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Livermore City Council candidates debate key issues

Eden Housing, wine country revitalization among topics
From left: District 2 Candidate Mel Chiong, District 1 Candidate Carol Wahrer, District 1 Candidate Evan Branning.

Three candidates for Livermore City Council appeared in a public forum Thursday to debate pressing issues facing the community, and discuss how they would address them if elected. 

This upcoming Nov. 8 general election two Livermore City Council seats are up for grabs, one each in District 1 and District 2. District 1 candidates Evan Branning and Carol Wahrer, and District 2 candidate Mel Chiong, used the forum platform to share their values and visions for the city of Livermore.

Ben Barrientos, who is also competing to represent District 2, was out of town and unable to participate in the event. 

The candidates are seeking a spot on the council to implement their campaign strategies and represent voters of their respective districts. The forum, held at the Robert Livermore Community Center, was hosted by and the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Three of the four Livermore City Council candidates were present at the Robert Livermore Community Center for the recent forum. Photo by Nicole Gonzales

Wahrer is an early childhood educator and longtime resident of the area, having lived in Livermore for over 30 years. Branning, who moved to Livermore a number of years ago, is a high school culinary teacher and Livermore Planning Commissioner who has also previously served on the Alameda County Public Health Committee, among other community involvement. 

Chiong is a travel agent and community organizer who has called Livermore home for the past 24 years. She currently serves on the Livermore General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC), a selection of residents that deliver feedback to city staff and officials for revising their General Plan document. 

With housing being one of the most important issues to voters this election, candidates were asked during the forum where they stand on the council-approved location of the Eden Housing project. The affordable housing complex would provide 130 units on the southeast corner of Railroad Avenue and L Street in downtown Livermore. 

The development has been at the center of an ongoing community debate in which opponents of the project are advocating for a public park to be built on the downtown site and for the housing to be placed elsewhere in the city. However, the current location was initially purchased by the city with funds designated for affordable housing. The property has now been sold to the developer, Eden Housing, Inc. 

“I am in favor of low-income and affordable housing,” Wahrer said. “I just think that is the wrong spot to put more housing.” 

Wahrer explained that she felt voters did not want the affordable housing complex to be built in the specific area, but rather suggested the city seek out other options for housing developments. 

“We need to look at spaces in all four districts for affordable housing and keep growing outward,” she said. Wahrer’s opponent for District 1, Branning, expressed opposite views. 

“This is the most valuable piece of property in our city, and I can think of nothing better to do with that piece of property than to honor the hardest working members of our societies,” Branning said, expressing his support and enthusiasm for the project.

District 2 candidate, Chiong, shared similar sentiments as Branning. 

“I do support it,” said Chiong. “We have come this far for this development to be in its current context. Moving it would take us back so many years.”

Chiong explained that building the development in its proposed location would instill a legacy for the future generations of Livermore. She also expanded on her views of the development of the downtown area separate from the Eden project. 

“We can start looking into how we can improve connectivity in terms of providing transportation and access,” said Chiong. 

Later in the forum, Branning also expressed support for making the downtown as accessible as possible. He emphasized the need for public transit and creating a more walkable, bikeable downtown. Wahrer echoed this viewpoint as well. 

Forum participants were asked to discuss how they would tackle revitalization and sustainability of the wine industry.

Of these related topics, are the South Livermore Sewer Extension Project, or Measure P, and the proposed amendments to the county's Measure D that would expand wine country operations to include hot air balloons, cannabis dispensaries and other services. 

“The quality of life in Livermore is directly tied to the wineries,” said Branning. “I strongly support them and I believe that when we go to the ballot we all need to support them together.”

Both contenders for District 1 showed support for Measure D. 

"The wineries are an extremely important part of Livermore," said Wahrer. "(However) the wineries and cities can continue to do more with partnerships."

Branning also said he is in support of Measure P while his opponent did not explicitly provide a stance on the matter. 

In Chiong's response, she expressed encouragement and appreciation for the wine community. 

“We owe a lot to the wine industry,” Chiong said. “We need the industry as much as the industry needs us.” 

She added, "In Livermore, wine is important here because it has brought so much to citizens," referencing the wine tourism it brings to the city. 

On the topics of homelessness, the candidates used this time to share their own goals and visions for the future of Livermore. 

“While homelessness went up throughout the county, it went down in Livermore,” said Branning. “The city is doing great things along those lines. But having these partners throughout the county will really see an opportunity for us to reduce homelessness dramatically.” 

While Branning thinks the city’s current plan for homelessness is satisfactory, he feels having regional partnerships would additionally contribute to the cause.

"County-funded temporary housing will be sufficient in allowing people to transition to more permanent housing," Branning said. 

"Livermore is working in the right direction, and we need to do more,” said Wahrer. “We need to work with all different types of social systems to help everybody.” 

District 1 candidate Carol Wahrer. Photo by Nicole Gonzales

However, Wahrer did not expand largely on specific steps that could be taken to serve the unhoused community. 

Chiong stressed how the issue of homelessness can be made more of a county issue. Adding on to the wrap-around services already provided by Livermore would adequately help to serve the unhoused, she said.

“Let’s us all take responsibility for it,” Chiong said. 

Chiong also emphasized how, if elected, her GPAC experience would lend itself to the intricate planning and housing topics that council members take on. 

A complete recording of the forum is available on the Livermore Vine YouTube channel. The council candidates' portion of the event begins at 1:17:14.

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