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Column: Stopping UC Development is Not the Goal for Strollers & Rollers, Carbon Neutral Albany

Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor via email at albany@patch.com.

UC and Whole Foods have issued statements relaying that Whole Foods will not be part of the University Village Mixed Use project. This follows just days after one of the two potential referenda were certified, suggesting Whole Foods’ decision was motivated by that determination.

UC's statement says, "The decision comes in the wake of new lawsuits filed against the city that seek to further delay or cancel the project, as well as the likelihood of a ballot referendum on the development plan that might not be voted on for up to a year."

Stopping the project is the goal of the lawsuit by Eric Larsen and the referendum. It is not the goal of the lawsuit by Albany Strollers & Rollers (AS&R) and Carbon Neutral Albany (C0A). I believe UC’s statement inadvertently lumped the suits and referendum together.  This was likely the result of operating under difficult circumstances, which include UC's project manager, Kevin Hufferd, being on vacation.

The goal of AS&R and C0A's lawsuit is to restore requirements regarding cycling access and on-site renewable power generation.  These requirements existed for three years until they were weakened at UC's request, potentially to the point of elimination, in the last three minutes before the project was approved at about 1 am on July 10th.  This can be seen starting at 5 hours and 14 minutes on the July 9th meeting video available at http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=462(Editor's note: The correct timestamp was updated after initial publication of this post.)

The changes occurred after the close of public comment, so there was no opportunity for public consideration, question or input. The Council only met once, a week later, before the August 20th deadline for legal action, so there was no opportunity to discuss concerns regarding the changes toward a binding outcome without a law suit. AS&R and C0A filed suit on August 17th in order to preserve the possibility of this conversation.

Subsequent to filing the suit, UC, Albany, AS&R and C0A have entered discussion. UC has offered new language that seeks to address all parties' concerns.  The new language fully responds to AS&R and C0A’s concern regarding the cycling facility requirement while still achieving UC’s goal. Progress has been made on language regarding the on-site renewable power generation requirement, suggesting language acceptable to all the parties will be crafted shortly, allowing the suit to settle.

AS&R and C0A look forward to continuing discussion with the City and UC.

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on the Whole Foods project. Learn about the proposed Whole Foods and senior housing development here.

Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor via email at albany@patch.com.

