At the conference for new city council members in Sacramento, we had a session dedicated to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). See here and here for background on CEQA. Currently the City of Albany is involved in two CEQA lawsuits concerning UC’s mixed use project. But we are far from the only city that is struggling with CEQA. Abuse of the act has become a problem statewide. For more, see this new piece here, and an older item that I mentioned during my campaign here.
FIRE DEPT. BATTALION CHIEF BRIAN CRUDO RETIRES
I can’t do much better than quote the resolution: “the Albany City Council wishes to express its gratitude and appreciation for Battalion Chief Brian Crudo’s many years of dedicated service to this City, and wishes Brian the best in his retirement.”
Brian Crudo was hired by the City of Albany on December 1, 1982 as Firefighter/EMT, and worked here for more than 30 years. The good news is that the city has been very fortunate to have such long-term dedicated staff. The bad news is that when folks like Brian eventually retire, they are hard to replace.
With another recent retirement, that of our Fire Chief Ed Tubbs (who we shared with Piedmont), the city will be looking to replace two skilled and experienced fire fighters.
HOMELESS TASK FORCE INTERIM REPORT
The council heard from four members of the task force. I was impressed with the sincerity and thoughtfulness of the speakers, and the depth of thinking that went into their comments. But as one of the members mentioned, the Albany bulb is both a homeless problem and a land use problem, so it’s a tough one. We also heard there are homeless and near-homeless people living in vehicles in other parts of Albany.
Other speakers testified that many of our homeless residents are good people who have fallen through the cracks in our social safety system (if you can call it a system). Examples included veterans who never successfully transitioned back to life after the battlefield, and former foster children who outgrew California’s woeful foster care system.
Do we encourage the homeless to remain on bulb and try to bring to them some minimally decent health services? Do we encourage them to transition to some other place to live? And if we do, how do we keep the bulb from repopulating with a new group of homeless, as it did after the efforts in the late 1990s?
No simple answers here. The taskforce is scheduled to update the council in April, with the final report in Dec. 2013.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND CITY GOVERNMENT
The city is working on adding social media functions the services it offers on its website. This is a topic that many local governments are struggling with. The problem is that many of the laws that govern how cities communicate—the Brown Act, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), pubic records laws, etc.—all predate the internet and it’s not clear how best to keep on the right side of these rules in the age of social media. So while the council was appreciative of the staff efforts, the advice was to go slow.
I am a big fan of the city’s website and I find the amount of information available there amazing. Times have changed a great deal since I started on the AUSD school board 10 years ago. So it’s important to keep some perspective. Information is already much more available from local governments than it was in the past.
At the end of the meeting, I handed out to fellow council members copies of two New York Times articles, one on the possibility of revising the California Environmental Quality Act (here), and another on the U.S. Supreme Court hearing a case on cell towers and the scope of powers of the FCC (here).
While fellow council member Peter Maass and I were up in Sacramento attending a conference for newly elected city council members, our Planning and Zoning commission unanimously approved the most recently revised plan for an AT&T cell base station at 1035 San Pablo Ave. Caryl O’Keefe’s Albany Patch report is here. The vote was 4-0. P&Z commissioner David Arkin had to recuse himself because he lives within 500 feet of the project.
Our new P&Z commission is off to a good start, and from the reports I have heard, worked together well on the approval. Any appeal must occur within 14 days, so by the end of the month we will know for sure. Then AT&T can begin scheduling the project.
P&Z will be busy with a variety of cell phone issues this year, including reviewing a new proposal for an AT&T base station at the corner of Solano Ave. and Curtis St., and beginning the process of revising our current (and very problematic) cell phone ordinance.
After the swearing in ceremony on Dec. 10, the new city council got to work in the Dec. 17 meeting by nominating and voting for new the mayor and vice mayor (in Albany, the mayor and vice mayor are elected by the council and serve for one year).
Joanne Wile graciously nominated Peggy Thomsen for mayor, and Wile was nominated for vice mayor. The council approved both unanimously. Many thanks to Wile for taking the lead. Thomsen and Wile have been working together on the Gill Tract issue, and all bets are they will continue to work together well as mayor and vice mayor.
