City Council Formally Drops Blair Park Plan

Council members did not take any action on the project's environmental impact report

The $6 million-plus, privately financed Blair Park sports field plan died a relatively quiet death Monday night as the Piedmont City Council formally rescinded its Dec. 5, 2011, approval of the project.

But comments by council members and by representatives of the Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization (PRFO), the backer of the project, sugested that the issue of more field space in Piedmont for youth sports teams is likely to arise again in the future.

Council members voted 5-0 to rescind project approval, as requested by the PRFO and recommended by City Adminstrator Geoffrey Grote and City Attorney Tom Curry because of escalating costs. They did not take any action on the project's environmental impact report (EIR), although a few speakers urged them to decertify the EIR.

The project would have placed soccer practice fields and two parking lots in tree-studded, city-owned , built a two-story retaining wall along Moraga Avenue and created a roundabout to slow traffic on Moraga near the fields.

The proposal has created considerable controversy in Piedmont and nearby Oakland neighborhoods. The non-profit group Friends of Moraga Canyon filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the adequacy of the project's EIR, while the Oakland City Council approved, but has not filed, a similar lawsuit.

Proponents and opponents of the project filled the Piedmont City Hall council chambers to capacity Monday night, and 10 members of the audience spoke before the council took its vote.

Piedmont resident George Childs drew some applause when he suggested that the EIR could resurface in connection with a future proposal and said the council should "decertify the EIR to put this project to rest." He also suggested that Piedmont residents may be "on the hook" for money still owed to the City of Piedmont by PRFO.

Neil Teixiera of Piedmont said PRFO "was broke on Dec. 5 [when the city council approved the Blair Park project] and the public should have known." He urged council members to decertify the project's EIR. "Don't leave this loaded gun lying on the table, it gives the wrong idea," he said.

Eric Havian, chair of PRFO's legal committee, said that opponents of the project "shut off discourse" about the plan by filing a lawsuit and suggested that the FOMC is "going to present another bill to you" by asking the City of Piedmont to cover its legal costs.

Mark Menke, incoming president of PRFO, said the need for more sports fields still exists and the organization is "looking to go forward and find some field space.

After Menke's remarks, Mayor John Chiang opened the issue for discussion by council members — and was met by several moments of silence. He eventually asked City Attorney Curry to comment.

Curry said there's no need for the council to act on the project's EIR and that rescinding project approval is sufficient to stop the FOMC lawsuit from moving forward.

"There is no City of Oakland lawsuit," he said, adding that he has been in contact with Oakland officials about the council's anticipated vote to rescind project approval.

Council members did eventually comment, saying that the city still needs more space for youth sports and defending the council's actions during consideration of the Blair park project.

Council member Jeff Wieler said "no party in legal opposition" had asked the council to decertify the Blair Park EIR. "We used our best judgment on the EIR ... we take a lot of [expletive deleted] for it," he said. There's been "an implication that rich people are paying us off," he said.

"I thank PRFO for highlighting this need and putting their money where their mouth is," Wieler said. "I don't see Blair Park reviving."

Council member Robert McBain addressed opponents of the project in the audience and said, "Don't assume this is a good outcome for everyone."

Council member Garrett Keating said the city does need sports fields and that sites suggested earlier as alternatives to Blair Park may still be viable. But if the city takes the lead in providing space for youth sports, "we'll be paying," he said.

Vice Mayor Margaret Fujioka also said more field space is needed. "Alameda is closing its door to us," she said, referring to practice field space that has been leased from the City of Alameda by Piedmont youth sports groups. "I think the [Blair Park] process was very open and transparent," she said.

Chiang said he hopes the Blair Park experience "doesn't kill public/private projects" in Piedmont and thanked PRFO members for their work. "Steve Ellis [chair of the PRFO fundraising committee] has sunk a lot of his own money into this," Chiang said.

City Administrator Grote said last week that a final accounting of what's owed to the City of Piedmont by PRFO would be determined after the council formally rescinded its approval of the project and that he expected PRFO would pay that bill.

