Mar 23 2011

Council votes to move ahead with Blair Park Project

At 2:30 a.m. on March 22, 2011 the Piedmont City Council voted to move ahead with building a sports complex in Blair Park on Moraga Avenue and adding night lighting and artificial turf on Coaches Field.    On a 4 -1 vote, with Garrett Keating voting no, the project proposed by Piedmont Recreation Facilities Organization (PRFO) will move forward.  Keatting’s objection was over pedestrian and vehicular safety on Moraga Avenue based on his concern insufficient information in the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR).

Dozens of speakers presented the pros and cons of the project.  Con speakers described the environmental impacts, paricularly the destruction of 155 trees, fiscal liability to the City, pedestrian safety crossing busy Moraga Avenue, availability of Laney College fields as an alternate site for the Piedmont Soccer Club, indemnification of the City for potential legal costs, non-compliance with the City General Plan, fiduciary responsibility and litigation costs.  The Sierra Club, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, and many others pressed the Council to reject the project.  Pro speakers pleaded for more recreation space for children, the opportunity to accept private funding for the project, the need to use the space, the need to accept the original plan to avoid further environmental assessments, and a willingness to contribute to the cost of legal challenges.

Two alternative proposals to the PRFO plan were presented.  architects Bill Blackwell and Chuck Oraftik provided archectural renderings, photographs and carefully measured plans to illustrate their similar but separate plans to increase the size of Coaches Field to provide a full-size, regulation soccer field and to build a smaller sports field in Blair Park intended to reduce negative impacts.  Both of these alternatives were opposed by PRFO and rejected by the City Council.  PRFO Board members repeatedly stated they would not pay for any other alternatives and wanted to move ahead with their plan.  Alternative plans may have required additional environmental review and delayed the project.

Jim Semitekol, President of Friends of Moraga Canyon, presented a third alternative:  the “no build, environmentally superior alternative” outlined in the Environmental Impact Report.  He cited many of FOMC’s objections to the PRFO plan and the problems associated with constructing a large sports complex in Blair Park.

At the meeting, PRFO made 3 changes to their original certified plan that was certified in the EIR approved by the City Council in December, 2010: replace the second smaller play field with a large grassy glade, convert the pedestrian bridge to a pedestrian activated signalized crosswalk on Moraga Avenue at Red Rock Road,  and install a tall stairway to access the field from the Coaches Field end of the development.  A more recent PRFO plan, presented in February to the Planning Commission, included amenities such as a climbing wall; a fitness track, parking for 60 cars instead of 40, and traffic-calming roundabouts on Moraga Avenue.  These aspects of the project were all eliminated in the plan presented to the Council on March 21.

A phased approach to the project was recommended by PFRO:  expending $5 million of privately raised funds during Phase 1  and then completing the project during Phase 2, as more money becomes available.  All of the retaining walls, fences, and the large sports field would be installed during Phase 1.  Phase 2 would include the grassy glade, the walkway around the glade, landscaping, concession stand and restrooms. The source of PFRO’s $5 million contribution was not specified.  State bond funds were mentioned early in the presentation by the City, but it was not clear if any of these funds would be available for Phase 2.

Some estimated costs produced during the meeting varied widely particularly when the cost of expanding Coaches field were included.   Andy Ball, PFRO board member and principal of Webcor, the construction company which built Havens School, stated his company had done some estimates and was offering to provide a set price for doing the work.

Questions of legal indemnification of the City, long term funding,  establishment of an escrow account from benefactors, and other issues were not resolved during the meeting.  Council inquiries regarding payment of legal costs by PFRO revealed the money for Phase 1 would be used to cover any cost of potential litigation against the proposal.  Indemnification of the City during the construction phase and thereafter was not resolved.  The long term facility maintenance, personnel costs, and replacement expense to the City was not estimated, nor how user fees may offset future costs.

The Council along with Piedmont’s commissions – Recreation, Park and Planning – expressed considerable concern over pedestrian safety and the City’s liability in case of accidents.  Traffic safety issues were not resolved during the meeting.  Some of the Council members wanted an independent traffic safety evaluation for Moraga Avenue.  The City Administrator asked PRFO to examine this issue, propose alternatives and submit them to the City’s environmental consultant, Malcolm Sproul of LSA, which produced the EIR for the project.   If LSA believes there is a need for further environmental work on traffic safety, they will provide this information in a report to the Council.

The Council began the meeting at 7:45 p.m. and made their decision at 2:30 a.m.  The next meeting to consider the matter, barring a need for further time to prepare documents and information, is scheduled for April 4.  At the next meeting the Council will consider proposed conditions for accepting the project.  The conditions are expected to cover such matters as indemnification, PRFO agreement, phasing of the project,  funding, specifics on the proposed plan, and information on traffic safety.

Public input correspondence and the Staff Report for the meeting can be accessed here: Staff Report and Correspondence.


2 Responses to “Council votes to move ahead with Blair Park Project”

  1. PCA:
    Two quick clarifications. I did vote no because of the inadequacy of the traffic analysis in the FEIR but also because the alternative plan is a better plan – it would produce 10% less play area but is a much more efficient use of the land and aesthetically better. The other correction: no independent assessment as to whether additional environmental review of the alternative plan was needed was provided. Indeed, the FEIR for the proposed project was always described as the “maximum” and would likely suffice for the lesser alternative plans. This is precisely what the City did with the EIR for Coaches Field.

  2. There was input both written and verbal presented to the City Council 3/21 as follows:

    126 letters opposed, 35 in favor. 78.3% oppose.
    33 Public forum speakers opposed, 21 in favor. 61.1% oppose.

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