Emilie Raguso September 26, 2012 at 12:10 AM
I do not have a position on the lawsuit, and I hesitate to chime in here because I know this is a very contentious topic. I can, however, personally attest to seeing Strollers & Rollers members at basically every city meeting (dozens if not more) *for years* regarding this topic, and I know AS&R has had separate meetings with the city and other stakeholders about various project-related issues too. Again -- Albany Patch has no position on this lawsuit, but I did want to say that I have seen members of this group participate extensively through the proper channels, and make every effort to stay informed about a plethora of technical issues related to the project.
Brian Parsley September 26, 2012 at 12:42 AM
I would agree with Emilie but that doesn't place them above criticism for their lawsuit. While it may or may not have been their goal to destory the project( we may never know because of the wall of secrecy surround their boards) it certainly appears to be an unintended circumstance. Now that they have started to get some heat from residents and their own membership they are deflecting. "Stopping the project is the goal of the lawsuit by Eric Larsen and the referendum. It is not the goal of the lawsuit by Albany Strollers & Rollers (AS&R) and Carbon Neutral Albany (C0A). I believe UC’s statement inadvertently lumped the suits and referendum together. This was likely the result of operating under difficult circumstances, which include UC's project manager, Kevin Hufferd, being on vacation." So is it Eric Larson's fault for his suit, Keep Albany Local for their referendum, or UC for lumping you in with the others? Here is a idea, take a little responsibilty for your actions rather than that you are a victim of Keven Hufferd's vacation.
Andy Day September 26, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Never doubt that a small group of committed activists can change the world. Failing that, they can deny their neighbors access to organic kale.
Zack M. September 26, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Actually, it was more the chard.
Robert Marshall September 26, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Until he actually wins an election to the board just HOW is that a conflict of interest? The only conflict of interest would be IF he were elected and then the City Council had to have any discussions on his organization's suit. Now that's not saying it's not a smart idea. But a conflict of interest (by the legal definition)? Not so much.
Andy Day September 26, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Word has it that C0A lawyers have a new target in their crosshairs: the proposed minigolf facility. Their suit will demand the fulfillment of an obscure provision of the city's Climate Plan, which stipulates that 75% of any golf course be set aside for organic farming. They'll also go to the wall to ensure that an additional 75% be devoted to a bike path, and a full 37.5% to a carbon-neutral composting facility. But don't call them fanatics - they'll give on the composting, if course operators agree to hire OTF activists to stuff freshly harvested veggies into the trunks of cars stopped at the light at Marin and San Pablo.
rex higginbotham September 26, 2012 at 02:50 AM
I tried to join that golf course. But found a new meaning for roughage or is that ruffage. I thought they were caddies but I was riding a cart. An electric cart. At the 19th hole, we had a few rutabaga beers and hoped Tiger Woods would stop using woods.
Tod Abbott September 26, 2012 at 02:52 AM
I hazard to step into this, but I'm concerned that discussion of all of this is starting to take us down a dark path. I too remember seeing AS&R folks participating at every meeting I attended regarding this development (including the public information sessions the Chamber of Commerce hosted on this project years ago). I don't doubt for a moment that the decision to press this suit was made out of a genuine concern for the interests they represent -- and those are the interests of everyone who bikes or walks in Albany. AS&R have been shrewd and aggressive negotiators through this -- but they were always negotiators and the suggestion that their motivation in this was to stop the project does not bear up under scrutiny. For what it's worth, I have reviewed the issues at stake in the law suit and do not think the suit was necessary or appropriate -- but I don't think for a moment that the motivations for filing included stopping the project. My final two-cents on this is that I think a fuller accounting of how this decision was made may be needed to put this to rest. Until that is provided, innuendo and supposition could drag this on indefinitely.
Eric Bordax September 26, 2012 at 04:30 AM
Like the Carbon Neutral Albany organization, I too am concerned about the addition of dihydrogen monoxide in our water supply. It is great that the Patch is helping the C0A communicate their mission to the public and I fully endorse it.
Bob Outis September 26, 2012 at 04:37 AM
So, Mr. Jordan, when you as the person "authorized by both plaintiffs to direct this litigation" (your words in a court-filed Declaration) directed your legal counsel to sign a petition under penalty of perjury that seeks to "void approval of the Project" and to obtain attorneys fees for doing so, you were just kidding, right? And now that you have disclosed your true intention, may we count on you to direct your counsel to amend the petition to allege the facts on which you now claim to base the petition and to seek the relief that you actually desire. Then if you are up to it, will you please acknowledge to your readers that you are purporting to act on behalf of a corporation that has been suspended by the Secretary of State and therefore has no legal power to act in court or otherwise? Thanks. Bob Outis
Amy Smolens September 26, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Thanks for your well thought out words which are not clouded by emotion, Tod.
Lisa Schneider September 26, 2012 at 05:20 AM
