Eden Housing proceeds with controversial plan to build affordable housing in Downtown Livermore

City Council halted effort by opponents to put the 130-unit complex on citywide ballot

Eden Housing proceeds with controversial plan to build affordable housing in Downtown Livermore
Eden Housing's Linda Mandolini with rendering of the southeast corner of railroad Avenue and South L Street (Eden Housing, Getty)

Eden Housing will move forward with a controversial plan to build a 130-unit affordable housing complex in Downtown Livermore after the city killed an attempt to put it on the November ballot.

The Livermore City Council voted 4-1 to allow the Hayward-based nonprofit developer to proceed with the project at the southeast corner of Railroad Avenue and South L Street, SiliconValley.com reported.

The decision put the kibosh on an effort by Move Eden Housing, a neighborhood group that gathered the thousands of signatures needed for a referendum, saying the 2.5-acre project can’t proceed without a public vote.

Plans by Eden Housing include two four-story buildings with one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments for households who earn between 20 percent and 60 percent of area median income, according to its website.

The white complex, divided by a greenbelt, would include a community room, laundry facilities and a private playground and a public park that proved central to the council vote.

After a court decision appeared likely to send the project before voters this fall, the council said a referendum was needed only to fund the proposed public park next to the development — not the housing itself.

Under its interpretation of the court ruling, the city said its agreement to sell the land for the project to Eden Housing was an “administrative act,” which can’t be challenged by a referendum. 

Therefore, city officials said, only the decision to fund the new park is subject to a public vote.

Over objections from residents who accused the city of denying the will of the voters, the council voted to pause plans for the 1-acre park and continue working with the developer on the housing project.

Councilman Evan Branning, whose district includes Downtown, chastised residents who had opposed and delayed the project. Before pursuing the referendum, opponents sued the city in 2021 to block the project. A year later, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, calling its claims “utterly without merit.”

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“You are the ones sowing hate and division in our community,” Branning told project opponants. “You have the option to welcome our neighbors, to bring them in, to say that Livermore is a community that loves each other.”

Matt Regan, a housing policy expert with the Bay Area Council, said the opposition led by a small group of wealthy homeowners is emblematic of the challenges cities across the region face in building subsidized affordable housing.

“It shouldn’t be this hard,” Regan told SiliconValley.com. “This is why we have a housing crisis.”

In a letter to the council, lawyers for Move Eden Housing accused the city of mischaracterizing the court ruling. They argued the council must either put the entire project on the ballot, or suspend it altogether.

“We strongly urge the city to listen to the over 6,000 registered voters who signed the referendum petition and not take further action that infringes their rights,” wrote Los Angeles-based attorney Winston Stromberg.

Opponents of the project, meanwhile, demanded it be built anywhere but in Downtown. The median selling price for a home in Livermore in May was $1.2 million, according to Redfin.

Planning Commissioner John Stein, who voted against the proposal, said he didn’t want his downtown to become a “ghetto of affordable housing.” He later issued a public apology.

“Eden Housing can be built somewhere else in this town, not Downtown, where we play, where we walk, where we eat, where we entertain ourselves,” resident Greg Rogowski told the council.

 “Everyone here isn’t against Eden Housing — we’re just against where it’s going right now.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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