26-Jan-09: Community Visioning Sessions to begin end of March At the 26-Jan-09 Waterfront
Committee meeting, Fern Tiger provided a (draft) timeline for the community's visioning process:
to all Albany households || |
website || |
to participate || |
March thru June 09
model of waterfront || mid-March 09 |
Visioning Sessions || |
end-March thru June 09
|FTA analysis of sessions || |
|Community sessions, Part 2 || |
|Final Report || |
The 16-page brochure
, to be mailed to all Albany
households, will contain historical and technical data regarding the waterfront,
details on the upcoming community visioning sessions, plus a
frequently-asked-questions section. A scale model of the entire
will be available for viewing in the Community Center.
to attend the block-by-block sessions will be mailed out
starting in March.
FTA did not divulge details of the visioning sessions, stating
that they wanted participants to arrive with no preconceived notions of how they
will work. However, they did state that, after a brief introduction, each
2-hour session will be more along the lines of a participatory workshop, working
towards specific goals, rather
than a general discussion.
Special sessions for Albany youth and seniors will be provided,
along with sessions for non-Albany residents and organizations.
The second set of Albany community sessions will begin in the
Fall and will be designed based on the analysis of the first set of sessions.
In response to questions, FTA noted that economic,
environmental, and legal constraints on the waterfront will be worked into the
community sessions to ensure that the final vision would be feasible.
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6-Oct-08: Fern Tiger delivers waterfront-visioning status report to Council
Four months into the waterfront-visioning process, Fern
Tiger of Fern Tiger Associates (FTA) presented a 74-page status report to the
Council. After conducting over 70 in-person interviews, reviewing over 5,000
pages of related documents, and attending Waterfront Committee and Council
meetings, FTA noted the following:
Information provided by interviewees was often inaccurate,
and contradictions abound
(p. 20). An unbiased collection of facts, with
citations, is needed that covers site specifics, legal and land-use issues,
environmental restrictions, fiscal and budgetary issues, and so on (p. 18).
This “information packet”
would be mailed to all residents. Education is a key
factor in going forward.
FTA identified six “hot button” issues
- the history of conflict on the issue, which has led to
a lack of trust in information provided by various parties
- the trade-offs that will be necessary between
financial considerations and the desire for open space
- the reality of whether the land is available for
purchase or to convert to public use
- the capacity and interest of the community-at-large to
engage in a process to define a vision for the waterfront, given what are
described as past bitter experiences
- regional input (e.g., Sierra Club) versus local input
(i.e., Albany residents)
- the definition of the waterfront site: consider the
entire waterfront, not just the racetrack, and consider alternatives if the
FTA identified four possible models of community
(p. 38), and proposes using Model 4, the “block-by-block” approach
(p. 47), to take place between March and May 2009. This would involve dividing
the city into approximately 60 small areas, with residents of each area invited
to two sequential, professionally facilitated meetings (p. 40). Prior to the
first meeting, all residents would receive the “information packet” mentioned
above. The meeting would solicit ideas and opinions that comply with the various
restrictions noted in the information packet and discuss the various trade-offs.
Information gathered from all 60 meetings would then be
synthesized over the summer by FTA and would then by used as a basis to plan the
second set of meetings,
to take place in September 2009.
One possible issue identified by AWC
is that many busy
Albany residents -- working jobs, raising children, and so on – would not have
the time to read and digest the information packet provided by FTA. Reading
this packet, containing information on Measure C, Environmental Impact Reports,
City budgets and financing, land-use and legal issues, and so on, could prove
complex and time-consuming. So, although education has been identified as very
important to the process, many residents may turn up to these meetings without
it. When questioned at the Council meeting about this issue, FTA noted that the
meetings will be professionally facilitated and that a presentation at the
beginning of each 2-hour meeting would cover “key information.”
You can find a PDF version of the entire report
on the City of Albany website (see agenda or minutes of 6-Oct-08 Council
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14-Jul-08: Fern Tiger progress report to Waterfront Committee
Two months into the contract, Fern Tiger,
principal of Fern Tiger Associates (FTA) made the following progress report to
the Waterfront Committee:
They have interviewed over 50 people, including Council members, City staff, Waterfront Committee members, "community leaders," and
various Albany residents who requested interviews. Interviews lasted from one to three hours. They intend to interview more
residents (at no additional cost to the City).
FTA has also had discussions with the local management of Golden Gate
Fields (GGF) and is "making efforts" to meet with the corporate leadership of
Magna Entertainment. They appreciate that major decisions are only made at
the corporate level.
FTA has reviewed all relevant documents and earlier plans
from the City, any existing technical studies that are still relevant, plus flyers and
press coverage from the last election. They have also attended all
relevant Council and Waterfront Committee meetings. They will be
having a booth at the Solano Stroll this September.
