Blair Park Development, Fait Accompli?

It looks like the City of Piedmont will likely approve development of Blair Park, possibly tomorrow night.  This five-acre undeveloped area, located in Piedmont with an Oakland border, has been under review for several years now.  Some Piedmonters want more space for playing fields.  A mix of Piedmonters and Oaklanders are still concerned about traffic, environmental, seismic, sound and other impacts.

During this past year, there have been revisions made to the Master Plan.  Most notably, the plan calls for one synthetic playing field rather than two fields.  The remaining space would be filled with a grass glade, a restroom, an off-leash dog area, and two parking areas for 20 cars.  There would be lowered concrete walls, new sidewalks, and some traffic calming efforts.

Piedmont City Council has scheduled a public hearing tomorrow night, to hear comments about the latest plan.  More specifically, the Council will be considering approval of this 65-page addendum to the final environmental impact report (FEIR).  The agenda calls for reviewing overall conditions to approve/deny the project or parts of the project.

  • What:  Piedmont City Council — Public Hearing for Moraga Canyon Sports Field Project
  • When:  Monday, December 5th — at 7:30 pm
  • Where:   City Council Chambers —  120 Vista Drive, Piedmont (map)

In addition to the environmental review and mitigation program, the Piedmont City Council is also addressing other approval conditions.  These range from financial arrangements, such as leasing the site to the developer and getting initial fees paid, to making sure construction costs, plans and schedules are hammered out.

Tomorrow’s agenda covers both Blair Park and existing Coaches Playfield elements, Blair Park modifications proposed by the Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization, filing the project with the Alameda County Recorders Office, and reading of an ordinance about leasing the Blair Park site to the developer.

Based on the agenda alone, it sounds like the train is about to leave the station, the starting gun will be shot — or pick the metaphor that works best for you.  Assuming there’s money to develop Blair Park, some development is about to get approved tomorrow.

Update:  The Piedmont City Council meeting lasted until Tuesday morning, at 2:30am.  During the proceedings, Oakland Council Rep Libby Schaaf voiced her concerns to city council reps.  As expected this Blair Park development was approved, by a 4-1 vote.

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Piedmont Votes “Yes” On Blair Park

We didn’t stay awake, but the City of Piedmont voted “yes” on Blair Park’s sports complex — just before 3:00 am this morning.

The City of Oakland’s concerns were officially communicated and acknowledged, based on a letter from Eric Angstadt, deputy director at CEDA.

Is Blair Park development a foregone conclusion now?  Stay tuned until the next meeting, on April 4th.

Oakland Blasts Piedmont’s Blair Park EIR

The Oakland Planning Department was quite hard on Piedmont’s Draft Environmental Impact Report about plans for a sports complex in Blair Park. This is what Eric Angstadt in Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency wrote in the city’s official response to the EIR: “In summary, the DEIR does not adequately address the impacts of the Moraga Canyon Sports Field Project, including most notably, impacts on the City of Oakland, which is immediately adjacent to the project site.”

The Canyon in Spring

City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Jean Quan also commented: “The DEIR’s conclusion that many of the environmental impacts are “significant and unavoidable” without a more thorough analysis does not do justice to the Project itself, and to the people of Piedmont and Oakland who must live with the consequences should the project proceed without full analysis and mitigation. The DEIR must include a reasonable range of potentially feasible alternatives for all the impacts.”

What comes next? Piedmont has a couple of months to respond to the comments, and in November a final EIR will be produced. During this time (and after), officials from both cities can sit down and try to reach a plan that meets the needs of Oakland and Piedmont. It’s hard to imagine that if Piedmont continues to disregard the concerns of its neighbors, a lawsuit won’t be in the offing.

Friends of Moraga Canyon has a good summary of the anti-Sports Complex position as well as all of the relevant official document relating to the project.

Time to Comment on the Blair Park EIR

The draft environmental impact report for the Moraga Canyon Sports Field Project is on Piedmont’s website. Folks have until August 9 to comment on the report. Before the deadline, Piedmont will hold two public hearings on the draft. The huge document is already under some pretty heavy scrutiny by residents who don’t want to see the complex built.

The Canyon in Spring

Sandra Pohutsky, from Friends of Moraga Canyon, wrote in an email to her neighbors that the EIR “finds that the project would have significant impact on traffic and circulation, land use and planning policy, aesthetics and three other areas which cannot be significantly mitigated.”

Pohutsky cites the report in noting that the sports fields would not have enough parking, and a proposed pedestrian bridge spanning Moraga would increase peril to pedestrians rather than make the street safer.

It would also take a toll on the canyon’s natural beauty. Some 55 native coast live oaks would be chopped down. The 100 replacements would be planted somewhere else.

Perhaps the most serious problem raised in the EIR deals with traffic. Cars flooding in and out of the parking lot before and after games “cause significant and unavoidable impact.” The consultants propose stationing police officers on the street during busy times, a suggestion that Pohutsky finds risible.

