Jan 14 2012

Opinion: Facts On Blair Park Plan

Resident responds to opinion regarding youth soccer use of Blair Park –

Mr. Landheer has always been civil and open to discussion about the Blair Park controversy.  His recent statement on the PCA website, therefore, seemed uncharacteristic given its litany of provocative and misleading claims.  Consider, as examples, the following claims and facts.

Claim: “If FOMC successfully sues to stop Blair Park, it will deny both Piedmont and Oakland kids the ability to play soccer and other sports…”

Fact: FOMC’s suit, if successful, would cause the City of Piedmont to prepare documentation sufficient to meet the intent of the California Environmental Quality Act.  It would not “deny both Piedmont and Oakland kids” anything. It would, rather, provide them an example of how citizens exercise their rights to equal protection and due process.

Claim: “Without Blair Park, Piedmont sports clubs will have to turn players away.”

Fact:  Fields in Alameda, and elsewhere, will be available to sports clubs willing to pay user charges.  Unlike any other city in the region, if not the state, Piedmont has never charged sports clubs to help pay the cost of maintaining and replacing sports facilities built in public parks at public expense.  Indeed, the battle over Blair Park is essentially over whether the taxpayers of Piedmont should continue to subsidize regional sports clubs.

Claim: “No other city will provide Piedmont youth sports clubs with field space as their own clubs are in dire need as well”

Fact: “Piedmont youth sports clubs” are, as Mr. Landheer tells us, regional organizations with players coming from other cities.  Piedmont tax payers have, despite the regional nature of these private clubs, provided Witter Field, Beach Field, Coaches Field, and Havens Field for these sports clubs to use at no cost.  These facilities have cost millions to build, maintain, and replace. As for other cities providing sports facilities, why would they if Piedmont does so at no cost to the private clubs whose players come from their cities?

Claim: “Of the traffic going to Blair Park, the vast majority will remain in Piedmont, not impacting traffic at the Harbord/Moraga intersection in Oakland or elsewhere”

Fact: Practice and game day trips by hundreds of non-Piedmont members of the sports clubs now start and end outside Piedmont. If Blair Park is built, those trips will travel through Oakland neighborhoods as well as end in, and return from Piedmont neighborhoods.  As important, the congestion caused by PRFO’s intent to “gum up” (those are PRFO words, not mine) traffic on Moraga Avenue will displace trips that now use Moraga to other routes through Piedmont.  Oakland Avenue, above and below Highland, as well as Highland, Blair, Scenic, La Salle, Mountain, and Harbord will all experience increases in traffic during the evening rush hours when private sports clubs “gum up” Moraga.

Claim “The benefits to our environment and sports families of building Blair Park are huge…

Fact: The EIR, as biased and insufficient as its pre-release vetting by PRFO lawyers ensures, still concludes that “the no project alternative is the environmentally superior alternative.”

Claim: “Building Blair Park is privately funded and the maintenance will be paid for by the user groups.”

Fact: There is no mechanism in place, or in hearings, that allows the City of Piedmont to recover a penny from sports clubs. Mr. Landheer also fails to note that taxpayers have already paid, by the city’s own estimates, more than $300,000 in direct costs for Blair Park development. That sum does not include the salary for thousands of hours of staff time committed to processing the proposal.  Staff costs have not been charged to PRFO even though any other developer in Piedmont would have to pay them.

Nor does Mr. Landheer acknowledge that we have no cost estimates for Blair Park construction other than those provided by PRFO. Taxpayers will be responsible for any costs above those estimated by PRFO. The Piedmont Hills undergrounding fiasco tells us such estimates are often wrong.  Leaders of PFRO who live in that undergrounding district now assure us that they would cover costs above their Blair Park estimate.  Really?  Where were they when the undergrounding overruns that benefited them and their neighbors were charged to other Piedmont homeowners?

The question for Mr. Landheer is “Where is the evidence of the clubs’ commitment to paying their fair share of the maintenance and replacement costs not just for Blair Park, but for all the sports facilities they now use in Piedmont without cost to them?”

I understand Mr. Landheer’s disappointment that FOMC filed a suit intended to make the City of Piedmont comply with the law.  I assume he understands my disappointment that the City Council ceded to the sports clubs its authority to design and approve a facility so inappropriate for its surroundings that the City of Piedmont Planning Commission unanimously rejected it.  So now that reality has disappointed all of us, perhaps we should return to civil discourse from which a solution that reflects the full spectrum of opinion in Piedmont might emerge.

Ralph Catalano

Editors note:  The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Piedmont Civic Association.

