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).


City Council notes, June 17 and July 1 meetings


At the June 17 city council meeting, I requested the sewer master plan be pulled from the consent calendar so it could be discussed. The plan proposes spending $127,000 to help maintain and upgrade our sewer system. The report is just a few pages, you can view it (here).

A few months ago, Ray Chan, Public Works Director/City Engineer, provided a power point presentation to the city on the state of our infrastructure (mostly streets and sewers). They are in decent, but not great shape. Many folks were concerned, so when I saw the master plan, I wanted to highlight it to make sure residents are aware that we do have a long-range plan for improving our sewer system.

In the East Bay, the storm drain system and the sewer systems are designed to be separate. This separation should prevent our water treatment plant at the foot of the Bay bridge from being overwhelmed by excess water entering the system during large rainstorms.

But it doesn’t always work that way in practice. If excess storm water enters the sewer system, sewage that has only undergone partial treatment may be dumped into the Bay. The EPA has been cracking down on this problem for years, and Albany is under a consent decree to reduce the inflow and infiltration (I/I) of storm water into our sewer pipes.

With climate change, large storms are predicted to dump more rain, making the I/I problem more severe. So it is good the city is being proactive.


The city has entered into a contract with a social services agency, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, to begin evaluating the homeless population on the bulb. The organization has already begun to work with the homeless to understand their needs and resources. We will be hearing more in the coming weeks, but please keep in mind that the public’s desire for news needs to be balanced by the homeless population’s right to privacy.


The council reviewed the 2013-14 Draft Proposed Operating Budget at the June 17 meeting and passed it at the July 1 meeting. Due mostly to the improving economy, the budget is in relatively good shape.

We have not yet started to fill open positions at the city–we are not that optimistic. But the staff did get a 2.4 percent raise, which is really more of an overdue cost of living allowance. But it’s good to be in a position to offer some salary increase. (Caveat: We have a mix of unionized and managerial/professional staff at the city, so wage and salary increases are subject to bargaining for some employees.)

The council received a presentation by the city’s independent auditors on their examination of our financial reports for fiscal year end June 30, 2012. We heard from the auditors that our books were in good shape. However, the report was about six months late do the mayhem caused by the economic crisis, loss of staff and the financial disaster created by the governor’s axing of the the state redevelopment program. We will work to see that the next audit is done on schedule.

Judy Liberman and Cordonices Creek

At the July 1 meeting, we took time to acknowledge the amazing restoration of Cordonices Creek, the creek that runs along the Berkeley/Albany border just south of University Village. The council authorized acceptance of a gift of funds from the Albany Community Foundation to install a plaque in recognition of Judy Lieberman’s leadership in the restoration of the creek.

Judy served the city at various times as the assistant city manager and as the project manager for the Cordonices Creek project, when she worked with both the city of Berkeley and the UC Berkeley campus. For the past few years Judy has been fighting cancer, so she could not attend the meeting, although she was watching via the city’s internet broadcast.

We saw pictures of what the creek looked liked at the start of the restoration and how it looks now. The transformation is spectacular—you almost expect to see Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn wander the banks, searching for crawdads. It’s a great asset for the kids in University Village.

So far, the creek has been restored from the railroad tracks (to the west) to 8th street (to the east). The area from 8th street to San Pablo Ave. is also scheduled to be restored. I got a private tour of the creek at that location from local wrought-iron artisan Dan Dole, who has had his shop next to the creek for about three decades.

The creek is its own little hidden world just a few hundred yards from the hustle and bustle of San Pablo Ave. Dan, like Judy, has an infectious devotion to the creek and its preservation. You will hear more about the creek restoration as plans for the senior housing project (part of UC’s mixed-use project) continue to take shape.


 Patrick O’Keeffe, former City Manager for Emeryville, has ben appointed our interim city manager. Good article from Damin Esper of CCTimes (here).

Planning and Zoning unanimously approved the new AT&T cell facility at 1495 Solano Ave. (Sunnyside Café building ) by a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Phillip Moss had to recuse himself because he lives within 500 feet of the project.

However, councilmember Marge Atkinson decided to appeal the P&Z decision. I am skeptical that Atkinson’s appeal is a wise use of the council’s time, especially given the unanimous P&Z vote, but I am hoping the council can resolve this quickly.

The 1495 Solano Ave. location will be the third new facility approved in the Albany area in the last several months. The site at 1035 San Pablo Ave., across from University Village, should be operational around the end of the year. With luck the Sunnyside Café site should be operational in spring of 2014.

There is also a new site on upper Solano Ave. in Berkeley, on the Oaks Theater, but I am not sure when it will it will start operating.

We should approve our new fire chief soon. See this Albany Patch article for more (here).

 And finally, Charles Adams, the city’s Finance Director, has announced his retirement. Charlie did an incredible job keeping the city solvent during the financial roller coaster of the last several years. We’ll miss him.

In the next several months, we will be searching for replacements both for our city manager and our finance director. In addition to resolving the homeless issue on the bulb, and moving forward with our general plan process. It will be a busy fall.