Dec 3 2011

New Correspondence and City Administrator Grote’s Recommendations on Moraga/Blair

City Administrator Weighs In:  Thumbs Up for Moraga/Blair Park and Thumbs Down for Coaches Turf/Lights –

Numerous letters have been submitted in anticipation of the upcoming December 5 hearing on the Piedmont Recreation Facilities Organization (PRFO) proposal to develop Blair Park into a youth recreation play field.   The pro correspondence focuses on a desire for local grassy play facilities alleviating the need for travel.  The con correspondence points out pedestrian and vehicular safety issues and taxpayer impacts.  Many neighboring residents voiced specific concerns.  LINK:  all Moraga/Blair Park materials

The City Administrator, Geoffrey Grote, recommends approval of the Blair Park construction if adequate mechanisms for funding and protection from legal liabilities are in place.  He recommends denial of public funding of $650,000 for artificial turf and lighting for Coaches field at the current time due to substantial unfunded costs associated with water runoff and the City’s overall financial uncertainties. Read the full report . . .

DATE: December 5, 2011
FROM: Geoffrey L. Grote, City Administrator
SUBJECT: City Administrator’s Recommendation on the Moraga Canyons Sports Fields Project
Clearly, the Blair Park element of the Moraga Canyon Project has been controversial, with strong feelings on the part of those who support and oppose the proposal. As one thinks back on the years this project has been under consideration, one tends to focus on the negative. The comments on what is wrong with the project, the CEQA analysis, and the public process all have been amplified by promises of litigation and predictions of financial ruin. However, it is my opinion that Piedmonters should take note that the conversation has also included extensive and productive public hearings, modifications to the project in response to criticism, a multi-million dollar gift to the people of Piedmont, and the opportunity to construct a major public improvement in a financial climate that has severely limited the ability of both the private and public sectors to construct important projects.

The Blair Park element of the project has been amended from the original proposal to reduce the number of playfields, lower noise impacts, mitigate traffic concerns on Moraga Avenue, and still provide a facility which will significantly benefit the youth of Piedmont. Each of the amendments to the project has been a direct response to the concerns expressed by and testimony received from interested parties.

This project will be funded with private donations and is proposed to be constructed on public property. As such it is properly considered a public/private partnership. If approved, this project will represent the largest partnership of its kind in Piedmont’s municipal history and will involve the smallest ratio of public to private funding as well.

In the past, public/private partnerships have involved significant monetary contributions from the City of Piedmont, Coaches Field and the Kennelly Skate park being prime examples of this. When these projects were built, a ratio of one public dollar spent, matched by a private dollar, for two dollars of public benefit was considered a great success. The Blair Park element of the Moraga Canyon Project takes this concept to the next level in that all construction costs will be borne by private contributions.

There has been some criticism of the fact that there have been some public funds expended for staff time during the development process. For those Piedmonters that have concluded that absolutely no public resources should be expended on a public/private partnership, it is a fair criticism. However, as I look at the larger context of this municipal government’s cooperation with its residents, I reach a different conclusion. For two decades, the City of Piedmont has provided a foundation upon which generous, civic minded individuals and groups can work in concert with elected officials and City staff to fund improvements that could not have been successfully completed without such cooperation.

In addition, this project is an example of private citizens and government working together to proactively address the circumstances they face. Members of the community have seen that the arrangements of the past to rent fields in other cities are coming to an end. Rather than wait for a crisis, community members have come together to craft a solution for the next generation of Piedmonters. This is also something of a breath of fresh air, as increasingly government and the private sector start pursuing solutions only when a crisis is already upon them.

Over the years that this project has been in development, the City of Piedmont and all municipalities in California have experienced a material change in financial circumstances. In the past, municipalities have been able to fund significant improvements, candidly, that is no longer possible unless and until financial circumstances improve. This change in circumstance has been the subject of discussion in the community, the Municipal Tax Review Committee, the City Council, and staff.

Consequently, construction and operation of the Blair Park element of the project must not be allowed to have a significant impact on the General Fund. Truthfully, the General Fund is fully utilized and in some case over subscribed. In the coming years, it will rightly be preoccupied with funding the repair and replacement of existing facilities. This fact has added to the intensity of the debate.

It is my opinion that the City of Piedmont cannot participate in funding of the construction of a playfield, nor in any meaningful way contribute to the day to day operations of any field once constructed. With regard to construction, I believe that the cost estimates and the proposed business arrangements between the City and Blair Park, LLC will permit the project to go forward without a financial contribution from the City for construction and with a plan in place to operate the field on a day to day basis. It will also fund the eventual replacement of the artificial turf.

With regard to operating costs, it must be pointed out that even if funds were to be spent by the City for day to day operation at the site, they are not necessarily a net increase in spending over what would occur should the project not be built. In other words, rejection of the project won’t free the City from duties it will face as a landowner in the coming years. As examples, the City expends funds annually to clear weeds in summer and to remove dead or hazardous trees on the property. In the years going forward, the City will have the responsibility to replace the trees along the frontage of Moraga Avenue, and if a sidewalk is ever to be constructed along the frontage, as has been requested many times, this would be done at public expense. The trees along the frontage of Moraga Avenue have, for the most part, reached the end of their lifespan. In addition, these trees have been diagnosed with girdler beetles. If these trees are removed or a program to save them is undertaken, this would involve the expenditure of public funds.

I raise this issue to inject some complexity into a conversation which sometimes has tended to
imply that one decision or the other will free the public from any possible future expenditure on this piece of land. In fact, responsible stewardship of this public land will have some expense whether or not this project goes forward.

I recommend that the Blair Park element of the project be approved and that construction commence only when all funds necessary to complete Phase 1 have been raised. The amount of these funds must meet or exceed the price guaranteed by the contractor, which shall include allowances for all aspects of the project, including traffic mitigation and relocation of private sewer laterals. This recommendation is conditioned on the premise that all costs of construction are borne by PFRO, and that the contractor perform all work for a fixed price. It is further conditioned upon adoption by the City Council of a policy requiring that the anticipated costs of operation and replacement of the artificial turf be funded by user fees or some other mechanism. The conditions of approval and the Site lease are intended to meet this condition. These documents are subject to further refinement as public comment brings to light the most effective way to protect the City from costs associated with this project. To the extent that there are other mechanisms for protecting the City from costs, which may need to be investigated, I am open to the possibility.
Coaches Playfield (Installation of Artificial Turf and Sports Lighting)

The improvements to Coaches Field have always been a public project and were never contemplated to be funded privately. Over the years, monies have been set aside in the Capital Improvement Project to fund sports lighting and artificial turf. Previous City Councils have put money aside in good faith hoping to expand the use of this field. As Mr. Delventhal’s staff report points out, it is likely that to successfully install artificial turf at Coaches, we would need to utilize the same runoff management technology as proposed for the Blair Park element, specifically the use of an underground water storage vault. Clearly, this would be a substantial additional cost as this technology was not contemplated, and would be over and above the cost of artificial turf. More importantly, the funding set aside in the CIP for Coaches Field, ($648,761) should be retained by the City until the current financial uncertainties pass. Piedmont is not in a financial position to use tax dollars to expand sports fields at this time.

Consequently, the Coaches field element of the Moraga Project should be denied.



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