Albany Waterfront Coalition
For Responsible Improvements to the Albany Waterfront District
AWC Review of CAS/CESP/Sierra Club Plan
The original “Albany Shoreline Protection Initiative” was sponsored by the Citizens for the Albany Shoreline (CAS) and supported by Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) and the Sierra Club. However, the Initiative was struck down by Judge Winifred Smith of the Alameda County Superior Court, who ruled that the Initiative proponents did not comply with California state election laws.
However, CAS, CESP, and the Sierra Club continue to support the essential features of the plan (see “List of Proposed Features,” below). The AWC still sees the same flaws with the plan as existed in the Initiative; see below for full details.
Artist’s rendering, taken from an earlier CESP brochure, showing proposed development near the freeway. Not shown: (1) Legally required parking lot for the development; (2) Legally required parking lot for the proposed interpretive center, café, and restroom near the shoreline; (3) Re-routed Cordornices Creek, if the EPA should allow this
List of proposed features:
- Small interpretive center, with small café/restaurant, public restrooms, and parking lot near the shoreline.
- Except for the above, no development to be allowed within 600 feet of the shoreline (Section LU 10.1). This essentially means that approximately 85% of the 102-acre property would be parkland.
- Development only on the remaining 15% of the property near the freeway. This development (undefined in the Plan) is to “at least replace” annual revenues lost to the City and School District by the close of the racetrack (LU 10.4). Earlier CESP brochures and Sierra Club Yodeler bulletins have suggested a hotel, conference center, and parking lot, plus other as-yet-undefined development
- Bay Trail connection.
- Restored wetlands and creeks.
- Recreational facilities for kayaks and other small watercraft.
Plan addresses these AWC goals:
|1. Reclaim the Waterfront for all residents, including the young and the elderly. This must include a fully accessible and well-maintained expanse of park land along the shoreline.||Unclear||1, 2|
|2. Complete the Bay Trail||Yes||1|
|3. Preserve and protect the wetlands as a valuable environmental resource. ||Unclear||1, 3|
|4. Encourage thoughtful development of under-utilized portions of the Golden Gate Fields property that will: |
|4A. Provide an inviting and pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.||Unclear||1, 4|
|4B. Protect Solano Avenue. Any retail development must provide unique shopping opportunities that will complement -- not compete with -- Solano Avenue businesses.||Yes ||1, 5|
|4C. Preserve current tax revenues for the City and Schools. Any plan MUST preserve the present level of funding for the City and Albany schools, without interruption.||Unlikely||1, 6|
|4D. Increase tax revenues for the City and Schools.Our basic city infrastructure is deteriorating, due to insufficient funding. There are numerous unfunded projects. In the face of increasing State and Federal requirements, our schools are struggling to restore lost programs.||No||1, 7|
|4E. Not rely on state funding. Any realistic plan must be self-funding. State and regional agencies indicate that they have no funds for new park projects.||No||1, 8|
|4F. Conform to sustainable design principles, as set forth in the LEED program of the US Green Building Council.||Yes||1, 9|
|4F. Conform to sustainable design principles, as set forth in the LEED program of the US Green Building Council.||Yes||1, 9|
|4G. Recognize the probability that the racetrack will stay in Albany, as the owners repeatedly confirm.||No||1, 10|
|4H. Not require new local taxes on Albany property owners and residents.||No ||1, 11|
|4I. Not include casino gambling. No casino, racino, card room, or other expansion of gambling.||Yes||1, 12|
1. Likelihood of any of the goals being fulfilled: Unlikely. Many of these are worthy goals, but they are very unlikely to be fulfilled. Here is the reason why. The goals are enacted only under the following six conditions:
- Golden Gate Fields leaves Albany, AND
- A new purchaser is willing to pay about $100 million for the land and then turn over 85% of it to the City as parkland, AND
- The new property owner can come up with a development near the freeway to replace $1.5 million in lost tax revenues from the race track, AND
- The City of Albany provides $29-40 million to tear down the racetrack and actually build a park, AND
- The City can find approximately $850,000 a year to maintain a large park, AND
- The City can find approximately $500,000 to $1 million for the various consultants, reports, and city staff time that the Plan requires.
ALL those six things must happen in order to get the park that the Plan promises. Not just some of them, all of them. Each one by itself is very unlikely to happen; for all six to happen would be extremely unlikely.
