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Council Approves Village Development Project Ordinances in 4-1 Vote

Councilman Robert Lieber was the lone dissenting vote against three project approvals. Officials are scheduling a meeting on the Gill Tract for later this month. Click the "Keep me posted" button for email updates about this topic.

A University of California proposal to develop a grocery store and senior housing complex at moved one step closer to completion Monday night. 

The voted 4-1 to approve three ordinances the university needed to move forward with the project. 

The development is proposed to straddle Monroe Street, west of San Pablo Avenue, with a Whole Foods grocery store to the north and a 175-unit senior housing complex to the south.

, who teleconferenced in to the meeting, was the sole dissenting vote. 

The rest of the City Council voted to approve , which were related to municipal zoning codes and the city's development agreement with the university.

The council last week.

Five members of the public spoke in favor of the development plans, while 10 spoke against them, or urged the council to approve a motion by Councilman Lieber to protect the existing agricultural lands with an easement. (Lieber's motion failed due to a lack of support from the rest of the council.)

Some members of the public said the city had failed to listen to or take into account community concerns about the development. 

One speaker, Hinhan-Ska Haney of United Native Americans Inc., said the city should consider turning over the land to the Ohlone people, and urged the council to consider endorsing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as one way to recognize Native American heritage in Albany.

(Lieber later in the meeting directed city staff to bring the declaration back before the council to determine whether it should be considered by the city's Social & Economic Justice Commission.)

Some members of the public continued to express concern about the future of the agricultural fields known as the Gill Tract.

said she and were in the midst of scheduling an open meeting on that topic for later this month, and had invited members of Occupy the Farm, the and to attend. 

Wile said she'd like to work toward the development of a center for urban agriculture on the land.

She said, as of Monday night, she had received no response to the invitation. The meeting format would involve a discussion among city and university officials, along with members of the groups noted above, about the future of the agricultural land. 

Other interested members of the public are welcome to attend to observe the discussion, said Wile. 

Thomsen, in her comments to the council Monday, said the city remains committed to working with the university to come up with a vision for the Gill Tract's future.

She referenced a July 16 letter from the university in which UC officials wrote that they, too, hoped to work with the city "on issues pertaining to the Gill Tract agricultural area."

"We hope community groups will participate as well," Thomsen added.

Gerhard Brostrom, a member of Transition Albany, told the council that the sustainability advocacy group supports Occupy the Farm and the Albany Farm Alliance "insofar as they have opened a discussion" about community agriculture. 

He said he hoped to see community members work together to come up with a shared vision for the land, rather than splinter apart due to divisions. 

"We're happy to see so many people caring about this," he said, during the public comment period.

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

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email at albany@patch.com.