On the one hand, on the other… I’ve seen clear signs on Patch showing Albany S&R’s long and thoughtful participation in the UC/Albany Village mixed-use project. More recently, several weeks ago before everything hit the fan, I asked Nick about the referendum and the S&R suit (he didn’t support the referendum, and the suit seemed to be moving toward productive negotiations, as hoped). On the other hand, I’m not thrilled about any impediments to the mixed-use project, given the City Council’s diligent & Herculean labors representing Albany’s various interests. So what’s a voter to do? While I haven’t yet filled out my voting card, I’m trying to think about which candidates, going forward, could help advance Albany’s projects and civic/commercial life in a rational, constructive way that represents Albany’s voters & interests. In the real world, that also means deciding which candidates understand the negative potential of referendums (especially in the hands of demagogues) in the-post Prop 13 landscape. I’ve ruled out several candidates on these grounds, but I’m still open to Nick’s candidacy.
Al Streit September 26, 2012 at 05:21 AM
We first moved to Albany in 1974. After a 2-year hiatus, we moved back in 1977. Our next door neighbor was a woman in her 70s. Once, in response to my comment on a proposal back then to remove the Santa Fe railroad tracks (which finally happened many years later), she said, "They've been talking about that since the 1920s. NOTHING ever happens in Albany. Albany is where dreams die." Nothing's changed.
Peggy McQuaid September 26, 2012 at 05:56 AM
There is another importance difference between the groups mentioned above by Francesco and AS&R. The above organizations are recognized by the IRS and the State of California. They have bylaws approved by the State, recorded minutes of all meetings, and they file financial information with the appropriate agencies.. You can search for these groups on the Secretary of State web site. AS&R has deliberately chosen not to join these organizations in their accountability.
Ross Stapleton-Gray September 26, 2012 at 06:31 AM
Just to point out the importance of university research, Cal grad students have demonstrated that dihydrogen monoxide can be fixed in crystalline form at low temperatures, in a "bath" of ethyl alcohol and associated moderating fluids. Go science!
Jake Stayman September 26, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Preston, thank you for writing this civil and informative post. It is much appreciated.
Jake Stayman September 26, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Preston, I watched the video from 5:46 to 5:52 and heard nothing about either of these issues. The discussion at that time is something about arts, followed by something about 4 stories (52 vs 58 feet). Nothing about energy use or cycling. Can you confirm the time?
Maureen September 26, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Small Town Politics. Petty tyrantism. Secrets. Dare one say, "Back Room Deals"? Alas, poor Albany.
mc September 26, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I estimate less than 0.5% of Albany residents are, over the long term, actively involved in our local politics. This includes Preston and also supporters of Eric’s position. I don't always have to agree with Preston, but unlike those criticizing him, I respect him for his perseverance and effort. I believe Preston's suit was filed a day or so before Eric’s, not that it is of any consequence as I believe neither party knew of the other's intent. It is a sad state of affairs when people who try for years to work with the city are driven at great emotional, temporal and financial expense to file law suits. These decisions were not made lightly. The law suits were filed as a last resort in response to our city which consistently refuses to follow its own and our state laws. None of these current issues would be occurring had the City simply followed CEQA guidelines. Don’t blame the messengers. If blame is to be placed, it should be placed squarely on the shoulders of some members of the City of Albany’s staff and the City Council who arrogantly pressed forward without sincerely considering all the oral and written concerns about this and other city issues.
MrAgentMan September 26, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I have no opinion on the dispute here. However, free speech is free speech, and does not gain legitimacy through government imprimatur. Peggy's ranking AS&R's speech below other organizations because AS&R lacks IRS "approval" is peculiar. Peggy: The reason for IRS "approval" of organizations is so that the well-off can tax deduct donations! IRS "approval" is not some government project to identify worthwhile speech, a project that somehow got misplaced and put in the IRS instead of being put in a censorship board. When you listen to speech do you really say: Ah, yes, but does this have the stamp of approval of the IRS?
Peggy McQuaid September 27, 2012 at 12:02 AM
MrAgentMan, you are correct that freedom of speech has nothing to do with IRS standing. However, when trying to learn the mission of an organization, how they make decisions, how their money is spent it is helpful to be able to research them through state and federal channels. It is my personal belief that making the effort and spending the money to register with the State of California and becoming a recognized nonprofit corporation increases an organization’s credibility. It does not either increase or decrease their right to freedom of speech, nor does it make their position right or wrong, but it does improve their transparency. BTW, it is not only the “well off” who take tax deductions on donations. I would argue it is many people who are fortunate to be able to support worthy causes.
Lisa Schneider September 27, 2012 at 04:58 AM
About Strollers and Rollers' constructive activity in Albany: I'm grateful for all the good things they've brought about-- safety programs for our kids, bike lights, artful bike racks, and more. See Amy Smolens' recap here: http://albany.patch.com/blog_posts/blog-a-plea-to-asr-and-c0aplease-withdraw-your-lawsuit-now-before-more-damage-is-done I'm looking for city council candidates who have a practical track record of doing good things for Albany. While it's complicated, I think Albany S&R's many contributions count on the "pro" side for Nick Pilch.
MrAgentMan September 27, 2012 at 07:18 AM
Peggy: You say: "It is my personal belief that making the effort and spending the money to register with the State of California and becoming a recognized nonprofit corporation increases an organization’s credibility." That was my point. You judge the credibility from a government insider's perspective. I prefer my city counsel members not to think that way.
