Citizens for Balanced Growth Posts

The City of Livermore had difficult choices to make

Lafferty Communities‘ attempt to develop Garaventa Hill into a housing tract began in 2011 and ended in 2022. Here’s a brief look back at the series of tasks were undertaken, and how it all unraveled in the courts.

  • 2011 Lafferty sought out Lamphier-Gregory to begin the environmental review process.
  • 2011 Lamphier-Gregory arranged to be paid by the City of Livermore to produce the EIR (no competitive bid)
  • Lamphier-Gregory drafted a Notice of Preparation

Our City staff submitted the Notice of Preparation to the State in 2011

Various episodes followed over the next several years, including a Draft EIR in 2012, a “Final” EIR in 2014, and then a “Reissued” final EIR in 2018. Upon the Council’s (now illegal) 2019 certification of the FEIR, a lawsuit was filed by residents which ultimately resulted in their Supreme Court victory.

Upon being “noticed” that a lawsuit would be filed, City staff had the responsibility to make recommendations to the Council. Legally, when a legislative body votes on a decision, they must stand by that decision in court no matter how regrettable the original vote might have turned out to be in hindsight. So, Staff was responsible for presenting options for the kind of defense case they would mount on behalf of Livermore residents, against Livermore residents. Though unfortunate and ironic, it is not an uncommon corner into which agencies can find themselves painted.

The best possible outcome would be for Livermore to lose the case, and thusly save The Hill. Public opposition to Lafferty Communities and concern for the health of the environment made for an attractive potential outcome – win by losing.

Three options to consider

  1. Concede the case and negotiate a costly compensatory arrangement with Lafferty Communities.
  2. Have the City Attorney prepare a reasonable case and argue it in a manner which satisfies the legal defense obligation but might not have the greatest chance of winning. Cost would be minimal. (Pro Tip #1: losing is winning on this issue).
  3. Make a side deal with Lafferty communities where they would manage the case, cost, and liability. (Pro Tip #2: winning is losing on this issue).

They chose option 3. The City would fight its residents in the most aggressive way at their disposal. Lafferty Communities was motivated by tens of millions in profit if they won the case, and were willing to finance a vigorous defense. City Staff thought this would be a good idea, as it absolved them from having to do any work. They also mistakenly thought they had a winning defense case.

The Trials

Livermore outsourced its defense to the discretion of Lafferty Communities. They hired the Buchalter Law Firm in San Francisco, with their attorney Doug Straus heading up the case. On the advice from CBG and others, the residents (“Save the Hill Group”) hired Greenfire Law to serve as plaintiff’s representative.

CBG was able to witness the trials in action. We were highly impressed with Mr. Straus’ performance and command of his various arguments. Basically, he really knew his stuff. Likewise, Greenfire’s Jessica Blome was every bit Straus’ equal, and based on the final result, superior.

Lafferty Communities was disadvantaged from the beginning. The property is more environmentally sensitive than the nearby Farber property, where developers tried to get an EIR for 15 years before giving up. Livermore’s Council received some bad advice from Livermore’s City Attorney during the EIR process. The EIR also had fatal flaws, as Lamphier-Gregory (the company that produced it) left out some key research and findings related to preserving the property as a “No-Build” option. In the end, all things being equal, this case was lost from the start.


Greenfire was able to tease out the necessary facts of the law in order for the plaintiffs to prevail on the merits in all three courts where the case was heard. On this basis we don’t believe Council made a good decision to fight their own residents with everything they had. In hindsight, we hope they would agree. All parties would have been much better served by gracefully allowing the inevitable loss to transpire with far less drama. It would have saved Lafferty Communities time and money as well. The saddest part though, is the magnitude of mistrust created by Council’s desire to fight their own constituents tooth and nail. That’s not how good government is supposed to work.

lamphier-gregory Garaventa Hills
Livermore’s appeal to the California Supreme Court in an effort to erase their Appellate Court loss was unsuccessful.

