The Livermore City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the 130-unit affordable housing community proposed for downtown by Eden Housing following a public meeting that spanned two days.
All five council members expressed enthusiastic support for the proposal that would provide homes ranging from one to three bedrooms for residents with incomes between 20% and 60% of the Alameda County area median income, which includes individuals earning less than $55,000 a year and less than $78,000 a year for a family of four.
"It's a quality project that meets the expectations set when the council approved the concept plan in January of 2018. In addition, the city has invested years of effort and millions of housing dollars in this site and we need to proceed now," said Mayor Bob Woerner, adding that voting against the project would be an "irresponsible risk of taxpayer funds" because of the likelihood of lawsuits that would result from doing so.
The council found that the project complies with the state density bonus law, the California Environmental Quality Act, the Housing Accountability Act and aligns with the city's overall vision for the downtown development plan.
In addition to meeting the necessary standards, the council acknowledged the existing need for more affordable housing in the city.
"Livermore cannot solve the ongoing housing crisis alone but we can do our part to make our community more possible for all income levels to live here," Vice Mayor Trish Munro said. "Communities which enable people to live near where they work are stronger. Communities that are diverse are stronger."
Councilmember Brittni Kiick said that her own childhood experience influenced her perspective on the value of affordable housing.
"I think it was pretty clear when I was running (for office) that I'm a huge advocate for affordable housing and will continue to fight for affordable housing so that people like my mom don't have to deal with what she had to deal with when she was raising us alone," she said.
Councilmember Bob Carling addressed the environmental considerations Eden Housing included in its plans such as providing all electric appliances and a composting facility on-site. "Additionally, the development is within a half a mile of a major transit stop to provide tenants easy access to public transportation," he said.
The discussion initially began Monday night with a presentation of the project by city staff and Eden Housing. In anticipation of an extensive public comment period, the city had planned ahead to divide the meeting into two sessions. After hearing from more than 100 speakers Monday, the council reconvened on Tuesday afternoon to ask questions, deliberate and vote.
Approximately two-thirds of the public speakers expressed support for moving forward with the development planned for the southeast corner of the Railroad Avenue and L Street intersection, while opponents implored the council to consider moving the project to an alternative location due to concerns about traffic congestion, parking and the overall size and scope of the project, among other issues.
"Despite all the community opposition to this project, our voices have been ignored," Jean King said on behalf of community group Save Livermore Downtown, which opposes the development. "If the city continues to ignore us, we may have no choice but to ask a judge to resolve the dispute. Rather than do that, we urge the city and Eden to press pause and come to the table with us to discuss an alternative through mediation, community meetings or some other approach."
The current project site was initially purchased by the city in 2007 with a plan in sight to build affordable housing there. Eden Housing has also secured $14.4 million from Alameda County's Measure A1 bond fund for the project, which relies upon the city's commitment to build affordable housing at the proposed location.
While offering her remarks about the project, Munro rejected the notion that there is a viable alternative. "The only bait-and-switch has been perpetuated by the people pretending that housing can or should be moved from a location that has always been reserved for affordable housing," she said.
Some of the project's challengers also criticized Woerner on Monday, arguing that he did not follow through on his previous commitment to finding a "win-win" solution to the debate. In his closing comments on Tuesday, Woerner addressed those claims and the role of Joan Seppala, publisher of The Independent newspaper, in the project opposition effort.
"I'd like to point out that at the end of last year, I proposed a compromise solution to Joan Seppala's committee and expressed that I was willing to work with them to explore an alternative option. I made it clear at the time that was the last opportunity, in my opinion, to seek a compromise. My proposal was summarily rejected by Joan Seppala because she was not willing to compromise," he said.
Complete recordings of both meetings are available here.