Preston Jordan September 27, 2012 at 07:46 AM
Jake, thank you for viewing the video and letting me know the material I indicated was not there. I apologize for not confirming the time location before I sent this piece, resulting in your spending extra time on this. The correct time point is 5 hours and 14 minutes. Again, I apologize for not catching this error. I was relying on the time point from my transcription of that portion of the meeting from the video as it existed just after it was posted in July following the meeting. I have never followed a Council meeting video so closely over the months before, and it did not occur to me that the time points might change. I am curious why this would happen and will seek to gain some perspective from a Community Media Access Committee member some time so I am better informed. Take care and thanks again for your diligence. I will ask Emilie to insert a correction so others might avoid the same occurrence (although the likelihood of that is probably low at this time).
Preston Jordan September 27, 2012 at 08:47 AM
Hello Tod. I appreciate your considered perspective based on your years of involvement in the process as well. Below is an explanation of the decision process. AS&R does not have a board, but rather a core group of the most active members. These are the members that regularly attend AS&R meetings and comment on line and at city meetings, manage events and/or garner grants. There are currently twelve such members. Anybody can become a member if they put in the sweat equity. These members are Angela Armendariz, Tony Caine, Harry Chomsky, Heather Cunningham, myself, Zack Mensinger, Susan Moffat, Sylvia Paull, Nick Pilch, Sherie Reineman, Amy Smolens, and Ken McCroskey Wait. AS&R's decisions generally result from posts to its discussion list, which currently has over 200 members. Like the Council going into closed session though, legal decisions cannot be made in this manner for strategic reasons. Rather discussion was limited to the core group, after which two thirds of the group voted to sue. Carbon Neutral Albany (C0A) does have a Board. This consists of David Arkin, myself, Dan Lieberman, Nick Pilch and Jordan Sampietro. C0A's decisions generally follow discussion on its list, which has about 50 subscribers currently. However, the decision to sue was made by and only after discussion among the Board for the usual strategic reasons. The Board voted unanimously to sue. David Arkin recused himself because of the proximity of his home and office to the site.
don September 27, 2012 at 09:07 PM
as you see albany is turning into a other kind of city now going for law suits we albanians dont like this way of its going this city is starting to look like other citys and will some day be gone the friendly city it once was dont know much of strollers and rollers they should state of there intent in albany as i dont know them or what they do let them speak convince us there worth don
Tatter Salad September 27, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Don, You have failed to notice that WholeFood's 'lawsuits', Occupy the Farm, etc. all have in common the underlying factor of simply being a thorn in the side of the University. In both instances, it is difficult to separate well meaning (but misguided) contributors to any of these issues. There were serious 'urban farmers' that believed that the land was not being legitimately used, and their trespass was 'minor,'; there are also pro-bike riders etc. that legitimately believe that road design in the area was naive as to their interests. The activists (and lawyers) that stepped forward to move things to emergency elections, law suits, etc. were the result of those that could care-less about the interested parties above; they simply look forward to making life difficult for the Big-U. Albany remains a friendly city IMHO; the Council is well meaning but naive regarding the underground attempts to sabotage american capitalism, and institutions that feed that machine (eg. U.C.); the council could take classes in it at the Ruckus Society (Ruckus.org), which is a root cause in all the above IMHO. The Ruckus group also took part in the 'Occupy the Trees' (wasted U.C. money, and needless injuries occurred near the Berkeley Stadium just over a year ago - for imagined childish reasons), and they train the disenfranchised among us regarding 'street performances' (read: riots) that soured the 'Occupy' movement in Oakland.
Albany Great-Grandmother September 28, 2012 at 06:59 AM
Exactly. They sued because they didn't get a ball field, not because they are protecting the environment. They just want their piece of the corporate pie, never mind all of the traffic and pollution it will bring into UC Village.
lubov mazur September 28, 2012 at 04:08 PM
I'm confused. I need a scorecard to keep track of the plaintiff players. Who is who in this sad tale and what parts are they playing? Plaintiff Albany Strollers & Rollers has a governing group no one elected, and doesn’t say who all the board members are. Some seem to be the same as names on the board (who elected them, when?) of Responsible Government Action Group (RGAG), another plaintiff, doing business as Carbon Neutral Albany. I saw the names David Arkin, Preston Jordan, Dan Lieberman, Nick Pilch, and Jordan Sampietro making up RGAG board, but the California Secretary of State's Office where these kinds of organizations are registered shows RGAG as a suspended organization, so RGAG should not be able to take part in any kind of legal action or political activity. Which leaves AS&R the only plaintiff. So what kind of State designation does AS&R have? Then AS&R brings this lawsuit to stop the UC project (if you believe the lawsuit above, p7 about voiding the project) or delay it (to get what, exactly?). Is AS&R asking to have its legal fees paid by the city win, settle, or lose? That doesn't seem right. But it does look like a way to squeeze some money out of the city treasury. I don't like this game.
lubov mazur September 28, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Maureen Back room deals have gone on in Albany Politics for a long time, but this isn't one of those times. This time it was in an open hearing, but it was so late everybody had gone home. That's different.

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