Lafferty Communities cannot develop Garaventa Hill

The Garaventa Hills Lamphier-Gregory Environmental Impact Report (originally prepared by Rebecca Auld of Lamphier-Gregory) was upheld as defective on July 13th 2022 by the California Supreme Court. The case remains officially published, despite the additional request by the City of Livermore to have the decision “depublished”. As such, it is now “California Case Law” which can be referenced in other environmental lawsuits indefinitely.

On March 30th 2022, a three-judge panel on the California Court of Appeal First District ruled in favor of the residents who brought the case.  The Livermore City Council erred in allowing a housing development to proceed on the environmentally sensitive property. 

The proposed “Garaventa Hills” housing tract was to be located in Northeast Livermore between Laughlin Road and Vasco Road, just north of Altamont Creek School.  For nearly a decade, developers attempted to push their plans through the City’s processes, only to be repeatedly thwarted by a myriad of unmitigable environmental consequences that would result from development.

The Hill is home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including the endangered Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp, California Tiger Salamander, Burrowing Owls, the Livermore Tarplant and other species on and around the site.  The U.S. Dept of Fish & Wildlife Service has designated it as critical habitat for the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp.

The Appellate panel of judges agreed with the Save the Hill, who argued that the City Council failed to adequately consider whether Garaventa Hill could be purchased and preserved in perpetuity for conservation as a part of a “No-Action” EIR alternative. Lafferty Communities, the applicant and developer at the time, paid for the EIR, then court actions, all the way through the eventual defeat.

Conservation funds have been available to buy it for decades, and the California Environmental Quality Act requires that there be appropriate attention applied to a “no project” option as part of the EIR certification process.  The funds were left completely out of the Report, as Lamphier-Gregory failed in their due diligence to include conservation funding as part of their research and discovery process. Without this vital information, even after being asked to provide it by the plaintiffs during public testimony, the City Council’s certification of the EIR violated the law.

What is an EIR – why did Lafferty Communities need it?

An Environmental Impact Report is required by California law whenever a new proposal will have enough potentially negative effects on the environment to be of significant concern. This is a very broad description, and the law has many complex parameters and requirements. If we attempt to peel back several layers of metaphorical curtains, here’s a very abbreviated example of how one might be created.

After a developer decides that it is worth risking capital for the chance of making a profit, it all begins by a public agency’s staff being approached about starting a permitting process to build a project . The agency, in this case a city council and staff, invokes a “positive declaration” to indicate a developer’s proposal will require a legal EIR prior to permits being issued. A private company that specializes in writing these lengthy documents is required.

An environmental consultant is first retained.

Typically, the developer will assure the retention of a company with a reputation that supports the likelihood of success, not necessarily one that leans toward environmental protection, as the stakes are very high if the report doesn’t get certified. Here’s where the potential for conflict of interest begins and the players start to dance an ethically loaded tango.

By law, the agency (council in this case) is the customer of the EIR company. This is because the council should be looking out for the best interests of the residents, and the primary allegiance of the EIR company should be to the council and residents. However, the report costs money; it is nearly universal that the agency will include a side deal with the developer where council will not be liable for the costs of the report – the developer pays back the agency as soon as the agency pays the consultant. While the council has the final word in choosing the EIR company (the one often requested by the developer), the REAL customer is the developer, and they will demonstrate their alliance throughout. Corrupt? Unethical? There is nothing illegal about this sort of out-in-the-open money laundering.

Enter Lamphier-Gregory

In the Garaventa case, Lafferty sought out and chose a company called Lamphier-Gregory. They may have done so in part because of Lamphier’s extraordinary success in another controversial local project: The Sunol Valley Aggregate Quarry. Similar to Garaventa, the conversion of a productive stretch of farmland to a gravel quarry faced stiff opposition from virtually every environmental group that spoke on the matter. The locals were infuriated by the prospect, and made every effort to derail the progress. Lamphier-Gregory’s EIR was a resounding success, as the property was converted and not stopped by a successful lawsuit.