Berna Sezgen May 08, 2012 at 05:29 PM
I'm curious; why not ask the City of Oakland for some help and cooperation on the subject of providing more fields and space for sports activities for young Piedmont athletes? The City of Piedmont showed good faith by listening to Oakland's concerns and ultimately rescinding the project. Perhaps Oakland can return the favor by providing some space at a reasonable rent. I don't know the legalities of one city selling another city property but wouldn't it be great if Piedmont could purchase (at a reasonable market price) some suitable space from Oakland. Since Oakland is strapped for money, they may be happy to look into some kind of a deal. In any case it would be great if a volunteer committee could be set up by concerned citizens to think inside/outside the box to come up with some suggestions. Berna Sezgen , Piedmont
Mohammed Hill May 08, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Hard to say Piedmont showed "good faith" by approving a project that PRFO could not pay for when it was approved. Not a bad idea to try to work with Oakland, though the City's leverage is gone at this point.
Bernard Pech May 08, 2012 at 07:21 PM
To the City Council, The City Administrator was publicly criticized during last Monday's board meeting by a resident of the Fairview neighborhood for his handling of the Blair Park affair. I live in that neighborhood. I ended up opposing the Blair project. But in my opinion, the City Manager performed his duties well in very difficult circumstances. He deserves our support. Fairview residents ought to remember his great leadership in resolving three local crisis to the satisfaction of all: 1- Containing the rogue neighbor running a used car lot and repair shop. 2- The establishment of parking spaces reserved for the residents adjacent to the Ann Martin Center 3- A good neighbor agreement to enable the Kehilla Synagogue to open a school on their premises. Thank you, City Manager, Sincerely Yours, Bernard Pech 60 Fairview Ave.
Rick Schiller May 08, 2012 at 09:39 PM
A few remarks to my good neighbor Bernard's comments: 2. Mr. Grote did nothing to further the Fairview permit parking to alleviate the Grand Ave and Ann Martin created parking issues. The Grote hired traffic engineer, Moses Wilson, recommended against the permit zone. The Council voted for it to go forward. 3. The good neighbor agreement was in actuality a de facto zoning change at Kehilla done in 2005 to allow the Piedmont Adult School to hold classes there where the previous zoning had not. By the City Charter zoning changes require a city wide vote. The agreement with Kehilla was never made public to Fairview neighbors until discovered well after the fact during the 2nd Kehilla CUP hearings. That school agreement, unilateral by Grote, stated the agreement could be rescinded if the neighbors complained; neighbors were never informed at the time of the agreement or their rights. Neil, a 57 year resident, complained of the ongoing and systemic two-tiered government system in Piedmont. I have lived in Piedmont about that long and can attest that the two-tiered system is an integral part of Piedmont City Government. Mr. Grote has been instrumental in sustaining that system.
Sinan007 May 08, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaff has made numerous efforts in the past to work with the PRFO offering possible sites in Oakland that would have been easier and more economical to build on. PRFO was never interested in pursuing these alternate sites claiming that their donors would only be interested in developing fields in Piedmont. Now that their ill-conceived project for the Moraga Canyon is no longer a viable alternative, they may indeed consider working with the City of Oakland. Such an effort will help revitalize an underutilized area and help benefit other neighboring communities as well. That is called sustainable development. Sustainable development (SD) is a pattern of resource use that aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come. We cannot continue to cut down mature oak trees to make room for baseball and soccer fields while we have hundreds of acres of unused flat land around us where there is nothing but dirt and asphalt on them. As the good stewards of the environment, we must explore all other options before we cause irreparable damage to our environment. That kind of a project we can all support.
David Cohen May 09, 2012 at 06:24 AM
I have the sense that all the shoes may not have dropped regarding the expenses incurred by the City of Piedmont as a consequence of this PRFO adventure and the collaboration therewith by the then-incumbent (and still substantially-incumbent) City Council and City administration. It will bear watching how this accounting plays out. That said, going forward, the issue of sports fields and the future of Blair Park really should be separated. The PRFO and all those who are interested in sports facilities for youth are a smart, connected, and resourceful group. They can and should pursue the multiplicity of obvious alternative avenues to pursue. As for Blair Park, the community may want to consider a development concept that is consistent with the actuality of the space and its potential. Basically, the site is a naturally situated Parkway, albeit minimally tended. It necessarily supports a thoroughfare, but as a Parkway, it can be developed in a modest, aesthetic, and sustainable way: one that preserves a sense of open space, but which also improves public access and utility of the area, and which supports safety for automobile traffic, pedestrians, and park users.
