Friends of Livermore
According to their website, "Friends of Livermore is dedicated to preserving Livermore's distinct heritage and hometown culture by advocating a moderate growth plan that emphasizes a vibrant city center and the preservation of surrounding scenic and agricultural resources". Committees (PACs) incorporating the "Friends of Livermore" name are periodically created to raise money for specific causes, often during election seasons, usually with political advocacy goals.
- 1 Historical Issues and Positions
- 1.1 2000 Alameda County Urban Growth Boundary
- 1.2 2002 North Livermore Urban Growth Boundary
- 1.3 2004-2006 First Street Streetscape
- 1.4 2005 Weyerhaeuser development
- 1.5 2005-2007 Bankhead Theater
- 1.6 2005-2009 Regional Theater
- 1.7 2011 Doolan Canyon
- 1.8 2011 City Council election
- 1.9 2014 City Council Election
- 1.10 2016 Campaign against Lennar Multifamily Communities development plan
- 1.11 2018 Campaign for "West Side Hotel" downtown development
- 2 Leadership
- 3 Controversy
Historical Issues and Positions
No single group can usually take credit for the successful prosecution of local issues. Friends of Livermore (FOL) is a community –based group that formed under a simple but powerful vision for Livermore to protect the Urban Growth Boundary(UGB), prevent sprawl and preserve open space. Over many years FOL has worked to establish and protect the UGB and been active in Council and county-wide elections to support candidates and initiatives that reflect these values. In more recent times FOL has supported the revitalization of downtown and the emergence of a culturally-rich inner core. Friends of Livermore have taken a major part in the following:
2000 Alameda County Urban Growth Boundary
The Measure D initiative ended the legality of Alameda County developing city-like urbanization. The competing Measure C, designed to be weaker and placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, was defeated. From this point forward, urbanization would only be undertaken by cities.
2002 North Livermore Urban Growth Boundary
After more than 10,000 signatures were collected, the North Livermore Urban Growth Boundary Initiative was adopted that reinforced the South Livermore UGB and established the North Livermore UGB. Future expansion of the size of Livermore would need to be voted on by the public.
2004-2006 First Street Streetscape
For decades, First Street was a four lane road and not pedestrian friendly. The Council undertook a redesign to transform it into the more tranquil downtown experience that exists today. Through the process, many groups including Friends took part in developing ideas and providing the feedback that led to the remarkable improvements. Friends paid particular attention to maximizing parking availabilty, without which there would have been fewer parking spaces. They also pushed back against the consultant's recommendation to construct a building to replace Lizzie Fountain.
2005 Weyerhaeuser development
Weyerhaeuser (through their now defunct subsidiary Pardee Homes) owned many acres of land north of Livermore, outside the UGB that was established by Friends. Confident they could convince residents to allow them to urbanize their land, they drafted an initiative to expand the UGB and create an development they cynically named "Livermore Trails". Friends was a major donor to the defeat of this new "Measure D", and were outspent 10 to 1. Even so, Weyerhaeuser was defeated 72% to 28%.
2005-2007 Bankhead Theater
LVPAC was supported by Friends in their effort to build what would become the 500 seat Bankhead Theater.
2005-2009 Regional Theater
Concurrently with the planning for the Bankhead, LVPAC again worked with Friends to establish a location for a 2,000 seat regional theater. There were good reasons at the time to believe that an adequately sized performing arts center would be built in the Tri-Valley and Livermore should be the place to build it. Extensive economic studies involving models of similar regions determined that if it were not too large or too small, it would be profitable. The decision was made to place it on the newly available land at the former stockyard. Ultimately, the transformation of such large area of the downtown to be far less popular with the public than the Bankhead. The project ended with changes to State law that governed redevelopment funding, as it was no longer financially feasible.
2011 Doolan Canyon
2011 City Council election
Stewart Gary was supported due to his environmental positions, and was elected. Conversely, he was not supported in 2016 due to his position in favor of the controversial Lennar Multifamily Communities downtown housing development project.
2014 City Council Election
Friends supported Steve Spedowfski and Robert Woerner, both of whom were elected.
2016 Campaign against Lennar Multifamily Communities development plan
The 2016 version of the Stockyard Redevelopment was viewed as having too many houses and not enough public open space. Friends actively presented alternate ideas and vision to influence the general direction and oppose Lennar Homes' proposal. Lennar's plan was chosen as the 2016 election was approaching, and Friends threw it's support to successful candidates that took positions against Lennar (Bob Coomber and and Robert Carling).
2018 Campaign for "West Side Hotel" downtown development
After Lennar was eliminated, public workshops were convened to gather community input. One overwhelming preference of participants was to build a hotel to the west of Livermore Avenue/South of Railroad. This was due to the fact that the principle alternative location next to the Bankhead Theater was not large enough to accommodate the necessary parking. Instead, some of the cars were expected to park across Railroad Avenue. Ingress/Egress could also not be designed without negative impacts. Traffic congestion and downtown parking availability were high priorities during outreach.
After Council voted on September 10 2018 to rezone for a 4 story 63 foot high east side hotel with underground parking, Friends notified the City that they would be collecting signatures in order to file a referendum on this decision.
The most prominent member of the organization is Joan Seppala. As the editor of the local newspaper coupled with her propensity to donate substantially to environmental political causes, she is often at odds with individuals and groups that have development interests. Here are some comments by Joan about herself and the role her newspaper has played in the community. These comments are summarized from opening remarks by Joan Seppala at a presentation on FAKE NEWS.
"This year, for the first time in 55 years, The Independent newspaper has been accused of fake news and alternative facts. This is surprising because of the particular role our newspaper has played in the Tri-Valley over decades. At our own peril, we have supported issues that benefit the whole community. In 1962 at age 24, I moved to the Bay Area expecting to find work as a journalist. The San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers offered me jobs only as a society writer because I was a woman. I happened to meet three investors who agreed to start up a Tri-Valley newspaper. The first issue of the Independent was printed in September 1963. Enduring boycotts and harsh criticism from citizens, business interests and politicians, our editors, writers and sales force have had one unwavering mission — to advocate for what is best for the community, and to be fair and tell the truth. We supported a 1972 measure to curb rampant growth that was affecting schools, city budgets and air quality. Those who disagreed organized a boycott of our advertisers. We plunged from 50 pages 3 times a week down to 6 pages once a week. Scores of residents loaned us money. Some gave us $100 for a day; Margaret Tracy, an environmentalist, gave us $10,000 for several years. Monthly, a newly hired Lab scientist loaned me his beginner’s paycheck. However, I had to keep returning the cash so he could cover his monthly bills. Some say I married Lynn Seppala for his money. The Independent survived, and worked with others to build thriving cities with urban growth boundaries. I learned that if you are true to interests of the broad community, not your own pocket book, and are accurate and balanced, citizens will rise up to support you. Our readership is high because we are the newspaper of record, printing both sides of key issues. We publish all letters to the editor, whether critical or praising. The Independent has an unusual management structure that has worked. As owner and publisher, I am out in the field listening to people, involving myself in grassroots advocacy. Our editor, Janet Armantrout, calls the shots back at the desk. She decides what to report and in what depth. She keeps The Independent even-handed and accurate as I follow my passion to envision an inspirational community."
Mr. Rounds is a retired newspaper editor for the Bay Area News Group.
Mrs. King is a retired teacher who taught in local schools.
As one would expect, Friends has its share of supporters and critics. Supporters are eager to cite the long history of environmental stewardship, and critics claim that Friends consists of a small number of powerful people who can control issues in defiance of the larger city population.