Reviewing my first two years on the council

The city has been undergoing a strategic planning process over the past few months. More information is available here. However, instead of discussing where we are going, I’d like to review my first two years on the council. Let’s take a look the goals in my campaign literature to see how far we’ve come.

You can view a copy of my election flyer here.

Here is the list of my campaign goals, rearranged from those most successfully completed, to those that still need the most work:

Reestablishing a mutually productive and effective relationship between the city staff and the city council.

The new council has made good progress in this regard. We have an excellent city staff, better than we have a right to expect in such a small city, and I think council members are aware of how fortunate we are.

The most contentious issue has been the overly generous health care benefits that the previous council voted for itself, benefits that included in lieu payments (council members could be paid cash for not taking city-offered medical benefits) and benefits that were more generous than those given to city employees. See my earlier blog post on this here for more details.

The current council did get rid of in lieu payments, but we still need to tackle issue of excessively high medical benefits for council members. I’ve recommended that this item be placed on a council agenda soon.

 Filling the vacant police dispatcher position in the Albany police department.

 Done. In addition, with our recent successfully completed contract negotiations, Albany police officers now have salaries and benefits that are on par with other local police departments. Our police force lagged behind during the economically difficult years after the 2008 economic collapse.

 Updating emergency preparedness for climate change-related storms and flooding in addition to earthquakes and other disasters.

Ray Chan, our public works manager, along with his staff, has done a good job preparing the city for the recent intense rain storms my making sure storm drains were cleared. Climate change is bringing more intense storms (when they happen), so getting prepared for flooding will be a continuing problem.

Fire chief Lance Calkins is updating the city’s emergency preparedness plans. The invention and use of smoke alarms has reduced fire risks, so this allows for the fire department to spend more time planning on how to minimize risks, instead of responding after the fact.

Finally, we continuously train more citizens to be part of our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Please check out how to get involved with CERT. For information, see this.

 Improving cell phone coverage by revising Albany’s out-of-date cell tower ordinance.

We now have two new AT&T cell sites operating, so coverage for AT&T customers is much improved. Revisions to the city’s out-of-date cell ordinance are making their way through the Planning and Zoning Commission, and new federal rules will make it easier to install cell sites and improve coverage and capacity in the future.

Providing resources to help resolve the problem of homelessness on the Albany Bulb and elsewhere in the city.

Where to start? The homeless encampment has been removed from the blub. About half of the former residents have been placed in housing through our contract with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP). There were several drug arrests during the process, and a frivolous but expensive lawsuit by self-important Berkeley “activists” that cost money that could have been better spent on more services for the homeless.

The total cost of fixing this problem again (we cleaned up the bulb in 1999, but allowed it to be repopulated) was over $1 million. BFHP is using a housing first model, more about that model here.

Completing the mixed-use (formerly Whole Foods) project, the Solano Safeway upgrade and the Pierce St. Park.

Phase one of Pierce St. Park is underway, and the ribbon cutting should happen early this fall. There has been some progress lately on the mixed-use project at University Village. See this and this (the comments are amusing).

We are awaiting the appeal of the trivial but time-consuming CEQA lawsuit filed by local attorney Dan Siegal, best known recently for his (very) failed bid to become Oakland’s mayor.

Several Safeway stores were remodeled in the last few years in Berkeley and other nearby towns, but here in Albany we missed the boat, and are stuck with the same store we’ve had for decades. This is a case where NIMBYism let the perfect become the enemy of the good, and Albany ended up with nothing.

I’m sure Safeway shares some of the blame, but the real problem is how a small group of Albany citizens can hijack a process that could have led to a new store, a store that would have benefited the majority of Albany residents. Safeway management occasionally mentions plans for remodeling the interior of the old store, but no firm plans have materialized yet.

Implementing the city’s climate action plan in a manner that is consistent with broader regional planning (see

Several pending items are relevant to reducing Albany’s carbon footprint. We are trying to implement our Complete Streets process as we get grant funding. However, I can’t really take credit for that, since the process began before I was elected.

If we want to create more walkable neighborhoods (and less driving), we need more density, and that means reforming Measure D, which was a earlier anti-growth measure disguised as a parking measure. We have been working on these reforms, and we should be ready to put them on the ballot in 2016. More realistic parking rules will make it easier to create more secondary “in-law” units, as we have envisioned during the general plan process.

What still needs work? We need to make changes to raise height limits along our San Pablo and Solano commercial corridors to make three-story buildings more feasible, and we need to fix Albany’s unsafe sidewalks. One idea I remain opposed to is Albany joining any of the proposed community choice aggregation plans, which make no sense to me, as I discussed here.

Working with the Albany school district to make sure our youth and sports programs are coordinated and as fully funded as possible.

Now that I am the vice mayor, I attend the joint UC/AUSD/City of Albany 2x2x2 meetings. My first meeting will be March 9, and my suggested agenda items are: School crowding and how that will affect housing development plans, updating vaccination information for our schools and learning more about the scheduling of Cougar Field in the evenings.

Incorporating the latest sea-level rise and flooding predictions into waterfront planning.

I’ll have much more to say on the waterfront in coming months. It’s too big an issue to cover right now.