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financed Blair Park sports field plan died a relatively quiet death Monday night as the Piedmont City Council formally rescinded its Dec. 5, 2011, approval of the project.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