And that “significant and unavoidable” phrase has a very particular meaning in the arcane language of California’s environmental laws. Piedmont is essentially setting itself up to say, “Yes. We know there’s a problem that can’t be mitigated, but we are going to override these concerns because the public benefits outweigh the problems.” This throws the debate out of a technical realm where data can back up a position and into a squishier zone where opposing sides argue about what’s best for the community.

Pohutsky writes that an idea in the EIR to build a smaller sports complex, which would preserve one-third of Blair Park, would not solve the problems raised above.

Eric Angstadt in Oakland’s Planning Department said that his office is reviewing the technical elements of the EIR and will likely have comments before the deadline.

Here’s what you need to know about commenting on the EIR:

Public Hearings: The City will hold two public hearings on the Draft EIR on July 19, 2010 and August 2, 2010 at the Piedmont City Hall Council Chambers located at 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, California. The public hearings will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Public Review Period: This Notice of Availability of the Draft EIR commences a 45-day public review period starting on Thursday, June 24, 2010. Interested persons are invited to review and comment on the Draft EIR. Written comments (via email or mail) on the Draft EIR must be submitted to:

City of Piedmont
120 Vista Avenue
Piedmont, California 94611
Attention: Ann Swift, City Clerk
aswift@ci.piedmont.ca.us

Written comments on the Draft EIR must be submitted no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, August 9, 2010.

For further information, contact Ann Swift, City Clerk, at (510) 420-3040 or by email at aswift@ci.piedmont.ca.us or Mark Delventhal, Recreation Director, at (510) 420-3073 or by email at mdelventhal@ci.piedmont.ca.us.

Perata Takes Public Stand On Blair Park

Blair Park has now raised its profile.  Don Perata, in his Oakland mayoral bid, took a public stand against developing this Moraga Canyon road-side park last week, joining fellow candidate Jean Quan in opposing the development.  As you may recall, the City of Piedmont owns this parcel and has been going through a lengthy approval process to create a sports complex there.

Friends of Moraga Canyon have been against development of two play fields there and raised many traffic, environmental and overall safety matters with the City of Piedmont.  Meanwhile supporters of Blair Park’s development continue advocating for two fields and other amenities in the park.

Last October, concerned citizens attended a Montclair meeting with Council Rep Jean Quan and a staffer from Council Rep Jane Brunner’s office.  Wlad Wlassowsky, manager of Oakland’s transportation services division, attended and asked for all concerns.  Their next step was to reach Piedmont officials about the EIR (environmental impact review) process.

Fast forward, and Piedmont city officials are about to release the review on June 18th.  You may check all public materials posted on Piedmont’s website, to get up to speed.  And while you wait, here’s the full letter from candidate Perata.

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Blair Park Leaves The Neighborhood

Did you catch the CBS-5 news last night?  Our Blair Park conservation vs. development concerns are no longer hyper-local, as they made the early TV newscasts.

First, the Friends of Moraga Canyon’s Sandra Pohutsky and Peggy Esposito appeared on air.  “I agree more soccer fields are needed,” declared Esposito.  “It’s a wildlife corridor, so you are destroying a lot to appease the soccer clubs.”  The Moraga Avenue traffic problems were discussed as well.

Then Steve Schiller, past president of the Piedmont Soccer Club,  explained that 1,200 Piedmont kids play soccer and “there isn’t any other space in Piedmont.”  The plans for two soccer fields, snack bar, overhead crosswalk and parking lot were mentioned in the newscasts.

In coming months, there will be environmental and other reviews by the City of Piedmont.  Oakland has officially submitted their concerns, with our city bordering the potential project.  Of course, sports field development is hardly a fait accompli.

From this TV coverage, we suppose that Bay Area viewers understood the classic conflict and little else.  This report merely wrapped up with a “stay tuned,” as Piedmont’s review process plays out.

Piedmonters and Montclarions Protesting Today

We knew that Friends of Moraga Canyon had organized a protest against Blair Park development, and decided to check out the scene earlier today.  There were between 75 and 100 protesters on the scene, all making their “Save Moraga Canyon” opinions known to passers-by…who pretty much all honked hello.

As a citizen reporter, I decided to stop and sniff around.  So many Blair Park neighbors lined up along Moraga Avenue, armed with their signs, kids and dogs.  They also stuck around beyond the planned hour-long rally.

Neighbors have different reasons for opposing soccer field development on the site, currently under review by Piedmont City Council.   Today many protesters offered up environment risks related to wildlife, earthquakes, watershed, sound and urbanization – but traffic and safety topped the list.  We can paraphrase here:

  • “Can you even imagine kids around here, there’s no room!”
  • “My kids do play soccer across the street, and it’s already tough on game days.”
  • “No one would be able to exit parking lots if they were built here.”

There’s some unease about the months ahead, but Oaklanders and Piedmonters on site today are pretty united about keeping Blair Park intact.  We’ll all see what happens in the coming months.

More info:  Piedmont City Council is holding a environment review scoping meeting for the Moraga Canyon Sports Fields, next Tuesday, December 8th – in the Piedmont Community Hall, 711 Highland Avenue (map).  Click to read the public notice, meeting agenda, environmental review schedule, environmental notice and initial fields study.