California Attorney General Rob Bonta began the process of filing an amicus brief Tuesday in the case of Save Livermore Downtown v. City of Livermore, supporting the city's request for dismissal or expedited review of the pending appeal challenging its approval of the Eden Housing development under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The city and developer Eden Housing, Inc. filed a joint motion on July 29 asking the Appellate Court to expedite the briefing schedule and in the alternative to dismiss the appeal.
"Timing is critical for affordable housing projects, which often rely on time-sensitive funding sources like tax credits to finance development," Bonta said in a statement. "The project at issue in this case would bring desperately needed affordable housing to the City of Livermore, and I commend the City for its efforts to address the housing needs of its community."
He added that CEQA is intended to protect the environment and public health, not to block new development. "Expedited review of this case will be key to allowing this development to proceed without further delay," Bonta said.
Livermore City Attorney Jason Alcala said that the city appreciates Bonta's support of the 130-unit affordable housing project planned for downtown.
"I concur with his assessment that Save Livermore Downtown’s lawsuit was brought for the purpose of delaying the project and that the lawsuit is an abuse of the CEQA process," Alcala told Livermore Vine in an email.
"It is unfortunate that Save Livermore Downtown has now recast itself as Move Eden Housing and filed yet another lawsuit aimed at delaying the project. Upon review, I expect the Alameda County Superior Court will find the new lawsuit to be just as meritless," he added.
Alcala's comments refer to a new, separate lawsuit filed last week by another citizen group called Move Eden Housing which identifies itself as being different from Save Livermore Downtown, although the two groups share members and are both advocating for the relocation of the housing in favor of a community park being built on the city-owned project site instead.
Move Eden Housing's lawsuit asks the court to compel the city to process a referendum petition that seeks to overturn the City Council's May approval of an amended disposition, development and loan agreement for the project.
Save Livermore Downtown's lawsuit challenging the city's initial approval of the project was denied in Alameda County Superior Court back in February but the group filed an appeal in April, which is the step in the litigation process that Bonta and the city are asking for expedited review or dismissal of.
Livermore Mayor Bob Woerner also expressed gratitude for Bonta's support while also deeming the current lawsuits as "frivolous."
"Speaking for myself, I believe it is unconscionable for a wealthy elitist and her small group of close associates to use frivolous lawsuits to block much needed affordable workforce housing. I’m pleased that the Attorney General is supporting Livermore’s and Eden Housing’s efforts to expedite the appeals process. Many deserving families have been waiting far too long," Woerner said.
At the time their appeal was filed, Save Livermore Downtown spokesperson Jean King said that the group believes "Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda Superior Court ruled incorrectly when he concluded that the City had complied with CEQA and when he deferred to the city's argument that Eden Housing's project conformed with the Downtown Specific Plan."
A request for comment from Save Livermore Downtown about Bonta's brief was unsuccessful as of Wednesday afternoon.
A statement from Bonta's office said the appeal is putting the project's funding at stake. "By dragging out the litigation, Save Livermore Downtown has jeopardized the project's financing and potentially put the entire viability of the project at risk."
Citing the California Department of Housing and Community Development, Bonta's statement said the state needs an estimated 2.5 million new homes by 2030 in order to meet housing demand. However, on average only 100,000 new homes are built in California each year.
The development of vacant or underutilized plots in existing urban areas -- known as infill development -- is critical for local governments to address the housing crisis and meet state housing goals, according to Bonta's office.
"The City of Livermore carefully followed a planning process that comports with both the letter and spirit of state law. Attorney General Bonta urges the court to expedite judicial review of the appeal to the fullest extent possible, arguing that the mere filing of an appeal in a CEQA case must not be permitted to stall or block critical projects," the statement said.