From the above activity, and according to the plan and budget,
FTA will now begin to design the visioning process.
Key Issues Identified to Date
Although some interviewees were skeptical about ever having a
truly open process, most interviewees agreed that residents needs to have a lot
of information and data available in order to participate effectively in the
visioning process. Key issues identified to date were:
Clear map, showing ownership and location of all the various parcels
at the waterfront
Weather data for the site (it is often cold and windy)
Environmental constraints, due to soil composition
BCDC and other requirements regarding land use near the shoreline and Codornices creek
Other federal, state, and local restrictions
The financial situation of Magna
Entertainment and its future plans, if any
How much is this a regional issue as distinct from a local
Albany issue? How much should non-Albany residents and organizations
Economic review of impact of any development on tax revenues to the City and
Review of City Budget, its potential revenue surpluses or
shortfalls, in terms the average resident can understand
Impact of any development on existing commercial enterprises
Cost of acquisition of Golden Gate Fields property
Cost of demolition and environmental cleanup of site
Cost to both build and maintain a park, going forward
Potential funding sources
Impacts of Development:
Traffic issues regarding Buchanan and Gilman interchanges,
additional traffic in Albany, air quality, parking, and so on
Liabilities for the City, such as additional police, fire,
and paramedic coverage
FTA was pleased with the progress to date, and identified the
following challenges going forward:
Making the process engaging and productive
How to involve the (estimated) 80% of residents who are "too
busy" with family and other commitments to be able to give time and
thoughtful consideration to a complex issue
Information must be factual (which is not easy when dealing
with budgets and other economic data)
Currently hardened opinions may eventually require both a majority and
Based on the information gathered to date, FTA will now move
forward to design the visioning process and the associated best practices.
The hoped-for outcome will be an "informed consensus" of all involved parties.
The basic plan will be presented to the Waterfront Committee in September for
review. The actual engagement will take place after the November
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29-Apr-08: AWC review of the Fern Tiger visioning process
We see the following items as very problematic. Perhaps some of them will
be resolved during the process.
Spending money we don't have:
The contract with FTA is for an estimated $590,000, of which
approximately $300,000 was already put aside in an earlier budget. However,
the remainder of $290,000 has not been identified. It was "hoped" that the
city-hall renovations might come in under budget so that some of those
monies could be used. (What is the likelihood that the city-hall renovations
will come in under budget?) In other words, there is no defined
source for the outstanding $290,000, but the City is going ahead with the
- Only an estimate: Note that the total is still only an estimate and may well be exceeded.
- No idea of the acreage available for a park: Phase One of the process calls for 50 or more extensive
interviews with "stakeholders," plus a city-wide survey
to gather visions from Albany residents. However, no one knows what percentage of the GGF property would be available for
park, because some
of it must be devoted to commercial development in order to finance the entire purchase and development.
Early guesstimates for the purchase alone (without the substantial development costs) came to $100 million; so the
percentage of the property needed for development to offset this and all other costs could potentially be quite large.
Since a vision for a park of 75 acres would be quite different from a vision for
a park of 20 acres, it is only logical to know up front how large an area we
would be dealing with. However, this is not a stated part of the FTA
- Funds spent on talking instead of expert opinion: Of the $590,000 budget, only $52,000 (mid-point)
is available for
working with consultants and sub-contractors in order to gather a wide range
of economic and environmental analyses. That is, it spends only one-tenth of
the money on consultants — talking to people who know what they are
talking about regarding commercial real estate — and it spends nine-tenths on
yet another "talk festival." We don't need another talk festival: We've already
had at least three of those.
- Process is way too long: It takes a year and a half. If we assume that
Mayor Lieber is right and the racetrack does go away soon, we'd still be
busy grinding through our visioning process.
- Racetrack unlikely to go away: According to the Waterfront Committee wishes, FTA will consider only
"visions" for the waterfront that assume that the Golden Gate Fields (GGF)
racetrack goes away. However, Robert Hartman, manager at Golden Gate Fields, noted that the number of race days
track will almost double in the 08/09 racing season, making the track
more profitable than it already is. He reiterated the company line that
the racetrack is not going away.
- Interrupted revenues for the City: The instruction to FTA to only look at "visions" for replacements
the track — and not to consider anything that can happen with the
track still operating — makes any kind of phased replacement
development impossible. This would be detrimental to the City in
that, with a complete replacement, there will be an interruption of
revenues to the City, perhaps for several years.
- No input from City staff: The recommendation on who the consultant would be was handled by a
waterfront-committee sub-committee, meeting in private, and with no
input from City staff.
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