Mar 17 2011

Opinion: Blair Park and Underground Projects Pose Similar Questions

A Letter Identifying Issues Common to Undergrounding and Blair Park Construction Administration

Dear Council Members,

City staff and the Council have failed to exercise proper due diligence in allowing a private group to control the planning process for the use of public land. The project proponents have sold the citizens of Piedmont a bill of goods, claiming their project is a “gift” and repeatedly claiming it will be built and maintained “at no cost to taxpayers,” yet public records clearly show the City has already spent hundreds of thousands toward the environmental review,
plus unquantified amounts of staff and legal time, and still no fiscal impact analysis of the project has been done.

The Blair Park project is not “free.” No memorandum of understanding or other written agreement between the sports complex proponents and the City has ever been made public! As the owner of the park and the street right of way, the City will have to assume responsibility for the bidding process and construction administration, as it did with
the undergrounding district it so spectacularly bungled, which was also supposed to be built at no cost to the taxpayer at large. No reforms of the City’s procurement and construction management processes has been undertaken more than a year after the undergrounding fiasco.The City will be responsible for unallocated costs, such as expensive turf replacement, park maintenance and sewer line and water pipeline relocation, especially any potential cost
over-runs or future liabilities.

Moreover, as the Planning Commission correctly noted, the project is poorly designed and ill-suited to its site – yet the proponents are insisting that no other alternatives be considered! Cutting deeply into the hillside and drilling to construct a 320-foot long, 35-foot
high retaining wall could cause cracks and movement of homes above the park, an enormous liability to the City. A main sewer line plus 25 lateral sewer lines, each about 300 feet long, and a 20-inch diameter water pipeline that traverses the middle of the park, would have to be relocated —  a project similar to the size and contract liabilities of another undergrounding district!

The proposed Blair Park project is far too massive for the narrow strip of land. The “reduced” plan has even more unattractive hardscape, due to enlarged parking lots which will remove additional trees and possibly add another retaining wall. The proposed “grassy glade” in the “reduced” plan is actually a sports field with the edges rounded.  Since it has no fence along Moraga Ave., balls, chased by kids, will end up on the street.  It will not reduce impacts to
traffic, noise or the oak woodland. The view from Moraga Avenue will be of a 38-foot high “berm” and steel fence. Because of its steepness, nothing will grow on the ‘mechanically stabilized-earth’ berm. The kind of retaining wall planned along the hillside is what you see
along a freeway.

Pedestrian safety and traffic issues have not been resolved. Safety of pedestrians crossing busy Moraga Ave. is the City’s responsibility. To walk or bike to the park, youngsters would have to cross speeding traffic on Moraga Ave. and climb a long trail with 10 switchbacks up
to the elevated sports fields. There is no sidewalk or bike path at street level along the entire length of the proposed sports complex.  Two mini roundabouts — in the latest proposal — are highly inappropriate on narrow, sloping, traffic-heavy Moraga Ave. and would
pose grave danger to pedestrians, bicyclists & vehicles. The City must conduct a thorough, independent traffic study before ANY project is approved at Blair Park.

Most local governments understand that public space is public property, and that plans for its use, maintenance or improvement need to be created through a public process, with meaningful community participation. Instead, you have allowed a private group to propose an ill-conceived and overscaled project on public land – and now extend
that project into the public streets – and to misrepresent or conceal its likely cost to the taxpayers. Responding to an EIR on a privately-conceived project on public land is not a meaningful opportunity for public participation – instead it casts responsible citizens into the role of nay-sayers, rejectors of “the gift.”

On numerous other occasions, regarding much more minor issues such as street tree removal, Council members have stated that it would be improper to overrule a Planning Commission majority, and that doing so could discourage citizens from wanting to serve as commissioners.  While it is your legal right to overrule the Planning Commission if
you choose, I urge you instead to respect the considered and unanimous opinion of the Planning Commissioners and to reject this ill-conceived project until a proper and public study of alternatives, including enlarging Coaches Field as proposed by the cemetery, has been done.

Timothy Rood
Piedmont Resident

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

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