Letters for the Week of July 6

Readers sound off on Blair Park, libraries, and the El Cerrito Performing Arts Center.

“The Blair Park Project,” News, 6/22

Development Doublespeak

Some of the “facts” in the article are not correct. The proponents’ current plan is not smaller than the original; in fact it is larger, because the upper parking lot is bigger. It does not have “one field instead of three”; there never were three, and they just rounded the corners of the smaller field and are calling it “the grassy glade.” It would still be used for practice, but they think calling it a glade makes the whole project smaller. How Orwellian. It cuts into the hillside just as much as the original plan, so it is not smaller. The environmental impact report that was wrongly approved simply glossed over dealing with the utilities. The article says the plan calls for “rerouting sewer lines in the hillside”; it does not talk about the sewer main that would have to be relocated somewhere in the hillside behind the retaining walls, nor the twenty-inch water main, nor about the storm drain, nor the gas lines, all of which mean more digging into the hill. It doesn’t talk about the other digging: The design of the walls calls for fifty-foot “tie-backs,” which means digging fifty feet into the hillside behind the retaining walls to install the tie-backs in multiple places (which would end up going beyond some peoples’ property lines). The boring into the hillside that is required by this type of retaining wall, combined with the long list (above) of utilities that would need to be relocated by digging into the hillside behind the retaining wall, is serious land destabilization. And yet, the details about the utilities and how much digging would be required to relocate them did not come to light until after the environmental impact report was approved!

The Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization and Piedmont City Council (except Garret Keating) are promoting a very dangerous plan. People who think they are in favor of this project need to take a serious look at what the real issues are, the ones the Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization and most of the council have glossed over and tried to suppress, the ones raised by the planning commission in its unanimous rejection of this project. They just might change their minds.

Susan Kahn, Oakland

Leave It to the Planners

This is what happens when the Piedmont City Council allows the cocktail party set to do town planning — no traffic plan, a poor environmental impact report, a project whose design changes at every meeting, no due diligence, no costing, environmentally destructive, too expensive, unsafe, and perilous to the 25 homes above Blair Park. If you had $6.5 million to donate, would you use it to build a forty-foot wall and two plastic fields? This is an example of what not to do.

Lynn Dee, Piedmont


Excellent article. It is about time that this massive (and inappropriate for its site) proposal by ELS architects and the Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization begins to get the regional attention it deserves. It is hypocritical for us to tell the Brazilians and the Africans not to cut down trees in the Amazon forests and the Serengeti but then go ahead and destroy nature in our own backyard and replace it with synthetic turf while there is so much dilapidated, broken concrete and asphalted land around us that can be revitalized by the likes of this project.

When it comes to environmental issues, it is mind-boggling to see so many wise men be so wrong, not to mention that you can probably get three times the field space for the money if you did not have to move tons of earth, excavating and building massive retaining walls to contain the hillside that is located very near to a known fault line. There is a good reason (actually more than five good reasons) why more than a thousand people signed a petition to oppose this destructive and unsafe project.

Sinan Sabuncuoglu, Piedmont

The Triple Threat

The Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization and the underwriters of the Blair Park “gift” are the perfect triple threat: personal wealth aided by political influence, and emboldened by a brazen sense of entitlement. It’s their plan or no plan, with no regard for how their plan impacts the community. Yes, kids need more space to play sports. But this issue does not trump all the reasons why the current plans (at least as much as we know of them) are inappropriate for Moraga Canyon.

Karen Cutler, Piedmont

Return to the Record

Piedmont is a small town with a very strict set of design principles. If a resident wants to change out an old window or build a new fence, the project receives intense scrutiny. However, if a wealthy subset of residents decides to build a forty-foot-high concrete retaining wall along a major artery, creating myriad traffic, safety, and risk concerns, the city council majority seems to be only too happy to approve it. Anyone wondering about the appropriateness of this project need only watch the video of the planning commission meeting on this topic — in which the commissioners voted unanimously to reject the project in its entirety. Here you will see the architects and engineers who serve on this body describe in excruciating detail all the fatal flaws in this project. As one commissioner says, “I don’t know where to begin.” But then she does begin, and when she is finished you will be left wondering how any elected official could in good conscience approve this project.

David La Piana, Piedmont

Keep Piedmont Green

Those in favor of developing Blair Park are ignoring the opposition’s sensible arguments against it. The Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization bulldozes through, giving lip service to the opposition but effectively turning a deaf ear.

I predict that, though the Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization promises the plan will be financed, the residents will be dunned into the distant future for unforeseen costs to maintain it.