Morrisa Sherman May 09, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Nicely said, David. I have volunteered to help garden in Blair Park, as have many of my neighbors, only to be rebuffed by the city. Some of us have done a little commando gardening there, removing ivy from threatened trees ourselves, in spite of the city. Maybe now we can transcend the policy of neglecting Blair Park and restore it by truly tending the trees, adding pedestrian pathways, modest benches, and native plantings appropriate to the oak woodland.
Neil Teixeira May 10, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Let me follow-up on Morrisa & David vision for Blair Park. I agree with both of them. I believe the neglected park needs to have a anchor "key" element for any real future and support. Four acts would make Blair Park beautiful and user friendly: 1. Widen Moraga Ave a little bit to allow "safe" on street parking. 2. Remove all the beetle infestive pine trees. 3. Install a full length safe sidewalk with auto barrier similar to the Coach's field sidewalk. 4. KEY- The old Cemetery Creek, which runs from Hwy 13 into the Mountain View Cemetery-was undergrounded in a old culvert pipe-years ago. There our growing movements (Google it) across the nation to "Day Light" our old buried creeks. Its the right thing to do. City's across the nation are Day Lighting their culverted creeks. City of Berkeley Day Lighted their Strawberry Creek. Day Lighting creeks has a endless variety of benefits including habitat, drainage improvements, local school envolvement, aestheic opportunities, bridges, naming rights, etc.......A newly designed creek would begin at the Piedmont border, then travel/wind the whole length of the park, then drop back down into its old culvert pipe at the corporation yard. It would be a wonderfull asset for both Piedmont and Oakland. This would be are perfect project for local Beautification Clubs. I believe East Bay people would easily........donate monies for this water feature goal. Neil Teixeira
Alan Cohen May 10, 2012 at 05:08 PM
I viewed the city council's meeting on line and sadly all of the city council members conveyed the distinct impression that they were still supportive of the idea of building the obscenely inappropriate sports complex in Moraga Canyon. The only thing dissuading them was the expense. None of them expressed any feelings with regard to the issues that most of us find objectionable about this project., Its desicration and destruction of the last natural setting in Piedmont .Again I think this is a sad reflection on the values of the city council,and the the overemphasis on the importance of recreation and competition as the highest community value. I think that our community should be more focused on preserving our environment rather than excavating it and destroying it.The percieved need for more open space for fields then can be found in Piedmont just is a fact of life that we will have to accept.Our children will survive and thrive without them Alan Cohen 150 Maxwelton Rd.
Arsene Wenger May 10, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Piedmont is a strange place. As if they were ethnic partisans in the Balkans, elected city officials show open contempt in public meetings for citizens who disagree or applaud opposing positions. As if you were watching a bad movie, too much suspension of disbelief is required to accept your own government as sincere and honest. One must believe that a developer, PRFO, that is prepared to spend more than $6 million on a soccer field must withdrawal the project due to an extra $100,000 or so of unanticipated costs. Presumably because they were concerned about costs and expected them to be more than trivial, Piedmont and PRFO executed a legal agreement in August of 2011 that required PRFO to reimburse Piedmont for any legal or consultant costs incurred by the city for the project. But, we are asked to believe that for four months after that agreement, from September till January, no one from PFRO or Piedmont inquired about the bills being rung up by the various consultants. Perhaps a modern Twilight Zone could be filmed in Piedmont and the resulting fees could help our poor cash strapped city.
Susan D. Martin May 22, 2012 at 09:13 PM
I LOVE the idea of daylighting Cemetery Creek, and I'll bet there would be a lot of volunteers willing to help with the upkeep of this lovely open space. Glen Echo Creek has been daylighted for a two-block stretch in my neighborhood, and I go there a lot to sit on one of the boulders overlooking it for a quiet sanity break. The simpler maintenance of Blair Park, like the Glen Echo Creek park, could be helped by volunteers--pulling weeds and ivy, picking up fallen branches and debris, planting more (donated?) native plants, sweeping the walkways...not necessarily to make it a show garden, but to keep it looking nice and cared-for. Volunteering one Saturday morning a month, say from 9 am to noon, would be a fun way to meet like-minded neighbors, and to enjoy being outside and doing something worthwhile. A couple of simple benches and/or big flattish rocks and boulders near the creek would give people a place to sit and enjoy the quiet of nature--and who doesn't love the sound of a creek burbling and chuckling through the rocks in its bed? This was OUR victory, folks--and actually making Blair Park a more welcoming place would prove that we were serious about saving it...not to mention shutting up all those people who said that "nobody ever uses that park, anyway"!


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