Below are Bob's full answers to the Independent's interview questions about housing downtown in which quotes were used in their article about the downtown project.
What is the history of Stockmen’s Park?
In 1962, the Livermore Stockmen’s Rodeo Association gave 33 acres of the original rodeo grounds to the City to be used exclusively for civic purposes and excluded housing. A portion was to be reserved for a park to be built by the City to honor the contributions to our heritage by the stockmen and the veterans of Livermore, Pleasanton and Murray Township. Fast forwarding to 2017, Laning Thompson of Interfaith Housing approached me to help her get permission to develop a vacant part of the Civic Center site on Pacific Ave for senior housing, which, as it turned out, was the site for the agreed upon park.
The idea for creating a larger new downtown park to honor the stockmen and veterans arose in a meeting held in July of 2017. The meeting was arranged by Laning Thompson of Interfaith Housing at my request and attended by representatives of the Livermore Stockmen’s Rodeo Association and the City to see if there could be a solution. In the course of the discussion, rancher Don Staysa mentioned that perhaps a different site could be designated for the promised park. It was then that I suggested considering the new park being planned for the downtown.
This would be a “win-win” for everyone. The stockmen and veterans got a prime location for honoring their contributions to our heritage; the location swap made new land available for 140 units of affordable housing for seniors and veterans; and the City was able to finally fulfill its obligation made 58 years ago to build the park. As an added bonus, the deal is projected to help offset nearly $10M of the approximately $14.5M obligation to the City’s Affordable Housing Fund incurred as a result of the purchase of the entire Downtown Catalyst Site.
Everyone left the meeting agreeing that it seemed like a great solution, and that the next step was for the Stockmen to get permission from their board of directors for moving the park site, which was granted a few weeks later. Final approval for the complex deal I brokered with numerous disparate stakeholders was given by a unanimous City Council vote in January of 2018.
You were the initiator of the city’s Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee. Was affordable housing one of the important goals?
I proposed creating the Council Subcommittee and an associated Working Group from the community in response to the heightened awareness of the need to address policing policies as a result of the death of George Floyd. As council members Trish Munro and I started engaging with the concerned citizens that had reached out to us, it quickly became apparent that our community needed to address deeper cultural issues, especially those involving systemic racism. A major concern was how Livermore could best become a truly inclusive community that is welcoming to all. Hence the name change from Public Safety to Equity & Inclusion.
The availability of affordable housing is certainly one of the key topics that will be addressed by the subcommittee and the working group. Like many other cities in our region, we need to make sure that all the diverse members of our community can afford to live and work here in order to be actually welcoming to all. Of course, that is just for starters, we also need to treat everyone respectfully as well.
As early as the 2001 Livermore Vision Project, there was overwhelming support for affordable housing in the downtown and new development areas. This was reaffirmed in the Greenbelt Alliance Scorecard in 2006, which recognized Livermore’s First Street Plan as a top example for smart growth. Putting housing above street level retail makes streets more lively and walkable.
There are several areas in Livermore that could be considered with affordable housing in the mix. The City’s approval of the Downtown Plan designates the northwest part of the Catalyst Site for 130 units of workforce housing. In the downtown area, the commercial sites east of P Street and north of Railroad are currently zoned to also include housing. As the sites between 2nd and 3rd Streets get redeveloped, retail on the first floors with residential above could also make sense. Sites in the Isabel Specific Plan also come to mind.
I expect that the Equity & Inclusion Working Group will play a role in helping the community come together to arrive at the best overall solution to meet the housing needs for our diverse community.
You just mentioned 130 units of workforce housing planned for the Downtown Center, and the goal of bringing the community together.
Regarding the city's plan for the downtown, some residents have prioritized affordable housing; others want a large, public park with amenities for all age groups. Do you think it would pull a divided community together if the housing were moved across Railroad Avenue to the north and the number of units were increased, thereby leaving more open space for the park?
A couple of thoughts come to mind. First, I believe it is still possible in principle to relocate the housing element, assuming that any contractual, financial and quality concerns that may arise are satisfactorily resolved as judged by the key stakeholders. The quantity of housing may not be the only consideration. The objective is to figure out the best feasible location by carefully evaluating all the factors.
Second, how the decision is made will also be a critical factor that impacts how well the community is able to unite behind a common goal. I imagine there will need to be plenty of opportunity for public input and reasoned discussion of the potential benefits. Hopefully, the best course of action will become apparent as members of the community collaborate. Once we are clear on the best plan for the Eden Housing project, I will go for it, and look for the opportunity to make it happen. I am sure there is a way to help the community come together.