 22, 2019 at 10:28 am

Thank you for this article, far more accurate than anything we get to read in The Independent (to address Grumpy's question).

Bottom line for Livermore folks is don't sign the referendum petition. But if they get enough signatures, don't vote to revoke the hotel agreement. That would pretty much mean game over for downtown development for another long number of years. Development that will be paid for privately, to answer R. Ather KnotX's point.

Ending downtown development is what "Friends of Livermore, Better Livermore, etc." wants, don't be fooled. If they don't get their new big performing arts space (NOT to be confused with the small ~150 seat black box theatre in the City's Downtown plan!), then an empty lot is what they'll prefer, until they get their way.

3 people like this
Posted by Will M
a resident of Livermore
on Aug 22, 2019 at 11:25 am

The Independent (very) occasionally has good content, but the owners have a vested financial interest in the "Save the Park" plan, and have not been shy about using the Independent as a platform to mislead their readers about the motivations behind and impacts of said plan. I saw Grumpy above asked why the Pleasonton Weekly should cover this, and I will answer you: the local paper in Livermore, the Idependent, has been turned into a propaganda platform to try to enrich its owners and their friends (enrich them further, as these are already people who are quite well off) by pushing an altered downtown development plan. The altered plan would cost significantly more money than the plan that has already been approved, so these people are essentially saying, "We want the taxpayers to pay more for a different plan, so we can get our cut."

Thank you to the Pleasanton Weekly for covering this important topic, as our local Livermore paper is beholden to special interests focused on fleecing taxpayers to fill their own pockets.

2 people like this
Posted by Lillian Vernon
a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2019 at 11:10 am

Why does this article not mention the workshops the Livermore citizens participated in? The majority wanted the hotel on the West side in those workshops.

3 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Aug 24, 2019 at 11:55 am

Grumpy is a registered user.

But that doesn't answer it. Making an accusation about one party in an extremely local battle doesn't explain why this is not an extremely local battle after all.

I don't pay Livermore taxes. I don't even know if this is getting funded from sales tax revenue or a property bond of some sort, so I can't even tell why anyone is affected at all over there.

The question basically reads to us Pleasanton people like "Should Livermore build a mostly for ego's sake hotel on a parking lot near the theater or on a parking lot not near the theater?" Why should we care? Why not just not build anything? Livermore is not a grand destination, or one at all except for locals dining out, and so I'm missing why anyone needs a hotel there. Sure, it might be nice, and the empty parking lots are eyesores. But why do this project at all? For housing? Isn't that a question for the property owners?

And what, exactly, is the Independent to gain? They happen to be in the corner building near the parking lots. That's all I see. I can't figure out why that's enough to disqualify them or to explain why they care. Or why you care why they care.

Now, I do get the point that feelings are hurt and everyone's defending themselves. But that is the very definition of an intrafamily conflict, and this family is merely making a public scene of it and dragging strangers into their argument about who's a better person.

Which is why I think you guys in Livermore should pick up the tab for ruining our dinner.

Sure, we complain about Costco, our schools, narrowed roads, pay raises, downtown heights, and so on. Those are our local issues. I don't mind that PW wants broader readership and this wants to cover Livermore's equivalent. It's good for PW, and since I like the PW, I'm fine.

But why attack the Independent? Give a good reason, not reliant on our having to wade into the muck of a local battle and pick sides before being able to understand what they or anyone else did wrong that makes you so disgusted. That they're biased? Ok. They're allowed to be. If they are doing bad reporting and lying, say it clearly. If they are spouting opinions you disagree with on their editorial pages, I really can't see why we should care.

2 people like this
Posted by Philomena
a resident of Happy Valley
on Aug 31, 2019 at 4:36 pm

Pleasanton People ~ please keep to yourselves. And the Editorial Board needs to mind to their own business. You are not Livermore residents, so you can't understand the issues about a Central Park in Downtown Livermore any more than we can understand your objection or delight in a new Costco on Johnson Ave in Pleasanton.

Honestly, it sounds like the Livermore Mayor Marchand has been talking to you. For shame! None of your business. Simple as that.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 31, 2019 at 7:16 pm

The Livermore Independent newspaper reports on far more Pleasanton events then the Pleasanton Weekly reports on Livermore events!

Livermore and Pleasanton are one unit working together protecting Livermore and Pleasanton with fire prevention and property protection.

The Costco store in Pleasanton will relieve Livermore of traffic congestion and a whole lot more.

Like this comment
Posted by Philomena
a resident of Happy Valley
on Aug 31, 2019 at 7:26 pm


The Central Park and Downtown Plan have suffered through contentious time. If you understood what is at stake -- and how divided the Livermore citizens feel on either side -- you would understand that it is not the place for Pleasanton Weekly Editors to take sides. Especially anonymously. And so obviously slanted toward the Livermore Mayor and City Council.

The Downtown and Central Park Plans will be on the ballot in Nov. 2020 -- the voters will decide what to do with the land so dear to Livermore.

Respectfully disagree with your POV. And I applaud the Democratic process that allows the voters to have their voices heard.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 31, 2019 at 7:42 pm

The Pleasanton Weekly Editors are not anonymous!
The Livermore Independent newspaper writes editorials regarding events in Pleasanton.

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