LIVERMORE – Residents of Livermore criticized their town council on Tuesday night for the decision to sell the former Lucky supermarket site to Eden Housing despite continued opposition to its town center project.
Seventeen speakers, along with 10 residents who submitted written comments ahead of the council meeting, berated council for advancing Eden’s plan for a 130-unit, 4-story affordable housing project, while pushing back the more than 8,000 residents who have signed petitions demanding a public vote. After receiving the notice from the city attorney, the city clerk had refused to process the referendum.
“I am convinced that you are all very intelligent people,” said resident Richard Ryon. “I just can’t understand why you don’t listen to what people want and move in a different direction. Why not agree to negotiate with your opposition so that everyone wins and no one loses?
Only one man, Alan Marling, spoke in favor of the project. But following the public comments, Mayor Bob Woerner, Vice Mayor Trush Munro and council members Robert Carling, Gina Bonanno and Brittni Kiick slammed opponents of the project for spreading misinformation and wasting time. taxpayers’ money in court.
Carling said he was offended that speakers said council members refused to listen to residents and were “in bed with the developers.”
“The people promoting this narrative have no idea of the integrity of the men and women on this council,” he said, accusing a small group of opposing the plan. “We were duly elected to represent the will of everyone, not a select few. They have spent millions of dollars and are costing you the taxpayer millions of dollars.
City officials announced this month that the city closed escrow on September 7 to sell the parcel bounded by L Street, Railroad Avenue, the extension of K Street and Veterans Way to Eden Housing, fueling controversy over proposal.
The sale was part of a deal with Eden unanimously approved by council in May to build the housing project. The vote took place despite a lawsuit from a community group to move the development. Although Save Livermore Downtown (SLD) lost in Alameda County Superior Court, SLD appealed the judge’s decision against them, and it remains in litigation.
Proponents of the project believe Eden Housing will provide affordable housing for workers within the city limits, so they don’t have to commute from other communities where rents and housing prices are lower.
Opponents of the project say they support affordable housing, but believe the downtown project would be better suited to a nearby location, where they say more units could be built. They believe that a new city council elected in November should have a say in the upcoming project, not the current council.
On September 19, the city announced the news of the sale of the land, which had taken place on September 7. Following the announcement, many locals wrote letters and appeared before council on Tuesday evening to protest.
Livermore resident Johnna Thompson called the city council’s vision for the town center short-sighted and flawed. She wrote that she believed the council locked in the plan with the sale so that a new council could not change it after the November election.
“Your tactics have been alarmingly undemocratic,” Thompson wrote. “Refusing to accept referendum signatures and rushing to sell land to Eden before the November election, using Livermore taxpayer money to loan Eden for the purchase, were done to ensure you would get your way, whatever the wishes of the voters. You did it because you could, not because it was the right thing to do.
Karen and Jeff Richardson wrote that moving forward with Eden Housing’s current plan “compounds the bad decisions made to date that will plague downtown Livermore.”
“It is irresponsible of the council to commit the city more than $17 million to support a project that so many oppose,” the Richardsons wrote. “The parking impact alone from the current proposed site will make Downtown Livermore a nightmare.”
Resident Jeff Miller’s written statement explained that he moved to the town six years ago for its “small town atmosphere, freedom from crowds and crime, and the general appeal of the Livermore area.”
“I strongly oppose Eden Housing’s current plan, which will ruin downtown, cause traffic, parking and congestion problems, and create an undesirable atmosphere in the city,” Miller wrote. “It was poorly planned, and I will not vote for any candidate for mayor or city council who supports this plan.”
Speaking in the council chamber, Livermore resident Jean King said citizens responded in 2017 when council asked residents for their views on the development of the town centre. Housing, she said, came last of the 10 priorities, but the city council opted to build housing at the very center of city-owned property.
The council, she said, ignored demands for referendums and citizens’ initiatives to move housing and build a park. Instead, the council approved two larger buildings, rejected a petition for a public vote, and rushed to sell the property before a new council could be elected.
“Citizens are responding again,” King said. “Livermore needs a council that listens to its citizens.”
In his remarks to council, Greg Scott called Livermore a “sugar daddy” for Eden Housing, providing a $7.8 million loan to Eden Housing, spending $5.5 million on open space bonds, An additional $4.3 million to clean up a contaminated site and now selling the land.
“The downtown Eden housing project is a shakedown and is not based on community cooperation, democracy in our community, or justice – socio-economic or otherwise,” Scott said.
Council members took issue with many of the commentators, angrily rejecting statements that questioned their integrity.
Bonanno said the courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of the city over opponents’ attempts to stop the project. Opponents, she said, wasted taxpayers’ money and staff time fighting the plan.
“It looks like it’s become an election issue,” Bonano said. “We’ll deal with it again in November… I trust the voters of Livermore to do their homework to seek out accurate information, not misinformation, and to vote accordingly.”
Woerner took issue with the public comments, saying there was “a misunderstanding about how affordable housing works.”
“What happens, you know, developers, when they pay their replacement costs, we get affordable housing funds, and that’s run by the city, and then the city buys land and puts it into projects affordable housing,” Woerner said. “This land was bought with affordable housing money a long time ago. No money for Eden. What happens is quite the opposite of how it is shot. The purpose of the loan is to assure this community that if for some reason Eden does not work and the money comes back, we get the land or the equivalent money. But normally, when things go as planned… the land is donated to the project – that’s the whole point of the affordable housing funds.
He also responded to comments from reviewers that the buildings were too tall for the historic downtown area.
“In 2017, I suggested we lower the height limit from four to three stories because that’s code,” he continued. “Guess who showed up to say don’t do it?” Jean King, Richard Ryon, Maryann Brent, Jeff Kaskey, and they have the nerve to show up tonight and complain about tall buildings when it’s because of them that we didn’t lower the height , so give me a break.
He then addressed the referendum, calling the effort to move Eden Housing a “political theatre”.
“When this petition first started circulating, there was no way it would end up in the November ballot,” he said. ‘Because even if the clerk had decided he could be properly dealt with, he would not have returned in time for a council meeting to put him to the ballot in November.’
In another action, the Council gave the green light to the Livermore Police Department to conduct a pilot gun buy-back program that would allow people to safely dispose of firearms, ammunition and items related.
Carling proposed the idea in June, asking police officials to come up with a plan.
“I think taking any weapon that we may have taken out of Livermore is a worthwhile goal,” Carling said.
Police Captain Jeff Bogerg and Chief Jeramy Young told the council the city would partner with two faith-based organizations, First Presbyterian Church and Cornerstone Fellowship of Livermore, to run the program. Initially, $10,000 will be spent giving away $100 gift cards, presumably for Safeway supermarkets, in exchange for usable handguns and rifles. Higher capacity guns can earn $200 gift cards.
A resident would be allowed to turn in up to three guns to prevent someone with a large cache from running out of gift cards, Bogerg said.
The weapons would be melted down at minimal cost, officials said.
Gun buybacks, which have taken place in other California communities, typically involve residents driving in a line, opening their trunks and allowing police to safely remove unloaded guns. Police and city officials who advocate gun buy-back say the programs allow residents to get rid of guns they don’t want and weed out guns that could be stolen in burglaries or create hazards for the children in the houses.
Bogerg said San Rafael police recovered 500 guns in a gun buyback, five of which had their serial numbers removed.
The Livermore takeover could take place in October.
“I appreciate that,” Munro said. “It’s a way of doing something that the community as a whole can agree on.”
The police department was advised to conduct the program and report its results to the city council to decide if more would be scheduled.
“Anything that makes us safer is good,” Woerner said.