Community group Save Livermore Downtown filed a lawsuit against the city of Livermore on Thursday, challenging the City Council's approval of the 130-unit Eden Housing affordable housing development planned for downtown.
"As a last resort, Save Livermore Downtown has filed a lawsuit to halt the implementation of the Eden Housing plan," Save Livermore Downtown spokesperson Jean King said in a statement. "This action was made necessary because Livermore’s City Council members did not engage with citizens to consider alternatives to the flawed Eden plan."
The lawsuit -- a copy of which was obtained by the Weekly -- argues that the council's approval of the project "is an abuse of discretion because the project is inconsistent with Livermore's Downtown Specific Plan and because further environmental review is required to address newfound concerns regarding contamination at the project site."
The lawsuit seeks for the court to, "set aside the city's approval of the project and require the city to prepare further environmental analysis for the project, such as a supplemental environmental impact report." Additionally, the petitioners are requesting that the court "require the city and Eden Housing to resolve the project's inconsistencies with the Downtown Specific Plan."
Although a petition for writ of mandate has already been filed with the Alameda County Superior Court, Save Livermore Downtown said the group would like to meet with the city and Eden Housing to potentially find another solution. "We have communicated to the City Council and Eden Housing our desire to meet at the earliest possible moment to find acceptable alternatives to the current plan and avoid the necessity of the lawsuit," King said.
In response to news of the litigation, Livermore Mayor Bob Woerner told the Weekly in an email, "I’ve been anticipating such a lawsuit against our city ever since the malicious political attacks started appearing in The Independent earlier this year."
"It’s a desperate delaying tactic that I believe will be rejected by the court, where the facts and the law matter," he added. "I also expect the incredibly misleading and divisive political theatrics will continue, because it is not about public safety or the law, but rather it is about manipulating public opinion for their own purposes. This frivolous lawsuit will waste precious taxpayer dollars, and shamefully delay much needed homes for our essential workers."
Vice Mayor Trish Munro shared similar sentiments. "I am deeply saddened by the cruelty of the people attempting to delay the Eden Housing development. They have no interest in building community or providing homes for real people, but simply want to benefit themselves. I wish they would reflect on the harm they do and act for the good of all," she said.
"I'm just really disappointed because it's very hard to build affordable housing and this is just making it harder," said Eden Housing President Linda Mandolini of the lawsuit. "I'm sure that the city did all of the things that the city needed to do to get us through the approvals process and so, we believe we'll prevail in court. It's just going to delay the project and I think that's really what they want to do," she said, adding that these obstacles are unfortunate because "people desperately need a place to live."
Save Livermore Downtown has been a staunch opponent of the project and previously expressed concern that the approved plan is different from the initial conceptual design that was approved by City Council in 2018, which featured four separate buildings and a larger park.
The design that the council approved includes two four-story buildings with units that range in size from 500 to approximately 1,000 square feet. Both buildings would occupy a combined footprint of about 38,000 square feet and would include various amenities like lobbies, recreation rooms and laundry facilities.
About 31,000 square feet of land between and to the southeast of the two buildings would be allocated to Veterans Park, which would be open to the public.
City staff has previously said that the reasoning for some of the design changes since the conceptual stage were because state affordable housing grant funding requirements called for changes in the mix of units, unit sizes and common areas compared to what was initially considered for the project.
Save Livermore Downtown has also cited traffic congestion and inadequate parking among its concerns about the project, along with the concern that having four story buildings in the area "will change the character of Livermore's comfortable, open downtown."
While the group's lawsuit creates a hurdle for the city and Eden Housing, Mandolini said, "We're not giving up." She continued, "Even if it takes another year to get through the court system, we plan fully to build this project with the city."
Earlier this month, Save Livermore Downtown published an ad in The Independent newspaper that accused the city of ignoring correspondence from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board calling attention to contamination at the site.
At the City Council's regular meeting on June 14, city staff clarified several points in the letter, explaining that the letter was typical and standard in nature and that it's overall purpose "was for the water board to communicate their concurrence with the city report's conclusions and request additional evaluation to assess any impacts from the property's former use as a lumber yard and also to notify the city that a site management plan would have to be reviewed and approved by the water board prior to construction and redevelopment of the site."
While some contamination does exist at the site, city officials said that it is not out of the ordinary and will be remediated as part of the cleanup ahead of construction.