2. Reclaim the waterfront for all residents: Unclear. The Plan intends the waterfront to be “parkland”. It is not clear if this involves natural vegetation or groomed lawns and paths. The former would not be suitable for families with strollers, the elderly, or those with disabilities.
3. Preserve the wetlands: Unclear. While "restored wetlands" is a stated feature of the plan, the Plan and the earlier CESP brochure seem to imply a re-directed Cordornices Creek around their proposed development, near the freeway. Federal regulations generally prohibit construction on or near wetlands where feasible alternatives exist. Construction on or near both the creek and the wetlands at the mouth of the creek is a possible violation of federal environmental regulations.
4. Provide a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere: Unclear. The proposed development is right next to Freeway I-80, which is very busy all day long. It is not clear howw the development could shield pedestrians from the noise and pollution generated by the freeway.
5. Protect Solano Avenue: Yes. It is a stated goal of CAS, CESP, and the Sierra Club to support development that would not impact Solano Avenue businesses. A recent (October ’06) CESP brochure and the January ’06 Sierra Club Yodeler call for a hotel and conference center. Earlier documents from these organizations also mentioned approximately 110,000 square feet of “office/retail.” We must assume that any retail in the development would not impact the merchants on Solano Avenue.
6. Protect current tax revenues: Unlikely.
CAS, CESP, and the Sierra Club support developing a hotel/conference center, but a study commissioned by the City in 2004 was ambivalent at best about the viability of a hotel in that location. The study suggested that a “limited-service” hotel (e.g., EconoLodge, Days Inn, or Motel 6) would be the only likely viable option in the near term.
In addition, there are no studies available that support the viability of a conference center.
Thus, it is unlikely that the approximately $1.5 million dollars per year from Golden Gate Fields could be replaced. Specific footprints and alignments of buildings, roadways, parking lots, and other facilities are not specified or discussed by the Plan supporters.
In addition, about 85 acres of parkland would be removed from the tax rolls, reducing parcel-tax revenue to the City and School District by $1.5M (06-07).
In addition, the City and School District would lose tax revenues during the minimum 2-3 years that a re-development would take, at a cost to the City of $2-3 million dollars.
7. Increase tax revenues: No. Nowhere in the Plan is there a stated goal of increasing tax revenues to the City.
8. Not rely on State funding: No. The Plan relies on state funding to purchase the land from Magna. Supporters have made references to a “transfer of development rights” as a way for the state to obtain the land, not necessarily making an outright purchase. This is possible in theory; but in this case, it is very unlikely that a $100M property can be traded for approximately 15 acres of land as heavily restricted as the Plan describes. (Plan supporters have not produced a pro forma on such a transaction.) There could even possibly be a negative value on the 15 acres, due to the environmental mitigation issues.
Also, in a letter dated 6-Feb-06, the State Dept. of Parks and Recreation noted that they have no money to purchase, develop, or maintain any property, even if it were donated.
9. Conform to sustainable design principles: Yes. The Plan calls for any new development (except restrooms) to conform to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
10. Recognize the probability that the racetrack will stay in Albany: No. The Intiative assumes that the racetrack will close. However Golden Gate Fields is profitable, and the owners repeatedly state that they are staying. They have also just spent approximately $750,000 on building a new Equine Hospital.
11. Not require new local taxes: No. Under the City’s recently-approved Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), Albany residents will be faced with continual property-tax increases to pay for the currently unfunded $14 million of necessary storm drain, road, sewer, park, and building repairs and upgrades. In addition, upkeep and maintenance of the large park envisioned by the Plan will require further property-tax increases.
12. Not include casino gambling: Yes. The Plan expressly excludes gambling.
- An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be required under state law before adoption of any development plan. In addition, a plan that is intended to be so restrictive of Golden Gate Fields’ use of its property is likely to be even more costly because it is likely to be challenged. The EIR process is estimated to cost the City anywhere from $1 to $1.5 million dollars.
- Increased Traffic: The Initiative requires careful review in this area. Traffic patterns would be determined by the type of development. For example, a shopping center might produce an even flow of traffic throughout the day, while a conference center might produce a large influx of traffic for, say, an 8:30 AM start of a conference, causing major problems during commute traffic. Because the Initiative does not spell out the type of development, it is not possible to estimate traffic issues.
