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City Council Gives the Go-Ahead to Blair Park Sports Field Plan

An overflow crowd and 70 speakers made for a long evening, with the meeting starting at 7:30 p.m. and ending just before 2:30 a.m.

The Piedmont City Council voted 4-1 to adopt the Blair Park element of the Moraga Canyon Sports Field Project early Tuesday morning, in the final vote of a meeting that stretched just under seven hours.

Council member Garrett Keating cast the single dissenting vote.

It's not the last time the project will come before the council -- in particular, a lease between the city and Blair Park LLC, a legal entity created by proponents of the project, will be back for consideration at the next council meeting.

But a series of votes on the project's environmental impact report and other details, capped by the final approval, mean that the $6 million plan to build privately financed sports fields in the park will move ahead.

The council did make some changes to the plan, including a requirement that proponents provide the city with a proposal for financing eventual replacement of the fields' artificial turf.

Council members also voted not to move ahead with any improvements to Coaches Field but to retain a capital improvement fund for that field.

Voting followed a very long public hearing, with 70 people signed up to speak for or against the project. (About a dozen of them left before their names were called.) Many represented either the Piedmont Recreational Facilities (PRFO), the nonprofit group backing the project and pledging to raise funds for construction, or the Friends of Moraga Canyon, the main group opposed to the plan.

Also among the speakers was Libby Schaaf, an Oakland City Council member, who said she was "opposed to shoehorning a soccer field into a hillside."

Oakland's concerns, including good access for fire engines and other emergency vehicles along Moraga Avenue, have not been addressed by Piedmont, she said.

A little later, the hearing was punctuated by a sharp exchange between former Piedmont mayor Al Peters and current mayor Dean Barbieri.

Peters chastised Barbieri for telling him to "bring it on" during a earlier meeting with opponents of the project at Peters' home.

"You're a former mayor, you should know you shouldn't just pop off like that," Barbieri snapped back. He said Peters had "threatened litigation" if the project was approved.

All seats in the council chambers were taken by 7 p.m., a half hour before the meeting officially began, and the crowd overflowed into a viewing room and hallway to watch the proceedings on television monitors.

Those arriving at Ciy Hall were greeted by members of the Friends of Moraga Canyon, who displayed banners in opposition to the plan and even served up tiny tarts they said were made from wild fruits that grow in Blair Park.

The plan approved by the council includes one large sports field of artificial turf and a smaller field in a "grassy glade," two parking lots, a concession stand and restroom building, a traffic roundabout on Moraga Avenue, shoring up of the steep hillside on the park's southern side, and removal of many trees, including a number of native live oaks.

Backers of the proposal say the city badly needs more practice space for youth sports clubs. Opponents favor leaving Blair Park in a more natural state.

 For more information, visit Patch's Blair Park page, the City of Piedmont website, the PRFO website and the Friends of Moraga Canyon.

Lynn Dee December 06, 2011 at 06:03 PM
The mayor showed his true colors indeed- I'm happy the rest of the community was able to see what we have been dealing with for years- a hostile, closed environment of back room deals for wealthy PRFO. I am surprised the City Council is going ahead with such a divisive project and ignoring all advice from the Planning Com. and Municipal Tax Review. This is not a case where everyone "moves forward". Hardly.
Serra Sabuncuoglu December 06, 2011 at 06:24 PM
It was appalling to see the City Council members not take intelligent and sincere commentary into consideration as though they are programmed to support Blair Park to no end. With all the resources and money that supporters are willing to throw at this idea, seeing as their case was unravelling toward the end, you'd think that if they really just wanted kids to have a safe place to play and locally that they could do a bit more research and creative thinking to make it happen without the irrational site of Moraga Canyon. Or somehow make a compromise on their plan and make the space a constructive space without impinging on it environmentally, financially and with all the safety concerns still unresolved. Seeing as they are about to sign off on the project and hand over the land through a lease, I think the Moraga Canyon supporters should consider a class-action lawsuit against the City for its dealings in this case and have a petition to call the members of the Council, (minus Mr. Keating who is the only one objective to the plan) to step down from office. There must be more we voters, tax payers, and conscientious citizens can do than just sigh and go quietly into the night.
Jim Hughes December 06, 2011 at 08:26 PM
Obviously Al Peters is just another member of the Piedmont Taliban. At least as far as the majority of the City Council is concerned.
Susan Kahn December 07, 2011 at 10:48 AM
I was present at the meeting Jim is talking about, at the home of Al Peters; I was two seats away from Mr. Barbieri. What Jim says about that exchange is completely accurate. Mayor Barbieri's recounting of what Al Peters said may be a description of what he (Barbieri) experienced, but it is different from what I observed.
Sinan007 December 07, 2011 at 11:19 PM
Piedmont City Council has dismissed the legitimate and sincere concerns of the citizens of this community, whose lives would be most affected by this out of scale, massive proposal and called them the Taliban, Nihilists and NIMBYS, in their lack of wisdom, they dismissed the opinions of the very professionals who serve on the Planning Commission of this City as unqualified, in absolute obliviousness to nature and conservation they have ignored the letters that were sent to them from the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, they have entered into agreements and made policy decisions behind closed doors with their constituency against the citizens of this community, despite all warnings, they have chosen to expose this city to great liability for many years to come, long after PRFO has gone bankrupt, and most disappointingly, when some of us brought to their attention that indeed we were concerned about the safety of the children and the dangers that this particular site posed to bicyclest, pedestrians and other motorists, they did not even show any emotion and accepted the developers haphazard solution without expressing their personal concern. I do not think that there is much more that can be said to this Council. It is time to boot them out one by one . . .

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