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.

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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.

Continue reading

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.

Traffic Travails Around Moraga Ave

Good ‘ole Moraga Avenue is under the microscope lately, from Oaklanders and Piedmonters alike.  The City of Piedmont is reviewing plans to build a sports complex in Blair Park, located on the avenue.

While the park area falls within Piedmont’s jurisdiction, its borders are adjacent to Oakland territory.  So this past Monday evening, about 40 concerned citizens showed up for a meeting organized and led by District 4 Council Rep Jean Quan and supported by District 1 Council Rep Jane Brunner’s staff.

How Moraga Might Look

Residents came prepared and one local, Kieran Turan, even created a computer simulation driving through the canyon.  We took a few quick snapshots, as Turan presented his virtual drive.

Moraga - Driving Near Bridge

Here’s the big picture view, as you drive east on Moraga.  After passing Coaches Playfield on the left (where you pick up Christmas trees), a large pedestrian bridge would appear overhead.  This concrete structure would enable kids to walk between Coaches to Blair Park, up the road.

Moraga - Driving Past Park

Then you arrive at Blair Park and see the elevation changes that would be made here.  As we understand the representation, the green part represents the new earth berm.  The blue part would be fencing that surrounds the sports complex.  When you drive by, there’s effectively a new frame along the roadside.

Moraga - Overhead Viewpoint

Finally, here’s an overhead perspective looking at Moraga Canyon.  Forgive the extremely-blurred image, but you now see where the changes would be made a little more clearly along the road.  It’s a pretty large project envisioned here.

Sports Complex Concerns

By the end of Monday’s meeting, many issues had been raised about traffic.  The big ticket items related to accidents from drivers entering and exiting parking lots; and from kids crossing the road, despite the walkway.  There were additional matters raised about overall traffic flows, including cars performing U-turns into nearby roads.

Beyond traffic, there were other environmental impacts to consider like sound pollution from the canyon walls, creek ecosystem problems from artificial turf, and wildlife corridor restrictions.  To top things off, Blair Park is built on landfill which raises liquifaction risk when an earthquakes strikes.

After hearing everyone’s concerns last Monday, it felt like the proposed plans for Blair Park were super-sized for that location.  While the park could be used for some sports or other purposes, there are so many traffic and environmental issues to address – and so many hurdles to jump over!

Today’s Traffic Concerns

As you all know, Moraga Avenue is a major arterial road through Oakland.  This thoroughfare has been mapped since Oakland’s earliest years, with Moraga and Thornhill serving as a corridor heading to and from the hills.

At the Monday gathering, we heard all kinds of stories related to traffic on Moraga, Harbord and the general area.  The traffic barreling down Moraga Canyon is bad news for anyone living in the vicinity.  Folks don’t heed the speed limits, and come whipping off Highway 13.

Many types of vehicles make their way down the canyon.  Years ago, there was a sign restricting large trucks but that’s long gone.  Things will get worse soon, when East Bay MUD (Municipal Utility District) begins repairs to reservoir areas nearby and trucks rumble through – but that’s a temporary problem.

With Moraga’s twisting and winding, this all-important emergency egress is not in good shape.  There are limited alternatives, and thus any uses of the adjacent lands should be reviewed and well understood.  When there’s a fire or earthquake, Moraga and Broadway are key arteries that need to get used.

What Happens Next?

Traffic safety concerns rang true for Council Rep Quan, who raised parallels to Shepherd Canyon and playing fields there.  After years of planning, Oakland banded together with Montclarions to build a parking lot and encourage secondary park access for cars.  In that case, all the decisions remained within Oakland’s city boundaries – so the next steps involve coordination with the City of Piedmont.

Wlad Wlassowsky, who manages Oakland’s transportation services division, attended last Monday’s gathering and explained more about the state-mandated environment impact review (EIR) process.  He went over what the City of Oakland covers in their reviews, and there’s a long list of traffic, parking, egress and pedestrian matters.  Like all cities, Piedmont will have to go through a similar process.

Wlad’s staff looks forward to codifying and addressing Oakland’s traffic issues here, as well as advising the City of Oakland about appropriate EIR communications.  The city will formulate an official response to Piedmont leaders, which undoubtedly focuses on traffic safety most of all.  Wlad noted that it isn’t the first time Oakland has worked with other jurisdictions!

Both Jean and Wlad surely got more than an earful from our neighbors, who have been pondering this sports complex proposal for months.  But the Montclarions and Piedmonters residing near Moraga and Blair Park have plenty to say,  and are making sure all the impacts are well-articulated as the City of Piedmont proceeds with their environmental review.  All citizens were encouraged to communicate their concerns directly to Piedmont officials as well.

More info: Visit City of Piedmont’s EIR for Moraga Sports Canyon Fields – Read Montclarion’s Hills residents oppose sports complex plan – Check Today in Montclair’s Piedmonters Unsettled On Blair Park – Link to our prior local sports field survey results here and here

Piedmonters Unsettled On Blair Park

Piedmont political leaders seem a little unsettled about Blair Park development, in Moraga Canyon.  Since we all live nearby, Piedmonters and Oaklanders should hear about the upcoming city reviews.  We thought that sports field plans were effectively iced – but apparently that’s not correct.

The Piedmont City Council has placed Blair Park on their September 8th agenda, as part of the “EIR For Moraga Canyon Sports Fields.” There will be an environmental impact review of synthetic turf and lighting plans for Blair Park and Coaches Playfield.

Blair Park's Turkey Family

Piedmont and Oakland residents united to push back development earlier this year, when Piedmont’s school district considered placing portable classrooms at Blair Park.  At that time, talk turned to installing retaining walls, permanent playing fields, parking lots and an overhead walkway across Moraga Avenue.

Last March, Today in Montclair ran a survey to gauge opinions about playing fields and alternatives.  We asked whether Blair was the answer and more than 60 percent of survey-takers were against building soccer fields there.

We also asked about alternatives to solving the field shortage in the hills.  Over 70 percent of respondents said that local school and college fields could be used more often – and that city-owned fields could improve their schedules, too.

As the summer wraps up, it seems like what was settled is still unsettled.  Some sort of slow-moving force is pushing the Blair Park fields development by the Piedmont City Council.  Even without a clear funding path, there’s an important assessment scheduled right after Labor Day.

We don’t have details for this latest Blair Park review, because “the staff report for this matter will be available on the city web site by Thursday, September 3, 2009.”  You should be able to click here for more details.

In the meantime, we know that showing up is part of the battle.  Like before, we expect concerned hills residents to attend the Piedmont meeting – on Tuesday, September 8th at 7:30pm, in city chambers (map).  The future of Blair Park is still at stake.