Ten Reasons Why this Initiative Was a BAD DEAL for Albany"
The “Albany Shoreline Protection Initiative” proposed by the “Citizens for the Albany Shoreline” group (CAS) had many serious flaws:1. The initiative takes away your right to vote — up or down — on any proposal to develop the waterfront.
2. The initiative was not feasible
- The initiative proposed a “task force” made up of representatives of the Sierra Club, Citizens for the East Shore Park (CESP), Citizens for the Albany Shoreline (CAS) and “Sustainable Albany,” plus one member appointed by each City Councilperson. With one City Council member publicly supporting the Sierra Club, at least 5 of the 9-member task force would automatically endorse the highly-restrictive plan already outlined in the initiative.
- Citizens would be allowed to vote only on any plan developed by this task force. That is, the taskforce decides what you can vote on, not you!
3. The initiative imposed high costs that would need to be paid for with tax increases.
- The City does not own the property that the initiative seeks to control.
- The plan relies on the race track going away. Golden Gate Fields is profitable, has said repeatedly that it isn’t going anywhere, and has just spent $750,000 on upgrading its Equine Hospital.
- The proposed setback of 500 + 100 ft. creates a strip of land available for development along the I-80 freeway, so close to the protected Codornices Creek that would-be developers are likely to find the strip unsuitable for viable development.
- Will any developer want to build right next to the freeway and act as a “noise buffer” for the park, as the initiative proposes?
- The initiative sponsors refused to reveal who wrote the initiative and do not indicate what research and analysis were used — if any — to develop the provisions in the initiative.
Albany does not have the financing necessary to pay for basic necessities like storm drain and road repairs. Yet the initiative wanted you to pay for:
4. The initiative did not say how its proposed park would be paid for.
- An “economic feasibility study” and a consultant retained to conduct that study, plus City staff time.
- An Environmental Impact Report (EIR), estimated to cost $250,000 – $500,000. (In contrast, the cost of the EIR required for the Caruso proposal will be funded entirely by the property owner.)
5. The initiative did not identify funding for maintenance of a park
- The value of the land is estimated at $80M to $100M.
- The cost to convert the property to a park — restore the wetlands, build the bay trail, add restrooms, build a nature-interpretive center, build a small café with parking lot, etc. — that the initiative calls for is $29M – $42M.
6. The initiative threatened revenues to City and schools; and it guaranteed that funds would be lost during the park-conversion process.
- The cost to taxpayers to maintain a park would be at least $850,000 per year ($10,000 per acre, per year).
- There will be additional operating costs (trash, sewage, electrical, water).
7. The initiative’s two-year moratorium on any development application was intended to kill the pending development proposal.
- Initiative did not add to revenues, just promises to replace existing revenue, which isn’t enough. (see Unfunded City Projects, below)
- Revenue would be lost to the City and School District for several years during any sale, conversion to park, and building the development.
- The proposed conversion of 85% of the property to parkland (assuming GGF abandons this $100 million site) would remove about 85 acres from the tax rolls, reducing parcel-tax revenue to the City and School District by $1.6M (06-07).
8. The wording of the initiative was misleading.
- The City would lose an additional $2M per year in much-needed sales tax revenue that a well-defined, mixed-use development could provide.
9. The initiative prevented meaningful community participation.
- It overstated the size of the Caruso development, which is neither a “mall” nor is it “mega”-sized. The Mall of America is a mega-mall; the Caruso project is a small fraction of that size.
- It referred to “casino gambling” as if an initiative is needed to ban gambling at the waterfront: The California State Constitution expressly prohibits casino gambling anywhere except on Indian land.
- It asserted – without citing any facts -- that the impact of the Caruso proposal on traffic will be “serious and irremediable” but failed to explain why the traffic-related impact of the commercial strip endorsed in the initiative will not be either serious or irremediable.
10. Unfunded City Projects that the Initiative wouldn’t pay for
- The “open community meetings” mentioned in the initiative were meaningless, given the domination of the task force by supporters of the Sierra Club who endorse all the land-use restrictions outlined in the initiative.
- The initiative even set out requirements of the City Council and the City staff.
- The task force, not the City Council or City staff, would select the consultant who would design the “planning process”
- Storm drains and road repair, $12.6M
- Upgrade Veterans’ Building, $6.8M
- Seismic retrofit/upgrade of fire/police building, $3.1M (unfunded balance from Measure F)