Dec 6 2010

Opinion: Alternative Blair Park Proposal

Residents associated with Friends of Moraga Canyon have been developing an alternative concept for Blair Park.  The Alternative Plan was initially presented to the City Clerk on December 1, 2010 as a Comment to the Moraga Canyon EIR.  A more recent version of the Alternative Plan was submitted to PCA for publication and is reprinted below.  It incorporates several revisions not contained in the original Comment to the Council.

An EIR Comment by William Blackwell to the Council Proposing an Alternative Blair Park Plan, with Scale Drawing:


  1. Delete the smaller  proposed sports fields and downsize the larger.
  2. Widen portions of Moraga Avenue where needed to permit on-street curb parking in lieu of on-site parking lots and access roads. See drawing.
  3. Delete as unneeded the pedestrian bridge and elevator linking the sports field to Coaches Field.
  4. Improve the balance of the site as an active year-round park and recreation area.

This is a less intense option that partially meets the project objective.

(1)             Delete the smaller of the two proposed sports fields and downsize the larger.

The smaller of the two Project sports fields is designated for U-8 soccer, although it does not meet the minimum youth soccer standards for this age group.  This field would duplicate the synthetic turf field  recently added on the northwest corner of the Havens Elementary School site (at a cost to the City of a reported nearly $750,000), which is a perfect fit for regulation U-8 soccer as well as for other sports.[1] The Havens site is centrally located, very visible, fully fenced and has constantly maintained restrooms and other facilities for the youngest children. In short, it is an already funded field with greater convenience, amenities, and safety features than can be provided at Blair Park for this age group. Additionally, the existing fields at Witter (3), Coaches, Hampton, and Linda/Beach areas are all suitable for U-8 play.   An additional U-8 turf field at Blair would displace other possible year-round park uses and is a luxury the community can ill-afford to install and maintain. 

Downsizing the larger of the project fields from a U-12/14 size to a U-10 size would mitigate many of the negative impacts of the larger field such as the extensive grading and the height of retaining walls. One field meeting youth soccer standards for U-10 play would not only provide a site for U-10 games but would also provide an excellent practice field for all age groups up to and including U-14. Witter Field remains the field of choice in Piedmont for games played by older children, although not even the football field at Witter has a width dimension meeting the youth soccer guidelines for U-12 and up.

It is important to know that the primary need in Piedmont is for practice fields, according to Steve Collins, Field Coordinator for the Piedmont Youth Soccer Club, and that, because soccer players have more touches on a smaller field and spend less time running, a smaller size is preferred for practice.  Two teams can practice together on the same field at the same time, which, in addition to tighter scheduling and use monitoring, would enable more teams to use the available fields in Piedmont.

The field sized for U-10 soccer shown on the accompanying drawing is 35 percent larger in area than the existing soccer field at Coaches, which is used extensively during the fall season by several younger age groups, and will be used even more extensively if synthetic turf is installed [2]. A U-10 at Blair would be actively used for soccer in the fall and for lacrosse and baseball in the spring, and provide a space for pick-up games during the winter and summer seasons.   Note that a curved retaining wall on the south side provides spectator space where it is needed as well as structural strength.

(2)             Widen portions of Moraga Avenue as needed to permit on-street curb parking in lieu of on-site parking lots and access roads. See the drawing on page 4 of this submittal.

On street parking in the eastbound direction would be provided for as many as forty cars by widening a portion of Moraga Avenue so as to permit curb parking along the entire Blair Park frontage. No parking space would be more than a two-minute walk (at 2.5 mph) from the sports field. Street widening would use less of the site area than the on-site space for the parking lots and access lanes. A circular driveway is provided adjacent to the sports field for handicapped parking, for emergency and service vehicles, and drop-off and pick-up.  See drawing.

Given the average number of players per team (13.5) and carpooling, practice sessions would involve at most five or six vehicles per team with only moderate traffic or parking impact. Players are often dropped off and picked up later, however.

Currently cars turn around at Coaches Field and at the widened portion of the roadway east of the Park at 5530, 5554, and 5566 Moraga, which is in the City of Oakland. Roundabouts could be installed at both of these locations, which would not only facilitate reversing direction but would also serve to slow traffic, especially the downhill traffic, with a corresponding improvement in safety.

Youth sports participants live in various neighborhoods throughout the City and typically travel by carpool. The players often carry an equipment bag. Rarely have younger children been observed walking to Coaches Field.  A continuous sidewalk up to Blair Park without crossing Moraga (from say Highland Avenue) while not impossible would be prohibitively expensive.  Parenthetically, a continuous boardwalk or other pedestrian way along the curb at Blair Park appears to be a glaring omission in the Project description — with or without the possibility of crossing Moraga.

