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Eden Housing referendum dispute takes center stage during council meeting

City's decision to not process petition sparks outcry
NW corner
Rendering facing the northwest corner of the completed Eden Housing downtown development.

The contentious Eden Housing development planned for downtown Livermore continues to spur debate following the city's decision to not process a resident-submitted referendum petition to overturn the City Council's approval of an amended disposition, development and loan agreement (DDLA) for the project.

At the City Council's regular meeting Monday (July 25) a number of residents -- both supporters and opponents of the city's decision -- spoke out about the issue during the citizens forum portion of the meeting.

Community group Unify Livermore supports the approved 130-unit Eden Housing development and public park set to be built at the southeast corner of Railroad Avenue and L Street.

The organization called upon residents to attend Monday's council meeting and express support for City Clerk Marie Weber who is being accused by proponents of the referendum of illegally refusing to process their petition. Weber deemed the council's action as administrative, not legislative, and therefore not eligible for a challenge by referendum.

"The Independent ran an inflammatory unattributed opinion piece featured as the top story attacking the Livermore city clerk for doing her job in today's (July 21, 2022) issue," Unify Livermore wrote in a message shared on Twitter ahead of the City Council meeting.

The message continued, "The opinion piece simply reprints the statements of a recently formed, shadowy opposition group to Eden Housing called 'Move Eden Housing,' reprinting the groups opinions and legal responses as fact, while ceding that the city clerk is acting on advice from the City of Livermore’s lawyers."

During the council meeting, there were so many people lined up to speak that citizen's forum was split into two parts with the first set of speakers sharing their comments in the 30-minute window allotted at the beginning of the meeting and the second group giving their remarks toward the end of the meeting prior to adjournment.

"I've never experienced a bigger case of bullying or seen a bigger case of bullying than what I am seeing now," said Darcie Kent of Darcie Kent Vineyards. "Our city clerk Marie Weber is experiencing the greatest act of bullying, intimidation and threat that I've ever seen. It's unconscionable," she added. "The tactics used by Move Eden Housing and The Independent paper are the most egregious I've ever seen."

Kent also said before closing out her remarks that she fully supports the Eden Housing project and the decisions that have been made for the project to move forward over the course of several years.

While several speakers echoed similar comments as Kent, others shared opposing views.

Livermore resident and member of the Sierra Club Tri-Valley group Donna Cabanne was among those who spoke in favor of processing the referendum petition.

"Let the residents of Livermore vote," Cabanne said. "8,000 residents signed petitions -- 8,000 Livermore residents signed the referendum. The city voters want a voice on the location of Eden Housing. The city should respect the process and allow a vote. The residents never had a vote on the location of Eden Housing. The previous vote was on the location of the hotel and giving rights to the development there," she added.

The topic was not an agendized item, therefore the council could not take any action in accordance with the Brown Act. However, the spirited citizen's forum served as an indication that the discord surrounding the affordable housing project remains prevalent.

Resident Richard Ryon initially filed paperwork to begin circulating a referendum petition in early June. After collecting more than the approximately 5,700 signatures needed, the petition was submitted to the city on July 8.

A few days later on July 13, Weber sent a letter to Ryon and his attorney Barry Fadem explaining that the city would not be taking any further action on the petition because the city's approval of the DDLA was an administrative act by the City Council and not a legislative act and therefore, was not subject to referendum.

Weber's letter also noted that the petition itself did not identify a specific act "that it challenges or purports to be legislative" and since the resolution approving the DDLA didn't include any legislative acts, the petition "has no legal effect and is therefore not eligible for filing or processing as a referendum."

In the letter, Weber wrote that the city's response was based on the advice of City Attorney Jason Alcala and special counsel. Included with the letter was a memorandum with the official legal opinion from Craig A. Steele of RWG Law signed by Alcala in concurrence with the analysis presented in the memo.

In the days following the city's decision, a group called Move Eden Housing -- which classifies itself as "a grassroots Livermore organization" -- issued a statement demanding that Weber "perform her state-mandated duty and begin the verification of the referendum signatures, as required by law."

Though the group is advocating for the referendum petition to be processed and is also being represented by Fadem, the initial filing was made by Ryon as an individual. Additionally, the group identifies itself as separate from the Save Livermore Downtown citizen group that has been a longstanding opponent of the affordable housing development and is currently fighting the project in court. However, both groups share members.

"The community group’s goal is to repeal the resolution, which could provide a future city council majority elected this November with the ability to move the Eden Housing development to an alternative location, and use the freed-up land in the center of town for an inviting park," according to Move Eden Housing's statement.

Save Livermore Downtown also advocates for the relocation of Eden Housing in favor of a community park being built on the current project site instead.

Move Eden Housing argues that Weber is in violation of the law by not processing the referendum petition.

"The refusal of the City Clerk to process these signatures, which is required by state law, threatens to rob over 8,000 Livermore voters of their constitutional right to petition the city for a referendum," said Maryann Brent, a leader of Move Eden Housing. "The Clerk has no authority or basis in law for this refusal, and Move Eden Housing will take whatever legal actions are required to force her to comply with her state-mandated duties."

In a letter to Fadem, Alcala refuted the claim that Weber acted unlawfully.

"A City Clerk has a duty to process referendum petitions for actions that represent a lawful use of the referendum power. As the legal opinion stated, the petition was not a lawful use of the referendum power. Therefore, it would be illegal for the City Clerk to process it as a referendum," Alcala wrote.

All of the documents and letters pertaining to the referendum, including the approved resolution authorizing the DDLA with Eden Housing, are available to the public on the city's website.

A complete recording of the July 25 City Council meeting is available here.


Cierra Bailey

About the Author: Cierra Bailey

Cierra is a Livermore native who started her journalism career after college as an editorial intern with the Pleasanton Weekly in 2014. After attending graduate school at Syracuse University, she’s back as the editor of the Vine!
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