After Lafferty instructed Lamphier-Gregory (see pg 54) to pursue the Garaventa project, they went through the administrative movements to get themselves hired by Livermore as the environmental consultant without a competitive bid. The deck was stacked against the residents from the outset. The weak approach by Lamphier-Gregory to expend only minimal effort to include a legitimate “no project alternative” was ideal for Lafferty’s interests. It was also their downfall. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for Livermore residents, that’s illegal. The Supreme Court said so.

More about the attempted “depublication” of the ruling

Save the Hill‘s Supreme Court win was a powerful message to any California agency that is required to adhere to CEQA. There are many public and private interest groups who generally prefer to avoid protecting the environment, as it can get in the way of their development plans. After the Appellate Court victory, no less than five separate entities decided to take action.

With the goal of making it harder to protect the environment in the future, they thought it would be wise to try to cover up the ruling by requesting “depublication”. They submitted their requests to the only remaining court that could do it – The California Supreme Court. If successful, future development strategies would no longer face the inconvenience of complying with the newly enhanced CEQA power.

It didn’t work. As a published case, Save The Hill Group v. The City of Livermore is far reaching and widely relevant. For the record, the five requestors were:

The effect of the published ruling is that in the future, any plan for new developments that do significant damage to the environment must include a genuine study of a “no-project alternative”. This means that there needs to be a sincere effort to investigate any and all ways a damaging project can be avoided in order to protect California from unnecessary harm. Not all development projects threaten the environment, so this ruling does not unduly impede development in California. But, if you want to abuse the environment for profit, you can’t do so in an illegal manner, or as easily as before.

Will there be another EIR ordered by the City (Developer)?

Since the court decision, there have been ongoing communications between City staff and Lafferty Communities regarding Lamphier-Gregory. The City performed their court mandated duty to rescind the approval in November 2022. The election of a development opponent to the council district (Ben Barrientos) in 2022 will provide for at least four years of pushback within the City administration that never existed before.

Attempts were made to contact Lamphier-Gregory in order to gain more insight, but they did not want to speak with us. We hope they might reconsider, as we want to make sure the information we post is accurate and fair. One particular item we would like to explore is a statement they made about the project. “Lamphier-Gregory was also asked to help the City negotiate the process of choosing an identified alternative in place of the project at the Final EIR stage.” This was precisely the issue that the justices called out most explicitly in ruling against them, so it seems odd to have promoted this service to Livermore as a “value added” feature.

After such a publicized defeat at the supreme court, one might speculate that Garaventa Hill is too hot to handle, and Lamphier-Gregory may decide not to participate again. Other environmental consultants may also need to carefully consider the potential downside as well.

For eight long years, the resident opponents did what they could without a completely equipped skill set to guide them through the various complexities. Though poorly armed, they brought their case all the way to the Supreme Court and won. Now, the same people are more motivated, have a GREAT Environmental law firm, are apparently well funded, highly visible, and have newfound political power. It seems unlikely that Lamphier-Gregory will reenter the fray, but why would any competent environmental consultant want to walk straight into a buzz saw? The same question applies to Lafferty Communities.

Maybe they’re thinking about trying anyway.

Lafferty Communities have said very little. They are active on Facebook, but seem to ignore their Yelp page which has a 1 star rating. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle just after the court defeat, attorney Alicia Guerra stated, “Lafferty Communities remains fully committed to its in-fill housing project in the city of Livermore which will offer needed excellent and affordable housing to the community.”

The process itself would really be a return to where they started in 2011, but from an even more disadvantaged posture. It’s a lot of work, new surveys, a greatly expanded “no-project alternative”, etc. The public scrutiny will be substantial, and could be overwhelming.

Actions do speak louder than words though, and a bewildering action by PG&E did take place. A high capacity power line was run up to The Hill a few months after the court ruling. Apparently there was an old request for infrastructure and they failed to put the brakes on in time, as they were unaware that Garaventa Hill is no longer being urbanized. A lot of money went to waste.

What if Lafferty Communities were to restart the process?

