City Council meeting July 15, 2013

Just a few points on the July 15 meeting. Note that the meeting was the last one before the annual council August break, so the council will not meet again until Sept. 3.


The council considered the next steps for Pierce Street Park. As one of the audience members suggested, only half-joking, we are trying to do a $2 million initial project for $1 million. Sadly, there is a lot of truth to that statement.

When you cut budgets, there is a presumption you can cut the fat and leave the lean. That’s not the case here. With Pierce St. Park, we cut the fat months ago, and are now fighting over what scraps are left.

Do we complete the fences to help keep toddlers more contained, or instead, do we keep both bathroom stalls? It is both very frustrating and completely inefficient to struggle with every one of these little details. But that is the reality.

We are moving forward with two handicapped parking spots on the west side of Pierce St., a playground for kids of various ages, a bathroom with one or two stalls, and a lower section graded for a potential irrigated playing field at some point in the future. The current plans include an ADA-approved path that will make wheelchair access possible.

There are many options for how to develop the rest of the property, especially now that the planned maintenance center has moved, but further developments will come as money becomes available.


OK, now onto the next big issue–trees. The council discussed a tree ordinance that will require permits to remove “legacy” or “heritage” trees. The proposed ordinance concerns trees on private property, i.e. our yards, not the city-owned trees in the median strips between sidewalks and the street. Those are already controlled by the city.

There are many Bay Area cities that have similar ordinances, and in most of them, a review by the city and a permit are required before removing a tree over a certain size.

I have mixed feelings. Trees are both private and public goods, and it’s import to respect the homeowner who might want to take a tree down, for example, to provide more light for a garden or solar panels. Yet other folks in the community might enjoy seeing the tree and enjoying its existence.

It is also important to keep in mind that a forest, even an urban forest, is a dynamic thing. Imagine a time-lapse video of Albany that compresses 30 years into one minute. The shifting green mass in that video is our urban forest.

It is not a great idea to think of a forest in a slice in time, but rather as a growing, evolving system the changes over time. While I think mature trees are important, especially long-lived ones like oaks and redwoods, it is also important to consider that today’s small trees will be legacy trees a generation from now.

I also expressed some concerns that with climate change, bigger storms will mean higher winds, more rain, and more saturated ground, leading to high risks that big trees will fall or drop limbs.

If an ordinance encourages disgruntled homeowners stop maintaining large trees because the city won’t allow them to be removed, than it creates incentives to allow poorly maintained trees to become hazardous. I gave a few examples of people who have been killed in the Bay Area by poorly maintained large trees in recent years.

I think the city can have a legacy tree ordinance, since it has obviously worked in many other cities. Whether or not it is revenue neutral is another matter. I think it should be, which I suspect will mean high fees for removing trees.

A tree ordinance could have a very big impact on our yards and our lives, so I hope Albany residents will pay attention as the policies are developed.


I attended the P&Z meeting on Wednesday, July 24. The audience saw the latest plans for the grocery store and the senior housing project. By the standard of recent meetings, it was a love fest. It should be, because P&Z commissioners got much of what they had asked for, and were pleased with the progress. The staff report and drawings can be found on the meeting agenda as item 7.C. (here).

Please keep in mind this meeting was a study session to review progress, not to vote on final plans. With luck, that meeting should happen in the next few months.

The grocery store and the senior housing retail area have been realigned so that they now face each other across Monroe Ave, which is the main entrance to UC Village that runs East/West. At an improved stoplight, large delivery trucks will turn off San Pablo Ave. onto Monroe St. and into the Sprouts parking lot, where the loading docks are located.

There will be no retail in front of the senior housing project along San Pablo. The main entrance, with a curved driveway much like that of a large downtown hotel, will be located on San Pablo. The parking is covered at the mixed use project, and is uncovered at the Sprouts grocery store, between the store front and Monroe Ave. to the south and west.

The design calls for restoring the remaining section of Cordonices Creek, so we should see the plans for that soon. I am looking forward to it.

Damin Esper of the Conta Costa Times was in attendance, his take on the meeting is (here).