(3)             Delete as unneeded the pedestrian bridge and elevator linking the sports field to Coaches Field.

This alternative would be primarily a “drive-to” sports field without a bridge connection to the Coaches Field side of Moraga. In the first instance, there is no compelling reason for many to cross Moraga Avenue if parking, restrooms and drinking water are provided on the Blair Park side. However, for the convenience of parents with children playing on both sides of Moraga and others, a crosswalk with full pedestrian-activated traffic lights and red-signal-ahead warning signs could be provided at less long-term cost than a bridge with elevator. Such a crosswalk would contribute significantly to the pedestrian accessibility of Blair Park.  Spring Path is the route used now for those living on Maxwelton, Abbott Way, and Echo Lane to access Coaches Field, and would connect to Blair Park via this crosswalk.

(4)             Improve the balance of the site as an attractive year round park that would be a valued community asset.

One sports field sized for U-10 soccer would require less than an acre of land, which is about half the combined area of the Project U-8 and U-12 fields. It would use less than 15% of the Blair Park area of 5.6 acres [3], leaving the balance available for year-round community use as a greatly improved “drive-to” park. These improvements might include a wide boardwalk at the curb with decorative lighting; new street trees; green lawns, improved native landscaping, picnic areas for families and small groups, play equipment for small children, a fenced dog run, and perhaps an open pavilion for shelter.  On-site drinking water and toilet facilities secured from dusk to dawn would be used jointly with the organized sports activities.  The objective is to convert Blair Park into a lively community asset that would be attractive for family outings (as in Tilden Park), group gatherings and classes such as Tai Chi, scout training, individual retreats, dog walking, bird watching, etc., — and for sports enthusiasts.

Finally, it must be noted that some, if not many, residents rightfully view Blair Park as an eyesore because it has long been neglected, which is why it is especially attractive as a site for the needed sports fields. Albeit accessible mainly by car, this small piece of land beneath a steep hill has the potential to be an active scenic park with an integrated sports field that would enhance the visual quality of Moraga Canyon.


[1] Page 56 of the CEQA Initial Study cites a total park and playground acreage in Piedmont of 58.6 acres per the December 2008 Public Review Draft of the General Plan, a number that includes 8.5 acres available at the school facilities. However, the CEQA Initial Study, in citing the availability of sports fields in Piedmont, failed to include these school fields.

[2] The Piedmont Recreation Department allocated a total of 340 hours for soccer at Coaches Field this past fall season, which was most of the time available on Saturdays and in the late afternoon and early evening on weekdays and Sundays from August 23rdst — 13 weeks.  The Department does not allocate time at Coaches for soccer during the spring season. The soccer field at Coaches is 110 feet in width and 190 feet in length. The larger of the two fields proposed for Blair is 150 feet wide and 300 feet long — the length of a football field. California Youth Soccer North (and so also U.S. Youth Soccer) has a standard of 210 feet wide and 300 feet long for U-12 and up, according to a spokesperson. A field 210-feet long and 135-feet wide, as shown on the drawing, falls well within the published guidelines for U-10. until November 21

[3] The project fields, including 15-foot wide aprons, require 0.44 acres for U-8 and 1.36 acres for U-12/14 use, a total of 1.8 acres.  One field for U-10 use requires 0.9 acres, which would be a 50 per cent reduction in turf area. All fields, however, require additional land for retaining walls, berms, and access ramps. The area of Blair Park in the EIR project description is 5.6 acres although the area of this park in Table 7.1 of the 2008 Draft General Plan cited elsewhere is 8.2 acres.  5.6 acres is evidently the correct figure.

(This letter expresses the personal opinions of the writer.  All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)

One Response to “Opinion: Alternative Blair Park Proposal”

  1. Piedmont does not really need more U10 soccer fields for games. It desperately needs an U12 size field of about 50 x 100 yards. Coaches and Witter 2(baseball outfield) provide adequate U10 fields, but having only one home field for U12 and U14 games is ridiculous considering the number of U12 and U14 Piedmont soccer teams and the fact that no games are played on Witter on Sunday. Having a U12 field in town will make it possible for teenagers to earn spending money and develop leadership skills by being able to serve as assistant referees and center referees for soccer games without having requiring that their parents give them a ride. The development of many youth referees has been stymied by the lack of a U12 field in Piedmont.

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