The procedure would not be easy, quick, or cheap. An RFP for a new EIR has to be ordered by city staff, and they will be encouraged to exactly NOT prepare one. If an RFP is produced, this time it will be challenged. Then if it goes out for bids, bidders may be reluctant to participate (based on what happened to Lamphier-Gregory). If it receives bids, the applicants will become the subject of immediate public attention (and not the good kind). Don’t forget the Notice of Preparation, and the staff time it takes to process that prior to any work on a new EIR.

Unlike the passive exercises that took place in 2011, nothing will be left unattended. Active vigilance can be expected from the very first moment, now that the residents know what to do, and with a greater sense of confidence.

If all of this somehow gets as far as a draft EIR, it has to first go through planning commission and be posted as a public hearing item in advance. At the meeting, it will face unrelenting scrutiny and public input. That’s the first test of its survival, and if it somehow succeeds, then it will be on to City Council.

Once there, the same obstacles apply, and more. DEIR for public comments. Advance posting. City Council public hearing with expected opposition. In addition, Garaventa Hill is habitat sensitive territory that would be unlikely to obtain buildable evaluation. Even if a future council did certify one, it would undoubtedly face more lawsuits by an even better prepared legal team. Finally, the legal defense Lafferty employed did a splendid job, lost anyway, and it is doubtful Lafferty Communities could find more effective representation.

Final Thoughts

The story of Garaventa Hill is a tribute to what local residents can do if they are persistent in an attempt to pursue justified environmental protection. Neither a hostile City Council, aggressive developer, nor lack of legal sophistication or money can overturn the will of the people as long as it stays strong and resolute.


  • 2012 Lamphier-Gregory Garaventa Hills DEIR. This is the original proposal for 76 homes. The “no project” Alternative A is included
  • 2014 Lamphier-Gregory Garaventa Hills Final DEIR. This includes public comments and letters.
  • 2018 Lamphier-Gregory Garaventa Hills Reissued Final DEIR

The longtime goal of Livermore residents to protect Garaventa Hill in North Livermore has achieved a monumental victory.  On March 30th, a three-judge panel on the California Court of Appeal First District ruled against the City of Livermore and in favor of the residents who brought the case.  The Livermore City Council erred in allowing a housing development to proceed on the environmentally sensitive property. 

The proposed “Garaventa Hills” housing tract was to be located in Northeast Livermore between Laughlin Road and Vasco Road, just north of Altamont Creek School.  It was approved at an infamous City Council meeting on April 22, 2019.

For nearly a decade, developers attempted to push their plans through the City’s processes, only to be repeatedly thwarted by a myriad of unmitigable environmental consequences that would result from development.

The Hill is home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including the endangered Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp, California Tiger Salamander, Burrowing Owls, the Livermore Tarplant and other species on and around the site.  The U.S. Dept of Fish & Wildlife Service has designated it as critical habitat for the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp.

The panel of judges agreed with the Save the Hill, who argued that the City Council failed to adequately consider whether Garaventa Hill could be purchased and preserved in perpetuity for conservation as a part of a “No-Action” EIR alternative. 

Conservation funds were available to buy it, and the California Environmental Quality Act requires that appropriate attention be applied to such an option as part of the EIR certification process.  Failing to divulge this information, especially after being asked to provide it, violated the law.

Bianca Covarelli has been spearheading the protection efforts for over a decade.  “The City failed to apply due consideration to the Hill’s preservation as open space”, said Ms. Covarelli. “We are happy the legal issues are in the rearview mirror. As we have said from the beginning, our goal is to buy the property and preserve it forever.  We will be ready to talk to the landowners about consummating a purchase agreement whenever they are ready.”

The panel also noted similarities to another property a few hundred feet away which also failed after 15 years of development attempts.  Known as “ The Farber Property”, it was eventually bought by East Bay Regional Parks and added to the Brushy Peak trail system North of Livermore.

We decided to share an excel template to make printing 1099-NEC forms easier.

Non-profits often use Quickbooks to manage their finances, and that can include sending out the form at the beginning of each year. Since Intuit has not updated their software to properly print these forms yet, we established a workaround to get folks through this year.

