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By Tim Hunt

Battle over downtown Livermore plan heats up

Uploaded: Sep 20, 2018

The Friends of Livermore just made this fall's election season even more interesting.

When the Livermore City Council approved the downtown plan this month, the group announced a referendum to overturn the decision. In a press release, retired newspaper executive David Rounds, chair of the Friends of Livermore Committee, wrote, "During the Outreach Process, participants overwhelmingly supported a Westside Hotel because of the benefits to the entire plan. However, the City Council kept its Eastside Hotel.

"We believe for something as important as our Downtown Center, we need something better than the City's plan. The voters need to have their say."

Ironically, every member of the City Council has been backed by the Friends of Livermore with their efficient campaign money laundering process. Mayor John Marchand earlier fell out of favor when he exercised an independent voice, and now Councilmen Bob Coomber and Steve Spedofwski are writing about the referendum drive on Facebook.

Coomber put up a lengthy post Tuesday, "I'm annoyed and dismayed at the current 'referendum' concerning our downtown plan, a plan in which the proponents of the plan enjoyed a seat at the table with 18 other community members.

"As those meetings wrapped up, the consensus of the committee was to move forward, and specified the most interest was for a hotel on the east side of Livermore Ave., not the west, as I had championed. The Council voted, and the east side plan was approved 4-1.

"Other elements came into play -- fewer housing units, which I also wanted. More parking for downtown visitors, which we approved. Additional disabled parking next to the Bankhead Theater, which I felt was necessary. A retail presence built by a respected local builder. And a park, which would commemorate Livermore's ranching heritage, while providing housing for low income seniors and veterans off site...

"Enter Friends of Livermore, a group who backed me in 2016. Late Monday, as we cleaned up language in the Downtown Specific Plan to remove references to the 2,000 seat regional theater, they had filed for a referendum to let voters determine the public's feelings about downtown. They failed to ask me for an opinion ahead of time, which really concerned me.

"...I am aware that by owning the city's only weekly newspaper, this group is capable of spinning information that will be unflattering to the Council. Already we've been called Nazis and "corrupt" by their serial letter writers - a group composed of...wait for it....FoL members or sympathizers! Who'd have believed?

"Today I was told by a signature collector I was "unAmerican" for refusing to sign his petition. But the reality of this vote will be this: another delay building downtown. Winery owners hung out to dry as they wait for a nice hotel downtown, one from which downtown restaurants and businesses will benefit. Stockman's Park delayed, maybe lost, as the Stockmen's Association is tiring of these last ditch efforts.

"As for me, I feel completely betrayed. I will always be independent, a fact which my record will attest... I'm opposed to the referendum. Our public outreach and steering committee outreach is almost unparalleled. Livermore deserves better than to be held hostage by big money and special interests."

Spedowfski later wrote, "I am in the same ship as Bob. Not wanting to participate or speak out on social media, but current actions by some individuals compelled me to. This issue is bringing a lot of people together. We keep posts to what we have said at prior meetings and straight up politics, we are good. "

The referendum is not surprising given the history of the Friends of Livermore leadership. It's simply been their way or the highway for years. Since the council decided on the east side hotel, the Vibrant Livermore group has been publishing weekly full-page ads in the Independent criticizing the plan and keeping it in the public eye.

The group leadership includes Independent Publisher Joan Seppala along with former school board member Bill Dunlop, Jean King and Lee Younker.

One new dynamic this time around is the group that came together and developed key elements of the downtown plan approved by the council. It includes the rodeo association, the winegrowers, the chamber, Innovation Tri-Valley and other community leaders.

Operating under the banner of Unify Livermore, the group purchased its own full-page ad in last week's edition of the Independent. The linchpin to the downtown plan was the rodeo association's willingness to allow affordable housing on the former rodeo grounds that now is the civic center in exchange for naming rights to the downtown park.

The signature gathering adds a fresh wrinkle to the council campaign with four candidates, including incumbent Bob Woerner running for two seats. Spedowfski did not stand for re-election.