By Tim Hunt
Big money pouring into Livermore referendumsUploaded: Jan 21, 2020
Three Livermore residents who have largely bankrolled the Friends of Livermore political activities for the last decade are playing the same role in the two ballot measures that citizens will consider this year.
On the March ballot, voters will be asked whether to overturn a development agreement that the City Council approved for a downtown hotel on the eastside of the vacant block where arts supporters once hoped to build a 2,000-seat performing arts center. In November, residents will consider whether to reject the council’s plan for that downtown space that includes a black box theater, a park named for the Livermore Rodeo Stockmen’s Association and high-density housing.
An article by Angela Ruggiero in the East Bay Times Jan. 12 addressed the rather staggering sum of money that the Joan and Lynn Seppala and Jean King have poured into the campaigns. She wrote that three campaign committees have raised more than $1 million in the last three years. Contrary to the grassroots efforts of years past, the signature gathering was largely done by paid workers.
King contributed $417,000 from 2016-2019 according to the article that cited campaign finance results. Joan Seppala contributed $98,000, while her husband, Lynn, chipped in $331,600. Joan is the founder and publisher of the Livermore Independent weekly newspaper.
Although Livermore has a $250 contribution limit for council campaigns, there are no limits on contributions to political action committees such as Friends of Livermore. In fact, the Seppalas, King and other leaders dominated council campaigns in 2014 and 2016. Their favored candidates won in both elections and did so with abundant financial backing from the political action group with huge contributions from King and the Seppalas.
The irony is that the elected council members exercised independent judgement and made decisions that Joan opposed. She’d turned against former councilmen Steve Spedowfski (who didn’t stand for re-election) and Stu Gary (who lost a re-election bid). When it came to the downtown deliberations, every council member had been backed by the Friends of Livermore yet there was no support for its position.
Thus, the referendums.
The article noted that King is chair of the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center and Joan Seppala is president. They are concerned that the council approved plan could remove many parking spaces and hurt the Bankhead Theater that is operated by the group.
In fact, the political actions are in keeping with Joan’s moves over the years. Simply put, she’s classic with it’s her way or the highway. Just ask your choice of City Council members. What’s striking is in 2018, as the Friends turned their backs on Bob Woerner and John Marchand, they struggled to find candidates to run against them. They initially backed Brent Siler and then withdrew that endorsement when controversial racial comments from him emerged on social media. They then embraced Rosemary Bartsch who had dropped out of the race and did not participate in the debates.
It will be interesting to see what happens this fall with both council elections and the downtown ballot measure.