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  Also check the Piedmont Neighborhood News blog, to stay informed about city happenings.

9 thoughts on “Friends Gather To Protect Moraga Canyon

  1. I’m all for preserving a natural environment. I hope this does not turn into a NIMBY type of organization.

    Artificial turf would be fine for Coaches Play Field. The field conditions are terrible – often muddy. This type of surface requires less maintenace, and is usable more days out of a year.

    It is my opinion that while there is an abundance of open space in the Oakland area (Joaquin Miller Park, Redwood, Temescal, Sibley, Tilden, Chabot, Lake Merritt, etc., etc.) there is an extreme shortage of sports fields.

    Our kids need more places to play sports, and better access to the already existing facilities. Any development of Blair Park and improvements to Coaches Play Field should take the entire communities needs into consideration.

  2. Also, is there any public access to the hill to the north of Coaches Play Field? I drive by often and was interested in getting up there. The view must be nice.

  3. I live in Piedmont. The intrinsic value of moraga canyon is as an open, natural space. Any development of the area should be small scale so as not to ruin the environment.

  4. As anyone heavily involved with youth sports organizations will know, we are desperately short of fields for soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and etc. The Piedmont Youth Soccer Club currently has to rent fields from the City of Alameda for practices.

    Is there another viable location for new playing fields in Piedmont?

  5. The cities of Piedmont and Oakland desperately need more play fields for our children. Piedmont and the Montclair community of Oakland are very desirable places to live and good fiels for our youth sports enhance our quality of life and property values.

    It is wonderful to see younger families moving into our communities. Children add to the vibrancy of the neighborhoods. On my street alone, there is only 1 family with young children. The rest moved through the tunnel or the homes are owned by an aging population. I hope that we can attract the young families, not turn them away.

    With ever increasing budget cuts to youth sports in our schools, the popularity of league sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and baseball is booming. But compared to other communities our current ratio of play fields to player is low. We are currently at the point where children are turned away from local youth sports programs due to “overcrowding.” What options are left for the children that have been crowded out?

    Pam H.

  6. Children are whole human beings, and are interested in more than just sports. Kids are students, creators, and the new caretakers of a threatened planet. The many kids who live in the houses that surround Moraga Canyon know the quiet wonder of living beside a forest. It’s not just sports that attract parents with children to the area; the peaceful environment attracts families too. Right here in Piedmont and North Oakland, kids can grow up with enough sports field space to meet their needs, and can also wake up to a chorus of songbirds.

    But it’s not just the Moraga Canyon neighborhood that benefits. Kids can come from anywhere to see hawks, deer, foxes, wild turkeys, and rare woodpeckers. Blair Park is a public dog park. All children can come and walk beneath our native coastal live oaks and catch a glimpse of our wildlife. If we tear down a forest to meet the sports needs of some of our kids, we will destroy an opportunity for children to grow and thrive alongside a verdant and peaceful wildlife habitat.

  7. Moraga Avenue is at the bottom of a canyon with few side streets. It descends toward the bay with numerous curves. Because of lack of visibility, the number of cars on the road already can make it very hard (and literally take minutes of waiting) to turn left onto it from Harbord or Maxwelton. For years, I have wondered why no intersection has a stop light. I learned that it was because drivers could not see the stop light far enough away to meet code.

    Blair Park is a very narrow wooded strip on the south side of Moraga. It provides some peace in the urban environment, plus shelter and food for many times of wildlife. It currently serves as an off-lease dog park.

    I suggest those who think a sports field makes sense in Blair Park take a look at the city’s plans. They envision two soccer fields, a snack building, and two parking lots. All of the existing trees would be cut down. Because of the steepness of the canyon wall, the developer would need to cut deep into the hillside (to make the field wide enough) and install a huge concrete retaining wall, up to 40 feet high in sections. Along Moraga, another wall would be installed along the road. It is hard to imagine making something so ugly and dysfunctional.

    Will the retaining walls be covered in graffiti soon? How long before a kid tries to cross Moraga to the current playfield further down Moraga and is hit by a car? How much trash will the sack building generate?

    Some say there is a need for more organized playfields. Perhaps. But there is also a need for urban open space. Future generations of children deserve to grow up hearing owls at night and seeing more birds than pigeons and sparrows. If a new playfield is to be constructed, one could hardly find a worse location.

  8. The issue of development of any city property should be put before the entire community, residents and taxpayers…with or without kids. The City attempted to develop this open natural space on a smaller scale in the 80’s. The EIR found so many negative impacts and potential dangers, and the public reacted negatively so the plan was dropped. The City compromised with the opponents based on city wide input and built a new grass field with use restrictions and specifically with no lights…from a trash heap and dirt fill in the canyon below (Coaches Field).

    I have four kids in sports and when they’re out of the leagues, I may have saved some time driving, but all the adjacent and negatively affected homeowners will be left to deal with the long term problems and huge costs that this second attempt to develop the canyon will create.

    The City Council appointed Commission,”The Turf Field Task Force,” that got Coaches Field done in the 90’s specifically stated that the majority of residents and /or surrounding homeowners should not be made to suffer quality of life impairments for a minority interest. None of this is NIMBY. That is a common red herring for proponents. It’s not like these immediately surrounding homeowners bought a house next to some airport (and paid much less because of the existing nuisance of noise, etc.). They bought homes overlooking a natural, woodsy canyon and wildlife corridor.

    This proposal is a huge negative change in quality of life for neighbors and those on the streets nearby that will choke on the noise, disruption and traffic issues that the development will create. The city design review board agonizes at great cost, detail and time over a minor change of window or door locations in an existing residence in Piedmont. Where is the same level of review and scrutiny here? The lack of consistency and proper due process and oversight by the planning commission and input from the residents/taxpayers at large is a major issue that must be addressed…

    Piedmont is attractive to homebuyers because of its great location,architecture, classic housing stock and history. Most families move to Piedmont because of the quality of education: the schools! I’ve never heard of someone buying because of recreational sports leagues. Our kids play sports with teams from Oakland, Montclair, Rockridge, Alameda, Hayward and LaMorinda. All of those communities have real estate prices that are much cheaper on a price per square foot basis. Whether or not they have more playfields (Orinda/Lafayette) is a lesser consideration. Schools matter! Recreation is what happens after school.

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