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financed Blair Park sports field plan died a relatively quiet death Monday night as the Piedmont City Council formally rescinded its Dec. 5, 2011, approval of the project.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

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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