Last week I discussed the mechanics of the Friends of Livermore PAC’s downtown initiative process, how it works, and when we might vote on it. Today I want to discuss the content of the initiative, which you can read here.
The two highlights I want to bring out relate to how housing on the site is handled, and what the project costs and how it will be funded.
The headline change on housing is that the city’s 130 proposed units are reduced to 84, which is the legal minimum based on the fact that the site was purchased with affordable housing funds. But there is an important change in how the housing is described in the Downtown Specific Plan, shown on p. 8 of the initiative. The proposed modified DSP reads:
The residential component of the Central Park Plan will provide 84 dwelling units. This will provide much needed multifamily housing to residents who enjoy the dynamic downtown lifestyle.
The previous language, which the initiative seeks to replace, reads:
The residential component of the redevelopment will provide 130 rental apartments. Sizes will range from studios up to two-bedroom units. The apartments will be affordable to a variety of incomes, serving the Livermore workforce.
Note the proposed removal of any requirement of affordability. The initiative backers’ website and ads in the Independent do refer to this housing as “affordable”, but the initiative text itself does not, instead mentioning those who “enjoy the dynamic downtown lifestyle.”
The initiative proposal also changes maximum density for the sub-parcel for housing to 150 dwelling units / acre (p. 51, Section 188.8.131.52), which suggests their 84 units will fit on a bit over a half acre. Put that together with the overall three-story height limits and the removal of the mention of various unit sizes, and it looks like the proposal is for very small residential units, like the “micro-units” they have been pushing for several years.
Much of the land being considered for downtown development, both in the existing city plan and in the initiative proposal, was purchased using affordable housing funds and state redevelopment funds that come with obligations to build affordable housing. A memo from the City Attorney spelling out the city’s affordable housing obligations says the absolute minimum the city must do to meet its obligations is to provide 84 units affordable to families whose income does not exceed 120 percent of area median income. Considering the size of the units and the lack of explicit affordability requirements in the initiative, my guess is that the initiative proposal is trying to meet this minimum standard without any subsidy or deed restriction. That is, they are hoping the actual market rate for these micro-units is below the $2400/month threshold for affordability at the 120 percent of AMI level.
The bottom line is that the iniative backers don’t want working families downtown. They are hoping to meet the letter of the law by providing some housing to young, single people who like to spend time in bars.
Compared to the existing plan, the initiative proposal has three additional line items that add considerably to taxpayer costs for the plan:
- A large “central park”,
- a significant amount of parking, including three new parking garages (the current downtown plan includes two new garages),
- and the reduction from 130 to 84 units of nominally affordable housing.
The FoLPAC tagline of “Better park, Better parking, Better Livermore,” sells these things as good points of the plan, but they are not cheap. The initiative proposal adds between 50 and 100 spaces in parking structures, which based on the city’s preliminary design work for garages amounts to between $2 million and $5 million in construction costs. Maintenance costs wil also be significant.
A view of downtown Livermore that will not be changed much by the initiative proposal.
The city’s Capital Improvement Plan estimates that Stockmen’s Park will cost $4 million, so I would expect the larger central park to cost at least $6 million. For the park, the bigger issue is probably the ongoing maintenance costs, which will be significant and for which there is no identified revenue source.
But the biggest issue for me is the affordable housing fees. In addition to the laws and covenants that require 84 units of on-site affordable housing, the city is also obligated to pay back the affordable housing funds it used to purchase the land. Some of this obligation is offset by the housing planned for the Pacific Avenue site (which the initiative proposal does not change), but some obligation remains, and the initiative’s reduction of affordable units from 130 to 84 will increase the city’s obligation, as will the elimination of units affordable to a variety of income levels.
Searching the initiative proposal for words like “funding”, “costs”, and “financing” shows that it does not consider paying for the goodies being proposed. To be fair, the Downtown Specific Plan that the initiative largely replaces also does not focus on funding, but the existing city council plan at least gives some thought to construction and maintenance costs.
A few other things
One strange aspect of the initiative is its references to the urban growth boundary, for example from the “findings, purposes, and intent” on p. 1:
In the past, Livermore voters fought successfully for Urban Growth Boundary initiatives to protect Livermore’s surrounding open space by blocking urban sprawl thereby preserving vineyards, olive groves, ranchlands and natural ridge lands that encircle the City.
No one disputes that the downtown is inside the urban growth boundary. Its appearance here is purely political, to connect this initiative to the previous popular actions of the Friends of Livermore PAC.
The initiative proposal changes the alignment of the new Veterans’ Way slightly, but is very adamant about the new alignment (p. 70):
Any prior resolution, ordinance or other action approving or implementing a different alignment and location of the Veterans Way right-of-way is superseded by the Central Park Plan.
The proposal is 118 pages long, so I’m sure I’ve missed some things. Take a look and let me know what I got wrong.