The Livermore City Council made strides this week in moving two projects forward as part of the ongoing redevelopment of downtown by unanimously approving updated agreements for the Eden Housing affordable housing complex and a proposed black box theater.
The council continued its regular meeting to Tuesday afternoon after spending nearly five hours moving through their hefty agenda Monday night. The discussion to consider an amended disposition, development and loan agreement (DDLA) for the Eden Housing project began on Monday with a presentation from city staff followed by dozens of public speakers sharing input for and against approving the DDLA. The council deliberated and took its vote on Tuesday.
"This was one of the best staff reports that I've read since I've been here," said Councilmember Brittni Kiick. "Because of the incredibly detailed staff report, I have every confidence that my vote to affirm this DDLA is the legal one and the moral one," she added before also sharing her personal experiences as a renter in Livermore.
While the project has already been approved by the city, it remains embroiled in a community debate. The approval of the project is currently being challenged in court and opponents of the development urged the council during the meeting to not approve the amended DDLA until after litigation is complete.
Despite the project being an area of contention within the community, the city continues to back plans from nonprofit developer Eden Housing Inc. to build the 130-unit residential community with a public park at the southeast corner of Railroad Avenue and L Street.
"I want to start with really thanking the staff for this because it's a very thorough presentation and staff report and a well-crafted deal with Eden Housing to move these affordable apartments forward. I know it took a lot of hard work and it's really much appreciated," said Mayor Bob Woerner. He also thanked the community for engaging on the issues and participating in the conversation.
The updated disposition, development and loan agreement approved by the council Tuesday includes modifications and additions to further facilitate the development process.
"Some of these modifications include: allowing for an earlier transfer of the property to Eden in its current undivided configuration; the city's retention of air rights above the project to address newly adopted state legislation AB 721; and, enumerating several key financial commitments and agreements that would be under the authority of the city manager to execute," Fran Reisner, city housing programs manager, wrote in a staff report.
"It also expedites implementation by authorizing the city manager to execute financial commitments and agreements consistent with this agreement and all other City Council approvals," Reisner added. "In addition, the schedule of performance would be extended to accommodate the CEQA litigation filed against the project."
The council originally approved the Eden Housing proposal to develop city-owned land in the heart of downtown with affordable housing in May 2021.
Citizen group Save Livermore Downtown (SLD) soon sued the city over the project, citing environmental concerns. Their petition was denied in Alameda County Superior Court earlier this year, prompting the group to pursue an appeal to the state appellate court last month.
Woerner addressed the ongoing litigation during Tuesday's discussion, reiterating the fact that SLD's petition had previously been denied and their environmental claims were deemed "almost utterly without merit" by Judge Frank Roesch.
"In my opinion, the appeal is a continuation of SLD's needless delay of the project and equally without merit. I'm also confident that the court will deny SLD's appeal, therefore, I wholeheartedly support moving the project forward by approving the staff recommendations," Woerner said.
On Monday, the City Council also approved a disposition and development agreement to establish the terms of the sale of city-owned land downtown for $10,000 to develop a new black box theater on the southwest portion of the Stockmen's Park easement.
"I think this is another step toward executing the downtown plan," said Vice Mayor Gina Bonanno, adding that Shakespeare's Associates Inc. is an organization that "already reaches deeply into our community in terms of what they do in the school system and other events they do in the community – not just the performances they put on – but their programs in the schools are particularly important and I think this will just enable them to reach just that much farther."
Several public speakers also shared their support for the theater, including Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Dawn Argula, Livermore Pride co-founder Tracy Kronzak, Wente Family Estates COO Karl Wente and a number of representatives from SPARC theater company.
"I'm really happy to hear all of the support for the arts in the community. I think this is going to be a fantastic addition," Kiick said following the public comment portion of the discussion.
The approval comes after nearly four years of negotiations with Shakespeare's Associates Inc. to develop the boutique theater, which is envisioned as a flexible performance space for 100 to 200 seats as well as accessory spaces to support arts and cultural uses, according to assistant city manager Christine Martin.
Complete recordings of the meetings from Monday and Tuesday are available here.
Editor's Note: Editor Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story