  1. Download the excel sheet
  2. Print out your 1099 forms from Quickbooks as a PDF file
  3. Open the PDF, copy and paste the relevant data in the cells of the excel sheet – it has been carefully aligned.
  4. Print a test sheet to check alignment and make adjustments as necessary.
  5. Print out the excel file using 1099-NEC preprinted forms

We hope this is helpful!

Measure P is a March 3rd 2020 ballot question to decide whether to sustain a developer agreement. If it passes, a hotel will be built next to the Bankhead Theater as preferred by the proponents. Otherwise, the agreement is voided and the hotel will not be built there (on the “east side” property). Instead, it will have to be built on another parcel, preferred by the opponents (The “west side” property).

We have found two sources of information for the Livermore Measure P campaigns.



Sunset Office Plaza will remain commercial, thanks to the wisdom on the Livermore City Council.  Though the decision has been made, we would like to highlight a couple of recurring themes that we think should have been better addressed in the hope that such mistakes could be avoided in the future.

The traffic analysis was good, but its interpretation went off course.  Staff focused on total car trips without regard to true impact if homes replaced the businesses.  Most crucially, zoning change would have altered the direction and timing of traffic.  An office is a traffic destination in the morning (cars exit Holmes street) and a house is a source (cars enter Holmes).  The reverse happens in the evening.  During the day, the traffic activity is spread out with no effect on the commute. Thus, any conversion from office to housing would worsen Holmes commuter traffic. This should have been explained in more detail.

Another strange component was the report on comparable offices.  Though the author looks to have made a good effort they ended up comparing inferior properties that are hard to rent and wrongfully concluded that Livermore has a surplus of Class B offices.  Pleasanton has three times as many, but they are well maintained with better occupancy.  Sunset would have respectable occupancy if the landlord hadn’t stopped issuing leases.

Board member Doug Mann found it was incredibly painless to get permitted and start producing energy at his home.  Having gone through the process, this information would hopefully help others get headed in the right direction with fewer missteps.

This system is grid tied and uses the newer technology of microinverters.  These inverters make just about everything easier, cheaper and better.  String inverters on the other hand, while still appropriate in some cases, could add unwanted complexity.

Here’s the MS Word document was handed to Livermore Building department.  They handed back a permit.


Livermore also has these handy reference documents

1-14 Photovoltaic Submittal (Residential)

1-14 Photovoltaic 2013 Code Changes Residential

The “hardest” part for some may be calculating the voltage rise, which should be done to figure out how big your copper wires must be so that the system runs efficiently.  You can serach the internet for “Solar voltage rise calculator”.  Enphase also makes a handy guide.  EnphaseTechBrief_Vdrop_M250

Remember your ground wire needs to be #8 or larger in Livermore, regardless of your conductor size.

Search Craigslist for the solar panels and microinverters.  In our high tech area, there are often great package deals offered on Craigslist for panels/inverters/racking.  The south bay seems to always have inventory.  Everything else you need is at the hardware store.

See for ongoing contributions

This post has information for Livermore residents as they consider redevelopment options for the Lucky Center parking lot between First street and Railroad Ave, east of L Street.  The overall process has been subject to a great deal of differing opinions and controversy.

After City staff began the planning process and awarded Lennar Homes the chance to design and build it, “Community Group” was formed and followed with alternative ideas.

Community Group Alternative
Lennar Alternative
Here is an inspiring example of a well regarded project,  Cleveland Town Square.

Other resources:
Here are the original RFP documents for City staff’s envisioned housing development and hotel development that began the current process. These RFPs were created prior to any community workshops.


Downtown Specific Plan
This plan lays out the community vision for downtownrevitalization. It summarizes the goals to be implemented by thePlan, describes geographic location of the Plan area, and the process used in the Plan’s primary components.

