Emotions ran high during last week's neighborhood meeting to discuss the resurgence of the proposed 44-unit Garaventa Hills housing development planned for North Livermore.
Residents living near the project site expressed passionate pleas for city officials to do anything possible to "save the hill" and kill the project.
Assistant community development director Steve Stewart delivered a slideshow presentation that included the project's history all the way through where things stand now. At one point he was interrupted by someone exclaiming, "You can just skip to the part where we save the hill."
Stewart opened the floor for questions and comments after his presentation on Nov. 1. Concerns raised by residents ranged from environmental impacts of the project, increased traffic throughout the neighborhood and overcrowding in schools -- particularly at Altamont Creek Elementary School, where the meeting was held in its multipurpose room.
Residents also shared that their trust has been challenged over the years because of the city's prior neglect to adequately analyze the alternative of not doing the project as well as other instances they perceived as a lack of transparency and communication, such as construction previously started by PG&E on Bear Creek Drive to install new power lines to support the housing project after it had been denied.
City officials admitted that the situation was an unfortunate mistake. "Errors happen sometimes and when that happens we go back and look at what happened in the system and changes were made with the processing and review to make sure that doesn't happen again," they said, adding that the community meeting itself is a reflection of their intent to be transparent.
Acknowledging the tension in the room, one resident said, "You've got to understand that these things that have happened are to our detriment and if we don't find them, then we could get screwed. So you've got to understand why we're coming out this way, because there have been mistakes made and it's like 'eh' but it's a big deal and as this goes on, it's hard to trust."
While there were a couple of people who spoke up to defend the project and the city, an overwhelming majority expressed their opposition.
Proposed by developer Lafferty Communities, the project seeks to build a total of 44 homes on the approximately 32-acre, privately owned Garaventa Hills site located at the western terminus of Bear Creek Drive and north of Altamont Creek Elementary School and Altamont Creek Park.
The project includes 38 detached single-family units and six affordable duet units along with publicly accessible trails and paths and a Hawk Street Bridge for emergency vehicles, pedestrians, bikes and mobility devices.
Stewart emphasized during the meeting that the project hasn't changed since it was first approved in 2019. However the City Council had to rescind its approval after losing a battle in court with community group Save the Hill.
The group filed a lawsuit against the city under the California Environmental Quality Act, citing the city's failure to evaluate a "no-project" option. The complaint was initially rejected in superior court but the group successfully appealed, resulting in the reversal of the superior court's decision.
"Later in the spring of 2023 is when Lafferty said, 'We want to remedy what the court said was wrong with our environmental document and move forward with doing that and go through the process again,'" Stewart explained at the meeting.
The city is required by law to process Lafferty's proposal, despite the understanding that there is strong community pushback against it.
The owners of the site eyed for the project have also confirmed in writing that they are in contract with Lafferty and do not wish to sell the property to the city for preservation, according to city officials.
Stewart's presentation included information about two sources of open space acquisition funds, the Altamont Landfill Settlement Agreement -- which currently has approximately $20.6 million in its open space account -- and the Dougherty Valley Settlement Agreement which has about $4.9 million. However, the criteria for both funding sources requires willing sellers.
"The Garaventa family has not been a willing seller to the city. We'll ask them again but it's been our experience for years now that they're in a contract with Lafferty and they're not interested in selling it to the city," Stewart said. "Based on our experience of these committees, the acquisition of the Garaventa property will not be eligible to use these funds based on the criteria that are in place and have been used over the last 15 years."
Toward the end of the meeting, staff apologized for the previous breakdowns in communication and past situations that have undermined trust. They said they will do their "very best" to rebuild that trust.
As for the project's next steps, by January the city anticipates a public hearing by the Planning Commission to receive comments on an updated final environmental impact report followed by another public hearing in March for Planning Commission review and recommendation to the City Council.
April 2024 is estimated for when the project would go before the City Council for a decision. City officials said they will keep information about the project updated on the city's website.