Friends Gather To Protect Moraga Canyon

Lately, Montclarions and Piedmonters have focused on protecting Moraga Canyon.  While this area isn’t exactly pristine and untouched, there are a few open spaces that have been targeted for development.

Many concerned citizens decided to join forces, through their new Friends of Moraga Canyon group.  Their goal is to keep a more active and watchful eye on the canyon area, whether private or city-owned property.

Moraga Canyon

We caught up with one of the Friends of Moraga Canyon founders, Sandra Pohutsky, and asked about the group and their plans ahead.

Q.  When did the Friends of Moraga Canyon form?
The group formed in January 2009 by Piedmonters who live near Blair Park and Coaches Playfield on Moraga Avenue,  and by Oaklanders who live on and near Moraga Avenue from Piedmont to Highway 13.  They knew that they had a common interest that was not being considered by the City of Piedmont.

Q.  Why did the group form?
Concerns over the uses of Moraga Canyon, especially the short-term use of Blair Park for temporary schools, and the long term use for a sports complex that would require a 40 foot retaining wall along the canyon and a 20 foot retaining wall along a portion of Moraga Avenue, in addition to two parking lots for 90 cars.

Q: What are the rough boundaries of the Moraga Canyon?
Moraga Canyon runs downhill from Highway 13 to Pleasant Valley.  It begins in Oakland, passes through several blocks of Piedmont, and ends in Oakland. Moraga Avenue is built over and near Cemetery Creek that is channeled in culverts and comes out near Coaches Playfield.

Q.  Who are the “leaders”  of your group, and their roles?
This is truly a grass roots organization of over 70 people and growing. A remarkable group of neighbors has come together from a variety of professions to protect Moraga Canyon. Our spokespeople change as the needs arise, and we share leadership roles.

Q.  What’s the official mission of the group?
To make sure that uses of Moraga Canyon are well understood by our respective cities and other citizens.  To communicate about developments related to open spaces and parks within the canyon.

Friends of Moraga Canyon work to ensure that the tranquility and environmental well-being of the Moraga Canyon area is preserved.  We believe that issues affecting the welfare of Moraga Canyon should be addressed with reason, responsibility and consensus.

Q.  What do you hope to accomplish this year?
We are pleased that the school district has decided not to place portable school rooms in the canyon.

We would like to have a full description of [any local] project, a community-wide discussion of the desirability and necessity of such a project, and at least one workshop by the Piedmont Planning Commission to discuss the physical impacts and appearance of the project.  We hope that the Piedmont city council and planning commission will decide to erect story poles to show the size and extent of the project, as is required for even the most modest private projects in Piedmont.

Our goal is to be sure that any use of Blair Park will have low impact on traffic and noise, that it will not interfere with the wild life that live in the park and visit it at night, that the hillside is not carved away and that all the trees are not cut down.

We oppose adding night lighting and synthetic turf at Coaches Playfield, across the street from Blair Park, as it will further erode the nature of Moraga Canyon.

Q.  How many people joined so far, and what’s the mix between Oaklanders and Piedmonters?
There are about 70 Friends of Moraga Canyon as of the beginning of February who are mostly Piedmonters living in or near Moraga Canyon.  In addition there is an allied group of about 110 Oaklanders watching Piedmont’s actions and they in turn are keeping at least six neighborhood associations informed.  There are about 770 Montclair homes located on or near Moraga Avenue that would be effected by increased Moraga Avenue traffic.

We find that even people who do not live near Moraga Canyon become very interested once they hear about Piedmont’s plans and practices so this group isn’t about who lives in either city.  Friends of Moraga Canyon is discussing setting up a website (now live) to make the information more accessible to all who want to know what could happen along Moraga Avenue.

Q.  How does the group work with the two cities?
We want to work well with all government constituencies.  In Oakland, there are two city council members and their teams involved.  This includes Jean Quan, supported by Sue Piper (510-238-7042); and Jane Brunner, supported by Zac Wald (510-238-7013).  They can all be reached at 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612.

In response to requests by Oakland residents, the City of Oakland set up a project to monitor Moraga Avenue developments.  Project manager Eric Angstadt,  Oakland planning department,  is coordinating input from Oakland city’s traffic engineers, fire department, planning department, and any other  Oakland departments that have an interest in the impact Piedmont’s Moraga Canyon project on Oakland.

Mr. Angstadt is also the lead on developing the city of Oakland’s input to the scoping session for Piedmont’s required Environmental Impact Report.  Piedmont has not yet announced the date of their scoping session.

In Piedmont, we are speaking at the city council twice a month, and meetings of the planning commission, parks commission, recreation commission and intend to contact the Capital Improvement Projects advisory commission before its once-a-year meeting.

We have found that information has not been widely disseminated – and most Piedmonters are not yet aware of the scope, design and cost of the development of sports fields at Blair Park and Coaches Playfield.

More info: Read more about the Friends of Moraga Canyon and their Blair Park concerns on their new web site.  If you would like to join the Friends or have questions, please reach Sandra Pohutsky – at sandsky@comcast.net.  Also check the Piedmont Neighborhood News blog, to stay informed about city happenings.

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