Albany Waterfront Coalition

For Responsible Improvements to the Albany Waterfront District

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The City of Albany recently hired Fern Tiger Associates (FTA), as the consultant to lead the new waterfront-visioning process. As soon as Fern Tiger begins work, all news about the process will appear on this page. Other waterfront-related news will appear on our "News Update" page, as previously. You can find out more about the process on the Waterfront Visioning Process page at the City's own website.


Contents of this page:

26-Jan-09: Community Visioning Sessions to begin end of March
6-Oct-08: Fern Tiger delivers waterfront-visioning status report to Council
14-Jul-08: Fern Tiger progress report to Waterfront Committee
29-Apr-08: AWC review of the Fern Tiger visioning process

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:

Brochure to all Albany households


Visioning website

March 09

Invitations to participate

March thru June 09

Scale model of waterfront mid-March 09
Community Visioning Sessions

end-March thru June 09

FTA analysis of sessions

Summer 09

Community sessions, Part 2

Fall 09

Final Report

November 09

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 waterfront will be available for viewing in the Community Center.  Invitations 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 (p. 23):

  1. the history of conflict on the issue, which has led to a lack of trust in information provided by various parties
  2. the trade-offs that will be necessary between financial considerations and the desire for open space
  3. the reality of whether the land is available for purchase or to convert to public use
  4. 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
  5. regional input (e.g., Sierra Club) versus local input (i.e., Albany residents)
  6. the definition of the waterfront site: consider the entire waterfront, not just the racetrack, and consider alternatives if the racetrack stays.

FTA identified four possible models of community involvement (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 meeting).

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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:

The Site:

  • 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 (landfill)
  • 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 be involved?

Legal Issues:

  • Details regarding the constraints due to Albany's Measure C
  • Constraints due to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) 
  • Restrictions on takings (private property taken for public use through the government's power of eminent domain or condemnation)
  • Details regarding Environment Impact Reports (EIR)

Funding Issues:

  • Economic review of impact of any development on tax revenues to the City and School District
  • 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 within Albany
  • 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 minority report

Next Steps

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 elections.

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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.

Financial Issues

  1. 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 contract anyway.
  2. Only an estimate: Note that the total is still only an estimate and may well be exceeded.

Methodology/Feasibility Issues

  1. 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 process.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 at the 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.
  5. Interrupted revenues for the City: The instruction to FTA to only look at "visions" for replacements to 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.
  6. 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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