Having Thomsen serve as mayor acknowledges her impressive vote totals in the election (see entry below). And besides, as another former mayor pointed out to me, she is good at being mayor and running meetings, so this will be an opportunity to learn how it’s done.
AN ITEM NOT ON THE AGENDA
During the time allotted for comments on items not on the agenda, Albany resident Brian Parsley urged the council to review the rules for funding council health care benefits, an issue that was raised during the campaign.
City staffers are eligible for a Kaiser Permanente plan at no cost to them. If they elect to subscribe to another more expensive health plan, they must pay the difference out of pocket. Historically, council members could take part in the city’s health plan at the same cost as employees. A few years ago, the council voted to give itself free health care benefits–even if the chosen plans were more expensive than the city’s Kaiser plan.
This change rankled many Albany voters, and became a campaign issue. During the campaign, I stated that the council’s benefits should be realigned to be consistent with those of the staff. The council will probably take up this issue sometime in the next several months.
City manager Beth Pollard reminded the council that the city last revised its general plan in 1990. This is a long-term planning document that provides direction for several years. We will need to begin revising the general plan in the next few years. In addition, Pollard suggested that council develop a strategic plan to cover the next 2-5 years.
We also heard from Jeff Bond about the report from our RF consultant on potential locations for cell base stations. Report due soon.
The main item for the evening was restructuring the city’s various committees. For a city of its size, Albany has high number of committees, and the council discussed a resolution to trim the size and number of them. As a council member, I believe there are too many committees stuck in limbo without a strong policy-making role.
In particular, the council discussed eliminating the Social and Economic Justice Commission (SEJC). We heard from Albany residents that if a committee is not staffed, it can run afoul of the Brown Act’s complicated open meeting rules (currently SEJC is not staffed). Albany resident Caryl O’Keefe suggested that very wide scope of the committee was more suited to separate task forces (like the current homelessness task force). However, many of the current SEJC members spoke in favor of keeping the committee.
I was in favor of shutting down the committee, but the council voted to phase it out over the next year. I felt a one-year extension was too long and suggested (unsuccessfully) a time of six months. I voted against the resolution because I felt that it left SEJC in limbo for too long. Damin Esper of the CCTimes/Albany Journal covered the issue here.
During the general council comments at the end of the meeting, I made a few comments:
1) I noted that the three “complete streets” meetings provided a quick and effective way to involve Albany residents in planning the future of the Buchanan and San Pablo Ave. corridors. Many thanks to all the folks who participated.
2) I mentioned I did head down to the waterfront at around 11 a.m. on Dec. 13, the date and time of the King tide, the highest tide of the year. Sure enough, the water was lapping over the asphalt at the lowest point of the race track parking lot. Sea level rise is here.
3) On Jan. 16-18, Peter Maass and I, the two new council members, will head up to Sacramento for a three-day training session. I am hoping we can get some suggestions on how to use social media to keep in touch with voters in a way that respects the Brown Act’s rules.
When the Brown act was envisioned, the internet, blogs, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist, and the tensions between the act and the voter’s desire for information are difficult to negotiate. I’m hoping to hear some suggestions so that this blog, among other ways to reach to voters, can continue.
Hey, welcome to my new Albany City Council blog! I’ll be posting my comments here about city council meetings and related topics. Because of the Brown Act, council members must be very careful about how they communicate with the public and other city council members. Council members are restricted to conducting the council’s business only at public meetings where the issues under discussion have been listed on an agenda available to the public.
For the most part, I will restrict my comments to meetings that have already occurred, and I will not allow reader comments. The Brown Act was passed before the era of the internet and social media, and expectations about sharing information are much different now. But we have to live with the rules. I will try to communicate as much information as I can.
I’ll write more soon on my thoughts on our first city council meeting. For now, here are the certified vote totals for the Albany City Council race:
|NP – Peggy Thomsen||4060||22.00|
|NP – Peter Maass||3156||17.10|
|NP – Michael Barnes||2966||16.07|
|NP – Nick Pilch||2908||15.76|
|NP – Tod Abbott||2552||13.83|
|NP – Sheri Spellwoman||1672||9.06|
|NP – Ulan Mcknight||1089||5.90|