City of Livermore General Plan
Fundamental land use and development policy document which shows how the city will grow and conserve its resources

Parcel Maps Land division maps, showing all related parcels

Preliminary Title Reports
Shows all various liens, encroachments, easements and anything else recorded against the property

Topography & Boundary Surveys
Survey establishing the perimeter of the property as it relates to the legal description

Speedee Oil Change Lease
Eastern 1.46 acre potential hotel site includes a lease with Speedee Oil Change (LED 11/25/2018)

Residential For-Sale Projects
List of residential for-sale projects in Livermore (approved, under construction, or completed since 2008)

Multifamily Rental Comparables
List of residential multi -family rental comparables in and near Livermore

Downtown Parking Management Study
Represents the City ’s efforts to address parking challenges in downtown, existing
and future

Livermore Demographics and Area Information
Statistical study encompassing the size, structure, and distribution of population in Livermore –
also includes information regarding major employers, healthcare, schools, major retail and entertainment centers, and transportation corridors and public transit in the area

Downtown Livermore Amenities Map
Map detailing downtown Livermore attractions, businesses, retailers, restaurants and other amenities

Map of Livermore Wineries
Location map showing Livermore wineries

Development & Impact Fees
City of Livermore fees associated with the project development

City of Livermore Video
Video detailing Livermore area attractions

This statement was presented to the Livermore City Council July 13, 2015

As an educational non-profit, Citizens for Balanced Growth normally undertakes efforts to shed light on issues.  Fortunately, this time the public is already very well informed about the impacts related the possibility of rezoning the Sunset Office Plaza for residential use.

Council Members are undoubtedly aware of the numerous published editorials, and have endured countless conversations involving the negative impacts of a zoning change, as well as being reminded of the commitments by which the applicant was allowed to build the adjacent homes.  There is no need to repeat what you already know, and has been so eloquently stated by so many people.  We believe Council can clearly see that the goal of balancing jobs and housing is not achieved by adding more residences to an area of town that is already overwhelmingly residential.

The challenge for Council is not whether the current zoning is good for the community, but rather what is to be done with an owner of commercial property that seems disinterested in continuing current operations, yet won’t solve the problem in the conventional manner by simply selling it to an eager buyer.

What we would like to add to the conversation is simply this.  Do not let fear cloud your better judgement. Despite the rumors and back room anxiety, the owner needs to maintain the property at a profit in order to cover taxes, expenses and maintain the required park area. The plaza will not become a vacant lot. They are business people, and they’ll do what is most economically beneficial for their company.  If they see little hope for rezoning, we believe the owner will either continue to operate the plaza profitably, or sell it to someone else prepared to do the same. The profit motive always wins, as it should in most businesses.

Finally, please consider the message you will be sending other property owners who might be watching this decision closely. Rezoning this property will reverberate far into the future, beyond the confines of this action.  Imagine how impactful it may become.


Alameda County Measure BB – NO

Citizens for Balanced Growth is recommending a NO vote on Measure BB, the Alameda County sales tax increase and extension.  It will raise sales taxes by 1/2% for at least 30 years and make Alameda the highest taxed county in California. Sometimes tax increases are wise, but we don’t believe BB will provide an honest value for the Tri-Valley, or adequately address the environmental issues that are important to CBG and our donors.

The promise of Livermore BART and reduced traffic congestion is attractive, but Measure BB fails in both these respects.   A careful reading of their “plan” reveals that the BART money is uncommitted; it could easily result in the all too familiar story of Livermore paying the tax and not getting BART.  As for traffic congestion, ACTC’s own projections show that it will be worse after their spending plan is implemented, not better. ACTC is trying to solve tomorrow’s traffic problems with yesterday’s solutions, and they won’t work.

As for paratransit, bus subsidies and the rest, they can be provided with reallocation or even a sensible local tax.  Otherwise, ACTC can propose a more effective plan which should be achievable in a couple of years. With almost eight years before the existing tax expires, they have all the time they need.

For 32 years, CBG has promoted environmental actions that make good sense.  Unfortunately, Measure BB falls short.

Dublin Measure T – NO

We can’t add anything to the discussion that hasn’t already been well articulated.