First of all, Ray Chan, the city’s public works director, will lead a study session on the state of the city’s infrastructure at 6:45 on Monday, April 15, just before the city council meeting. Sewers, streets, sidewalks, trees, parks and buildings. All that stuff we don’t think about until something goes wrong. It should be televised, and might be worth tuning-in early to watch on KALB. Directions are on the city website (here). I’ll post the powerpoint presentation after the meeting.
As for the last city council meeting on April 1, there are two items that I’d like to discuss. First is the issue of whether individuals or members of organizations that are suing the city should be allowed to serve on city commissions. The second is the start of construction of Pierce St. Park.
SHOULD PLAINTIFFS SERVE ON OUR COMMISSIONS?
This issue arose because a resident came to a city council meeting and spoke during the time allotted for items not on the agenda. He had heard that someone who was suing the city as part of the Strollers & Rollers CEQA lawsuit had been appointed to serve on one of the city’s commissions. He wondered if this was legal.
Craig Labadie, the city’s attorney, researched the issue and reported back to the council at the April 1 meeting. He stated that there were no laws or city policies that that prevented plaintiffs from serving, but that the council could make a policy decision to that effect.
As a council member, I did not appoint any residents who were involved in Strollers & Rollers lawsuit, and I was disappointed to see them serving on our commissions. But my personal disappointment is not sufficient grounds for a policy. There could be cases where a conflict of interest would arise, but this can be managed by having the plaintiff/commission members recuse themselves from voting.
Unless the council hears more from residents on this topic, there will not be further action. I’ll talk more about the Stroller & Rollers lawsuit once the settlement is made public.
PIECRE STREET PART GETS UNDERWAY
The long-sought neighborhood park between Pierce St. and the freeway, just south of the Pierce St. condos, was partially funded at the April 1 council meeting. The council voted to begin the grading of the central portion of the site, create walkways, and to build a small playground. The portions of the site to the north and south will be completed as funds become available.
The park occupies land where a freeway off ramp was removed in the early 1990s. The central part of the park that will be developed under phase one is a trapezoid-shaped area that would fit inside a square of about 350 x 400 feet with an area of 110,000 square feet.
For more than 20 years the site was vacant. Residents of the area consistently encouraged the city to purchase the land from Caltrans. During the recent economic crisis, Governor Brown shut down the redevelopment programs with California cities and other local governments. Albany was able to purchase the Pierce St. site with slightly more than $1 million of redevelopment money that otherwise would have been returned to the state.
The Pierce St. area includes the condos and many houses on steep slopes. The population is relatively high, even by Albany standards, due to the density of the condos. Some residents of the condos complain that, given how much they contribute to city revenues via property taxes, they get very few services in return. I think they are correct.
All of Albany’s neighborhoods should have parks and other facilities within walking distance. For the residents of the condos, the de facto park has been the hallways of the 99 Ranch mall. The top of Albany hill does provide some walking and hiking possibilities, but the paths from the condos are much too steep for toddlers, grandparents, and anyone else who is not in good shape.
To design the park, a planning process was initiated by the city that was very public and very thorough. It involved site visits and many meetings among members of the public, city staff and consultants. Last fall, before I was on the council, I attended the meeting when the park plans were presented to the council. I was impressed with the diligence that went into the effort, but did raise some concerns about the steepness of the bike trail (which were addressed). To see what happens when you combine skateboards and long five percent grades, watch the first minute of this (here).
At the April 1 meeting, with the planning complete, I was looking forward to voting to funding the start of work on the park. I was disappointed by some of the concerns raised by fellow council members, many of which had already been addressed. I felt it was both inappropriate and much too late for council members to start imposing their personal visions for the park.
After a long and pointed discussion, the council did vote to approve phase one, but did not approve the widening of Pierce St. in front of the park. Instead, the council approved building the small playground as part of phase one.
Kudos to Recreation and Community Services Director Penelope Leach for calmly and precisely explaining to the council the extensive planning process, and to Vice Mayor Joanne Wile, who worked with Leach to forge a compromise and keep the process moving forward. (Wile was running the meeting in the absence of Mayor Peggy Thomsen, who recused herself because she lives within 500 feet of the project). Link to agenda and supporting items (here).