Voters in Livermore are poised to settle the debate over their city's Downtown Specific Plan more than a year from now, after the City Council opted to place an initiative measure proposing an alternative redevelopment concept on the November 2020 general election ballot.
A decision made during the council's regular meeting Monday night, Livermore voters will be asked to either support the independently created "Central Park Plan" -- submitted as part of a citizen group's petition -- or oppose that concept in a vote of confidence for the city-approved plan.
"Two goals that we wanted were more open space and more parking and the approved downtown plan has both," Mayor John Marchand said toward the end of Monday's four-hour meeting.
"Somebody talked about with some derision that this was the city-approved plan," Marchand lamented. "That's right, we are the leaders that were elected by this community to develop a plan based on the input ... and who approved the downtown drawing? Who approved the downtown initiative? Was that done in the public? No, that was done by two people. (Our plan) was done by the entire community."
The initiative may be joined on the ballot by a referendum measure that seeks specifically to overturn a council-approved development agreement with a hotelier for downtown.
Tamara Reus, chair of Protect the Central Park Vote, said her group has gathered 8,500 signatures on a referendum petition that supporters will turn in on Wednesday.
If those signatures are verified by Alameda County election officials, it could set the stage for dueling downtown plans on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot -- when Marchand is termed out and two regular council seats will also be decided.
During Monday's meeting, the council had the options to instead approve the initiative outright or call a special election to be held sooner than the 2020 general election. However, the council did not approve the former due to each council member publicly opposing the Central Park Plan, nor the latter because a special election would cost taxpayers an estimated $639,048 to $798,810, according to city staff.
City officials and members of the public alike spiritedly debated the merits of both plans on Monday, after reviewing an informative report -- referred to as a 9212 report -- created by city staff analyzing the Central Park Plan initiative.
"With respect to the 9212 report, I find it to be very informative and accurate. And I would say with respect to that, based off of the 9212 report, that there is no way that the council can adopt the initiative and move forward in any reasonable manner," Councilman Bob Woerner said. "The summary is we are looking at years of delays ... and at the end of it we get higher costs, less parking and less park."
"This report if you had to come up with a new dictionary entry for defeatism, you might use this report as a citation," countered Doug Mann, one of the residents who claimed the 9212 report was biased in favor of the city's development plan.
Prepared by city staff over the past month, the 9212 report analyzes the merits and pitfalls of the Central Park Plan and compared it to the city's own downtown plan that is currently centered around a 135-room boutique hotel next to the Bankhead Theater.
Livermore's Downtown Specific Plan also contemplates 20,000 square feet for new retail space, a 20,000-square-foot science museum, a 15,000-square-foot black box theater, 130 multifamily housing units and a new public park named in honor of the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association.
According to the 9212 report, the Central Park Plan centers on a design concept with more flexibility and less concrete planning in its layout.
The report summarizes that the Central Park Plan includes up to 30,000 square feet for retail space, up to 30,000 square feet for a center for science culture and education, up to 30,000 square feet for a black box theater, 84 multifamily housing units, a parking structure located at the city's proposed site for the hotel next to the Bankhead, and a 160-room hotel on the west side of South Livermore Avenue.
The distribution of space for retail, theater, science center and other uses has not been designated in the initiative proposal.
"The initiative allows a vast amount of options and we would have to sort through them, so there is no question in my mind that we are at a restart and there is no clarity being offered. And in fact, to me, we are purposely being confused," Woerner said.
City staff did acknowledge that this amount of flexibility -- as well as having only 30 days to conduct the study -- made it challenging to review the project, saying: "The initiative leaves many parameters of the project site's development unspecified, which makes a comparative analysis difficult."
For example, while the city approved plan clearly designates 3.32 acres of land for public open space and 0.46 acres for private open space, the 9212 report found that the Central Park Plan designates 2.37 acres for public open space, 0.4 acres for "potential" open space and 0.75 acres for "potential" private space.
The 9212 report further finds that the uncertainty surrounding the specificity levels of the Central Park Plan would result in the development process for downtown essentially restarting, resulting in four years or more of delays as city officials conduct public outreach, prepare a technical analysis and finalize a fixed plan.
"I think the 9212 report is very optimistic on what the delay might be," added Woerner.
Councilman Bob Coomber criticized the Central Park Plan for not adequately considering the finances required to create a downtown plan saying: "The drawing did not have to take into account the cost of an extra parking structure...We can not afford to put in three big parking structures."
Members in support of the Central Park Plan spoke out in favor of the council declaring a special election to settle the issue as soon as possible, and disregarded the 9212 report, accusing city staff of creating a "propaganda piece" in support of the council's plan.
"The report was clearly written or directed by those who would benefit from attempting to show that the initiative could take and I quote 'an additional four years or more.' Those people are willing to make or attempt to make it sound like it could take that long regardless of facts of logic. Indeed, the report looks at how the city can stretch it out but fails to even consider reporting on how quickly it could be done," said resident Jeff Kaskey, who referred to the city report as a "vendetta document."
While tempers did not flare as high as past council meetings on the city's downtown plan, accusations of threats of violence arose from opposing sides, with Mayor Marchand stating that his neighbor had been threatened by a Central Park Plan petitioner.
"Last week a paid signature gatherer threatened to shoot one of my neighbors, threatened to shoot one of my neighbors; this has been encouraged to get out of control," Marchand said. That was not the sole threat to come out of the downtown debate, with a public speaker stating that they overheard one man threaten another with violence at the last council meeting.
"We have a credibility crisis," Marchand continued. "We need to get correct information out to our community and what were seeing isn't helping. It is turning this community against itself. Neighbors are concerned because neighbors are fighting neighbors ... This is tearing our community apart."
The full 9212 report can be viewed online at the Livermore City Council webpage at www.cityoflivermore.net.