New: Re-Elect Albany Environmentalists

By Robert Lieber, Albany City Councilmember
Friday October 29, 2010 - 02:08:00 PM

This election in the City of Albany during these challenging economic times is really about effective governing. That point is obscured by what amounts to a grudge match by the pro-waterfront mall faction (candidates Papalia and O’Keefe) that lost the election last time around to the environmentalists (current incumbents Atkinson and Wile). 

We need a council that works with the business community to attract business and to retain the business we have. The current Council is doing that. There is always more to do, but we need to recognize what is successful. 

We need to 

· maintain property values 

· retain and attract business 

· avoid city layoffs and maintain city functions at the most efficient levels possible 

· protect core functions such as police and fire and our 3 minute response time 

The two incumbents, Marge Atkinson and Joanne Wile, have been working hard to achieve all these things and doing a good job at it. They deserve re-election especially as they began as the shoreline protection candidates and have developed into well rounded government officials with a solid grasp of the issues. 

We also need to heal the community regarding the waterfront and to recognize that there are times we can move forward and there are times to shelter in place. During these hard economic times we have to accept that grand schemes and unrealistic progress are off the table and protecting our resources and assets are the wise course. The incumbents Atkinson and Wile get this and have adopted a healing approach. 

The Waterfront

It is hard to understand what the fuss is in this election without understanding the fight to protect the Albany waterfront. One of the significant things done by this City Council in the past four years has been the Voices to Vision process. In Voices to Vision, the community came together in a city sponsored, comprehensive and interactive study of the waterfront to make its vision for the future of the Albany Waterfront known. 

The community spoke clearly - it wants open space. Approximately 75% of the community wanted open space and wanted about 75% of the land area left for open space. 

Only the small die-hard pro-mall faction disputes this (including Papalia and O’Keefe). But the results of Voices to Vision mirror all the polling that was done in the past ten years the community wants an open waterfront, not the build-out the pro-developers seek. To anyone following the waterfront controversy, the results were not at all surprising. 

Voices to Vision was called for in response to the repeated denial, in face of all evidence, by the pro-developers that the community overwhelmingly supported mostly open space And this is not the spaces between the mall buildings the pro-developers try to sell as open space. Voices to Vision called for participation from the entire community and took the participants through hands on exercises in creating a vision for the waterfront. Almost nobody preferred the track to remain. Participants expressed preferences regarding numerous options for the waterfront, eventually providing an overall vision for the area now occupied by the racetrack (the state park designated areas, including the Bulb, were already settled and not included.) And there are volumes of data in the study to show various configurations to accomplish this vision. 

For now it makes sense for the track to run as a track lacking any other viable use for the facility but as horse racing continues to decline in popularity and in relative revenues to the City, even the track owners and operators acknowledge that the track ultimately will cease to operate. 

That should quiet the issue for Albany but the small band of pro-developers some of whom continue to “misremember” the facts. This is understandable as this is election season. But there are a few facts that should be remembered. Magna and Caruso spent more than three to four million dollars in trying to push through their shoreline mall development, even hiring some of the most high priced fancy political operatives and consultants to produce the votes they wanted. They were stopped by dedicated local environmentalists who were outspent about a hundred to one and who told them from the beginning that Albany wanted open space and parkland on its waterfront. 

The environmentalists were just plain Albany citizens, local Sierra Club members, Citizens for the Albany Shoreline members, local Golden Gate Audubon Society members and all their friends, neighbors and supporters. Despite big outside developer money the issue was clear and the support of the community was also clear. The developer eventually gave up and went back to L. A. after wasting millions. 

But the local pro-developers “misremember” all this and state that the Sierra Club members and their friends were outsiders – simply untrue. I am honored to be a Sierra Club member and am pleased that so many of my Albany friends and neighbors are either actual members or are sympathetic to the goals of the Sierra Club and even more pleased that the vast majority of Albany voters are environmentalist who saw through the false claims and promises of the developers. 

Another recent misrepresentation by the pro-developers should be corrected: they falsely claim that the widely popular Albany Shoreline Protection Initiative was unconstitutional. 

This initiative was so popular that it was qualified for the ballot in short order with a petition signed by about 25% of Albany voters. 

The pro-developers immediately sued to block the voters from having a say. They were terrified to have the matter put before the Albany voters so they filed suit, paid for by the racetrack. What happened was that the court determined that there was a technical flaw in publishing this ballot measure – a flaw shared by many other City of Albany ballot measures which were also published in the West County Times. Despite the fact that the newspaper was widely circulated in Albany, it failed to qualify as a newspaper of general circulation as it was not printed in Alameda County. But this was a ballot measure that would have given Albany voters a chance to voice their position on the waterfront and this is exactly why the pro-developers fought to keep off the ballot. 

The waterfront battle is over for the moment unless these two pro-development candidates (Papalia and O’Keefe) get elected. They will, without a doubt, seek more waterfront development schemes and will start the waterfront war again and tear the city apart again. 

The pro-development faction does not seem to listen. They claim that their dreams of development were thwarted and they actually believe that the voters of Albany want to fill the waterfront with concrete. They are like the climate change deniers, or the people who deny that Obama was born in Hawaii. Facts are not important, their goals are what is important. And they have a grudge match on their minds. They lost to the ragtag environmentalists and they are out to get even. The pro-developers want control of the Albany City Council so they can return to the days of courting developers and locking out the environmental voices that have protected the waterfront. That was what spurred the environmentalists to get more involved in the city council in the recent elections. 

Join me in supporting Marge Atkinson and Joanne Wile as does the Albany Teachers Association, the Sierra Club, Alameda Democratic Party, National Woman's Caucus, State Senator Loni Hancock, Assembly member Nancy Skinner, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, EBMUD Boardmember Andy Katz and former Mayor Robert Cheasty. 

Re-Elect Marge Atkinson and Joanne Wile to the Albany City Council.