And the earthquake that is overdue? The planned sky-high monolithic wall with complicated drainage and the residents’ own backyards above it face destruction even with the ordinary passage of time; our changing weather and a severe earthquake will have an impact even the proponents will regret.

Developing this park is not the right thing to do. Does Piedmont want to become Anytown, USA — a community of generic trees, more pavement, and no imagination? Leave some little space in lovely old Piedmont for the birds and animals.

Emily Jurs Sparks, Oakland

Think About the Future

The “study” of the traffic was completely superficial — a day or two to count cars and then claim that those counts represented normal. No consideration at all was made for impacts around the area as drivers go through neighborhoods to avoid Moraga.

Comments about the abundance of wildlife, even lists of species that live or travel through the park, were just ignored. Why? Because those conducting the environmental impact report study went out one day and considered only what they could see. Birds were counted only if seen nesting. Mammals were counted only if they were visible at the right moment.

Issues about the safety of the children have been ignored. So long as the proponents repeat, “it’s for the children,” all is okay, even if a child or two gets hit by a car. And what is “best for the children”? Only organized team sports, apparently. Neither the proponents nor the city of Piedmont place any value on any activities (or lack of activities) children enjoy in undeveloped settings.

And those 155 mature trees? The proponents will pay to put little stick-size trees somewhere else! Funny, but while I have seen many children climb mature trees and play in them, I have never seen a child enjoy a stick tree.

This whole project is a tragedy in the making. The proponents will be cursed by future generations.

Jon Adams, Oakland

Marie Antionette on Moraga Avenue

Anyone familiar with Moraga Canyon and Blair Park can readily determine that the proposed sports complex is totally inappropriate for the site. How did it get this far through the approval process? I believe it is because many Piedmont residents have little understanding or familiarity with that corner of the city, and do not appreciate the magnitude of the earth that would need to be moved and the retaining walls that would be required to shoe-horn this large project into a small space. Several less costly and more reasonable alternatives have been proposed, but the city has failed to give them serious discussion or consideration. The fact that the Piedmont Recreational facilities Organization is unwilling to consider financing anything other than their ill-conceived design gives the impression that they think their money trumps the legitimate concerns of the Piedmont Planning Commission, the adjacent (mostly Oakland) neighborhoods, and the greater good. As a resident who will be impacted by this project, I can only characterize the Piedmont attitude as, “Let them eat cake.”

Jere Johnson, Oakland

A Cautionary Tale Across the Bay

We support the efforts to keep Moraga Park a natural, tree-filled park. Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is also being threatened by this kind of project. We support youth soccer, but Golden Gate Park is the wrong place for this kind of project. There are many similarities between the projects.

The proposed Golden Gate Park Beach Chalet soccer complex will take a natural, living grass practice field and transform it into an artificial, urban soccer complex. It will remove more than seven acres of living grass and replace it with seven acres of artificial turf. It will install ten banks of sixty-foot-tall stadium lights right next to a native plant area and a few hundred yards from Ocean Beach. These lights will tower over the trees that separate the park from the beach — the lights will be on from sunset until 10 p.m. every night of the year. The project will further expand the amount of paving in the park and add parking, and yet San Francisco is supposed to be a transit-first city. More than 58 trees will be cut down and more will be impacted by the construction and loss of topsoil. In short, the complex will destroy the historic, naturalistic beauty of Golden Gate Park’s western end.

We believe that San Francisco can provide good playing fields for our kids by renovating the fields with living grass and using the remainder of the funding for this expensive project ($12 million!) to upgrade other fields and playgrounds. As in Piedmont, artificial turf fields should be installed only in areas that are not prime parkland or are already asphalt or other hard surfaces.

On February 23, we held the environmental impact report scoping hearing for this project. Testimony was ten-to-one against the Beach Chalet project and included concerns about the possible toxics as well as other issues. Parkland and habitat are very precious, and they should be valued for the long-term benefits they provide for adults and children alike.

Katherine Howard, San FranciscoMember, Steering Committees, SF Ocean Edge and Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance

Your Move, Oakland

Moraga Avenue is the main thoroughfare that connects the Piedmont Avenue and Rockridge neighborhoods to Montclair. A sports complex disfiguring this beautiful canyon would create a traffic nightmare. There must be some sort of action that the city of Oakland can take to block or at least delay the project.