2 Responses to “Opinion: Facts On Blair Park Plan”

  1. Ralph, I hope you do not read my comments as a personal attack as I enjoyed our discussions about Blair Park in the past and have a great deal of respect for you.

    I previously corrected you on the Patch where you raised some of your erroneous claims above. I had not checked the PCA site until now and see that you are even further misinformed. Let me try to respond, starting with my excerpt from Patch in response to your comment there:

    “Ralph, I am glad you bring up the financing of fields and their turf replacement, as you are misinformed. The Piedmont Youth Soccer Club contributed $50K when turf at Witter fields was first implemented and another $25K to do so at Beach. PSC also pays the city and school district to rent fields. The $30K PSC spends annually to maintain and fix the fields at Alameda Point will be used to maintain Blair Park. In addition, PSC also puts aside close $30K annually in a Field Turf Replacement fund as we understand that it is today’s users who should be paying for the future replacement of our turf fields. Finally, the city and school district is actively working with all user groups to charge a per player of ~$25 for their own turf replacement fund, which all sports clubs support. Is that sufficient evidence?!”

    I have enjoyed our discussions during the various city council hearings and respect your opposition to builidng Blair Park, but am very disappointed you would make the claims that you do with so little understanding of why the sports clubs, their families and so many others support this.

    The Piedmont Youth Soccer Club has ~1100 players of which 20% live in Oakland. 300 of our players will NOT be able to practice at Alameda Point in 2013, so we need Blair Park. 20% of the 300 players (60 players) live in Oakland, many who attend Piedmont schools. They will be able to use Blair Park as well. Based on 5 days a week of practices that is 12 players per day possibly driving to and from the east into Oakland although not all live in that part of Oakland. That is hardly a traffic impact and it does frustrate me that you and others continue when you should know by now that the increase traffic is not an issue.

    As for finding fields elsewhere, I challenge you as I have with others to find us such fields. NO ONE has been able to do so. Show me these fields! What city will provide Piedmont sports clubs with fields when their own clubs and other organizations have the same need?!

    I hope we can all have a civil discourse, but we must state the truth, not make claims we have not verified. Anyone is welcome to check with me at President@piedmontsoccer.org. I welcome responding to anyone who believes my claims are incorrect. They are not.

  2. Mark, I have a suggestion for you to consider. You and I argue over Blair Park because we belong to organizations with much to lose or gain from its construction. Most Piedmonters pay less attention because they believe they have less at stake. I assume that you would agree with me that other Piedmonters should take some interest in the controversy because whether or not the park is built raises issues fundamental to all of us. I suggest that each of us summarize just one of these issues so that Piedmonters can better understand what is at stake.

    I think the central question raised by the Blair Park controversy is how much should Piedmont taxpayers be made to pay for the construction, maintenance, and replacement of sports facilities used not just by the city and school district but by private organizations as well? This controversy has festered at least since the failure, by a 2 to 1 margin, of the 1987 ballot measure for the issuance of bonds to finance the construction of sports fields in Piedmont. Many Piedmonters have objected to the subsequent city policy of raising the municipal parcel tax to build sports fields without the bonds. Havens field alone, for example, cost taxpayers well over a million dollars to build.

    The policy of using general fund resources augmented by the parcel tax has now come home to roost because neither the school district nor the city has set aside funds to replace these facilities. Indeed the city has never charged private sports clubs for maintenance of facilities let alone replacement. The city acknowledges that the user charge that you vaguely describe would not pay for the combined maintenance and replacement costs of existing fields let alone those fields and Blair Park. The Raushenbush Report issued by the school district, moreover, makes clear not only that the district cannot pay the replacement costs of the artificial turf fields it now owns, but also that state law precludes the district’s charging users for replacement. I accept that it is a public responsibility to provide recreation opportunities for our children. I, however, believe that we have a legitimate and wholesome disagreement among Piedmonters as to how much we should be made to pay for those programs particularly when provided by private clubs.

    You report that Piedmont Soccer Club will put aside $30,000 a year for replacement of fields at Blair Park and contribute another $35,000 for their maintenance. These contributions will not cover the costs at Blair if the school district’s estimates for field replacement at Witter ($600,000 a decade) is any indication. Taxpayers will have to contribute about $300,000 for field replacement alone at Blair despite the fact that the project EIR assumes that the clubs will be the primary, if not sole, users of the fields.

    Do you also intend to pay your fair share of the costs of artificial field replacement at Witter, Beach, and Havens as well as natural field replacement at Coaches? If not, taxpayers will have to assume those costs as well.

    The question Blair Park raises for all Piedmonts remains essentially that raised by the failed 1987 bond measure, how much should taxpayers be made to subsidize the private sports clubs?

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