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.

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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.

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

How To Solve Field Shortage

It’s difficult to build “fields of dreams” in the Oakland Hills.  Based on our recent survey, Montclarions and Piedmonters recognize the field shortage but also want to keep development to a minimum.  They believe that current parks, schools and colleges could be better scheduled for league sports.

Montclair Soccer Club

Is There A Shortage?

About 60 percent of survey takers said there are not enough youth soccer fields while 40 percent felt otherwise.  We saw similar results for little league baseball and adult sports leagues.

The contention becomes more clear when asking whether we should “make do” with current field options.  Some 46 percent disagree/strongly disagree and 45 percent agree/strongly agree – quite the horse race!

Where To Play Sports

Where To Play Sports

Despite their disparate attitudes, respondents seem interested in solving the field shortage and moving beyond the status quo for sports practices and games.

Over 70 percent said they agree/strongly agree that we should use our public schools and colleges more, while 50 percent want to approach private schools and colleges as well.

Locals also are willing to burn fossil fuels, and drive around Oakland or even Berkeley as needed.  When it comes to traipsing to Contra Costa County, however, respondents are less eager to go through the tunnel.

Scheduling City Parks

The survey also sought to understand optimal uses of the Montclair and Piedmont parks and their existing play fields.  We asked what percentage of time should be devoted to league play on weekdays and weekends for all five parks.

Over 40 percent of respondents want to schedule 50-74 percent of city field time for league purposes.  Another 20 percent suggest 75 percent or more on weekdays, jumping to 30 percent on the weekends.

Pay More For Play

Besides using the public parks more intensively, survey takers are willing to open up their wallets in return for more play time – and over a third look at nearby public and private colleges to close the gap.

In fact, sixty percent said they would agree/strongly agree to pay club or use fees to secure schools and colleges. These fees would help maintain fields in return for play time, which might be possible to arrange…or a pipe dream.

More info:   The Field Survey is reported in two postings.  See the first report about Blair Park here.

To Blair Or Not To Blair?

If you have been a reader here, then you know about the Blair Park controversy.  While many Montclarions and Piedmonters want to keep the Park undeveloped, there are others who are seeking additional sports fields particularly for soccer players.

We decided to conduct a survey about all local sports fields and uses, and respondents were not shy.  The results are split into three posts because there’s too much to cover, and today you can catch the top-line results about Blair as well as survey participants.

Playing Fields At Blair

To Blair or not to Blair?

We started by asking a general question about development, and 56 percent said Blair Park should remain “as is” today.  Over 60 percent of respondents are against the Blair field construction as well.

At the same time, more than a quarter of survey-takers would like to see playing fields built at Blair Park.  Our survey isn’t a scientific sample, but we think passionate supporters from both sides are speaking here – and these ratios have been holding up since the survey launch.

If the fields were built, then we wanted your opinions about helping players cross Moraga Ave.  Respondents were evenly split on whether constructing a traffic light was a good idea, if this were possible to do.  The concrete overpass seemed less appealing, with 51 percent giving this bridge a thumbs-down.

We also tested the temperature about funding sources, and that brought out the nayer-sayers generally.  It turns out that the funding source didn’t push the needle too much, but nine percent moved to “no” if the fields were theoretically constructed with private funds alone.

Who took the time to respond?

Older Montclarions and Piedmonters participated in the survey, in what appear to be equal numbers.  Nearly three-fourths of respondents were between 40-59 years old, consisting of half in their 40s and a quarter in their 50s.

The split between sexes was almost even, with 48 percent male and 52 percent female survey-takers.  We had at least 200 visitors to the survey, but around a quarter answered all the questions.

Interestingly, the survey takers were not all sports mothers and fathers.  Exactly 52 percent were league parents and 35 percent were organizers of league sports.  About a quarter were parents of high school players as well.  Some five percent were athletic kids (ages 13+) who chimed in, too.

Park Visits by Respondents

How often do you visit parks?

We wanted to know if respondents actually used or showed up at local parks.  Not surprisingly, 46 percent of respondents sit on the league sidelines at least once/week.  Some 37 percent said they also play weekly or more, and we suspect some parents fall into both groups.

Yet there is more informal use of the parks as well, with nearly a third showing up to play with their families or friends.  Over 80 percent reported visits to City and East Bay parks, with 50 percent visiting at least weekly.  While this strikes us as very high, perhaps this survey attracts more sporting Sams than average Joes.

Stay Tuned:   Please stop by this weekend, when we’ll discuss survey results about all local fields and their appropriate uses.