Tom Nigman, Oakland

It’s Not Too Late to Stop It

According to Geoff Grote, $65,000 is now needed for environmental and legal studies regarding a traffic plan for the project. Early on in the process, several individuals requested — even pleaded — with the city council to conduct a thorough traffic study for Moraga Avenue to ensure a viable project before embarking on a premature environmental impact study. Instead, the city council chose to move ahead and conduct a low-ball traffic study concurrent with the EIR, which turned out to be inadequate and now will most assuredly require a supplemental EIR. Because the project was pushed through without adequate groundwork, it is now costing the proponents countless additional funds that could have been avoided. It was a shame to waste the money of the Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization and Mr. Ellis in such a manner.

It still stands that the Blair Park project was a good idea in a bad place with inadequate foresight and unsure financing. It’s never too late to stop the endless bleeding.

Joannie Semitekol, Piedmont


I’ve followed the progress of this project closely. I live above Montclair and the idea of having one of the major escape routes from the hills compromised by what could easily become an impassible bottleneck along Moraga is appalling. Add to that the obviously inadequate parking. At Shepherd Canyon Park, young soccer players and their parents have to walk along a blind curve down a steep hill to get to the overflow parking beside (and often encroaching on) our main residential access route. Having negotiated that disaster waiting to happen for nearly two decades, Piedmonters need not travel far to see and experience the kind of hazardous situation the project would create.

Carol Northrop, Oakland

Who’ll Be Left Holding the Bag?

The cavalier attitude of the Piedmont City Council and the members and supporters of the Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization toward the environmental, safety, and aesthetic concerns is beyond infuriating. Instead of being blinded by visions of free facilities, the citizens of Piedmont had better start demanding to know just how much this boondoggle will cost them. At present, there is enough money to fund the first phase, which will destroy the canyon. At that point, Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization plans to start fundraising for the rest to fund the construction? What if they don’t? Do we really trust them to come up with the other 80 percent or more with cost overruns? Exactly how will Piedmonters be protected? What about the city’s exposure to liability from damage to the homes above the project? Damage during construction aside, in the case of an earthquake or slide or water and sewer issues, Piedmonters will be held totally responsible, as the cuts into the hillside have materially changed the land and soil beneath the homes. How will those millions be paid? No one to my knowledge has actually calculated what it will cost for maintenance and how that will affect assessments and taxes. You can bet the “wealthy donors” will stand to make a sizable profit on the construction and will leave the rest of Piedmonters holding the bag in perpetuity. To expose the community to such financial harm without due diligence borders on malfeasance on the part of all officials, except the members of the planning commission.

Barb Roberts, Oakland

Bought and Sold

The Piedmont City Council is for sale? Used to be that the community’s interests trumped those of a few with big pocketbooks.

Miriam Beames, Pacific Grove

“Shiny Buildings, Shady Dealings,” Feature, 6/22

Everyone Benefits From Building

Let’s talk about how the state-of-the-art El Cerrito Performing Arts Center has already benefited both the high school music program and the community through several fund-raising events held there. Don’t tell me we’re the only school district who has had to cut arts programs because of underfunding from the state! We have a six hundred-seat theater that can draw in the numbers needed for effective fund-raising. We had a full house for a recent jazz program concert with members from Tower of Power. Outside users such as Berkeley West Edge Opera provide more fundraising opportunities and expertise. Growth and improvement of the high school theater arts program is also in the works. It will take time, but will definitely pay off! As for the perception that El Cerrito was privileged to earn such a structure — look again at the population which the high school serves, approximately 61 percent of which is low-income. Come look at the diversity of our excellent dance program, which uses our theater. Also, please note all the other improvements across the district which the bonds fund, such as the new theater at De Anza High School in El Sobrante. New athletic fields are going up where they’re needed across the district. Seems to me that the same people who vote for school bond measures also vote for school parcel taxes — it is the two-thirds majority requirement that is the culprit. The majority of homeowners know that improving both the facilities and school programs in their neighborhood will only raise their home value and provide safe schools for the children, especially in our earthquake-ridden area.

Lauren Childs, El Cerrito

“Oakland Library Closures,” Editorial Cartoon, 6/22

The British Solution

My letter to Ms. Quan and Company:

Dear Mayor Quan:

I could fill two to three pages with reasons why libraries should not be taken away from the public, especially for children and people who do not have access to the Internet, but here’s one suggestion that would generate quite a lot of money.

I am in England as often as I can afford, and always grumbling about having to pay 50 pence for DVDs and CDs, but at least the libraries stay open! How about charging $1 for DVD rental (certainly cheaper than most video stores) and, say, fifty cents for CDs, half that for children? People would not like it very much to begin with but would quickly become used to it and grateful they still have their libraries! You might try in some manner, soliciting more suggestions from those of us who would surely be “victims” if this should come to be.

Marjorie Sutler-Collins, Oakland


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