Sharon Bonnifield July 17, 2012 at 06:40 PM
This is awful. Now Albany will have more people and more traffiic and another expensive food store that a lot of people can't afford.
Betsy Thomas July 17, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I think it's great. Finally! Something is actually happening on a plot of land currently producing nothing but weeds. Senior housing? Good. Shops and Whole Foods? Income. Bike crossing across San Pablo? Excellent. Now, if we could only put some AT&T cell phone towers atop one of those structures....
Giok aka Mabel Sie July 17, 2012 at 08:01 PM
we are fairly new in this city I'm beginning to love more and more every day. ( Residents since April 28 2011.) Personally, I'm looking forward to Whole Foods opening its doors. This chain used to carry bulk food I could not find anywhere else: whole dried bananas, for which product I'm absolutely going bananas! Mabel Sie
McGill July 17, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Which bike path option was selected or is that decision still pending?
Zack M. July 17, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Agreed on the bike crossing, however, without proper connections to the rest of Albany's bicycle network, it will be a bike-crossing-to-nowhere.
Michael Barnes July 17, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Betsy, that's a good idea. It is probably a better replacement for the ugly monopole just south of El Cerrito Plaza which hosts Verizon and Metro PCS. I don't think it will help much with AT&T's coverage problem right now, since they already have a site at the plaza. But who knows, it might in the long run.
Michael Barnes July 17, 2012 at 11:28 PM
I've always thought that Whole Foods is expensive, but I don't shop at the one in Berkeley and I've never done a cost comparison. I hear they will have bulk foods (see below) and that they have a lower-cost house brand. If they expect to compete with 99 Ranch for the business of Asian families in the western part of town, they will have to have competitive prices. Does anybody out there shop at a Whole Foods and other supermarkets? How do the prices compare? The real bad news is that with the climate-change induced drought in the mid-west, food prices will go up soon, and are likely to stay high for a long time.
Erika Lockhart July 17, 2012 at 11:55 PM
The nickname many friends have adopted for Whole Foods is "Whole Paycheck". That's along with "Home Despot". Whole Foods has a page on its website that talks about the benefits of locally grown food but, what I don't see is anything that says that it strictly adheres to that practice. I could be Chevron or Goldman Sachs and put up a page about how locally grown food is great and it would be just as relevant. Existing local stores offer local produce and meat. As for retirement housing, I'm all for it. Makes sense for retired folks to be close to amenities. I earlier retired to a remote area but came back to the Bay Area figuring I'd have better health care and emergency services. I'd be interested in hearing more about traffic impact since that is an area that is relatively congested already. I would certainly be glad to avoid future demonstrations and constant news helicopter traffic over my home.
David July 18, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Retirement Housing sounds great. Please call Belmont Village and report back if you think this is an option that might work for you or not. I'm curious to see if 17 Albany residents will live there. The project does not include low or affordable housing. To learn about the impact on traffic congestion, you can still read the EIR. I believe that a judicial challenge must begin within 30 days from July 9th which is when the Council certified the EIR.
Erika Lockhart July 18, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Thanks, David! Bought my own house...don't need retirement housing. Just thinking in general it's a good idea. Am new here...EIR? not familiar with that acronym or where I'd find such a document. Might be interesting to read. I've lived in the Bay Area for the past 30 years, most of that time in San Francisco, and the traffic has gotten steadily worse and worse, despite all the expensive studies! Long and short, Whole Foods is big business. A friend of mine moved to Tennessee to get away from urban sprawl. Within a year or two, he said, "The Mother Ship" (the big McDonald's "M") had sprouted on his freeway exit, along with Borders, Target, etc. With Lucky, Target and Safeway within a mile or so of the site, and with farmer's markets, who needs another grocery store???!!! I'd rather see something like Monterey Market relocate to a place with better parking.
Alan Riffer July 18, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Erika, I do almost all of our produce shopping at Monterey Market or Berkeley Bowl West. They each have signs showing their origin, much of it not local. I imagine it is hard to find locally grown bananas, mangoes or pineapples. Cherries recently in season were from California OR Washington. Shipping is cheap enough that it makes sense (at least to me) to get things from where they are easiest to grow in marketable volumes.
Erika Lockhart July 18, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Alan, you are right...if you are going to go local, you have to pick and choose - even the chain groceries offer some of it lately. But, as far as Whole Foods is concerned, there is already one in El Cerrito, just a couple miles away.
David July 18, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Hi Erika, New to Patch, Albany, or both, welcome! Patch has a lot of the history and documents relating to the project in the articles linked above. EIR is the Environmental Impact Report. Makes for interesting reading, but personally I prefer non-fiction.
Erika Lockhart July 18, 2012 at 01:43 AM
David, Thanks! I hit the "keep me posted" button. Will try to get caught up on things!
Alan Riffer July 18, 2012 at 02:07 AM
David, I have had elderly relatives in assisted living / Alzheimer's care a few years ago, paying more than $4000 a month each. They were in rural Michigan, a much lower wage cost area than the Bay area. He had been a federal civil servant (hardly highly paid), and they lived prudently. Fortunately, they had excellent care because they had saved for it and were able to pay for it. I am not surprised to hear $4700 a month at Belmont. Why are you?
David July 18, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Hi Alan, my guess is that Person-Centered Living® (alzheimer's care,) at Belmont will be much more than the entry level independent living with meals. I'm not surprised at their costs, it seems like they run first class facilities. I just don't think it's an affordable option for most people and wish that there would have been some subsidizing for lower income Albany folks. The aging population problem is a huge, complicated issue. The Belmont model is not the solution to our problems.
Mary Ann Martorana July 18, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Most new senior housing is not affordable for the average senior. It is luxury housing for affluent people with a senior label slapped on it. Senior complexes such as the Carefree model are amazingly luxurious and expensive but they keep a few bare bones units sans the amenities for seniors with housing vouchers and call themselves providers of affordable housing. Maybe this one will also have a few token units. I may be old but I know a boondoggle when I see one.
Mary Ann Martorana July 18, 2012 at 05:11 AM
They are building a Whole Paycheck so the affluent seniors in the new residences won't have to drive anywhere to shop.
MYC July 18, 2012 at 06:17 AM
Kinda bummed on the council members here, actually. Probably could have done something a little more cutting edge that would really benefit the community and not increase CO2 emission. Whole Foods might be decent for a corporation, where one will find the most beautiful women in the bay area, and senior housing has a nice ring to it, but we can be more innovative than Whole Foods and high-end housing. What am I saying, on second thought, I'll take the Whole Foods, as long as we keep the Little League fields.
Ross Stapleton-Gray July 18, 2012 at 03:47 PM
There is no Whole Foods in El Cerrito; closest existing one is on Ashby/Telegraph, more like four miles away. You may be thinking of Trader Joe's. I end up shopping at both, plus Berkeley Bowl... the first for most things, including many organics, the last for their OJ and garlic cheese bread (which will go away soon, as Bread Garden, their supplier, is moving to Pasa Robles) and TJ's for a certain slice of things (organic corn chips, liquor, peanut butter, etc.). A loop to all three (BB East and the University TJ's) is quick and easy.
Kirsten Schwartz July 18, 2012 at 06:57 PM
I was just in the Ashby-Telegraph neighborhood: it's a bit over 4 miles away, but the traffic is onerous. I don't shop there--using Natural Foods and Trader Joe's and Safeway--but if there's one near my old apartment in the Village, I'll walk there for some things. As long as they don't take away Safeway and Trader Joe's, I'm fine with it there.
Michael Barnes July 18, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Ross, So how to the prices compare? And when Whole Foods comes to Albany, will you shop closer to home?
Kirsten Schwartz July 18, 2012 at 07:02 PM
As far as expensive senior housing: I remember when my parents had to find a home for my grandmother; my grandparents' house had been sold and they'd been renting an apartment, but basically once their bank account was used up (Grampa lived with us and then ended his days at the VA in Palo Alto, poor fellow)--once that happened, some government program, Medicare perhaps, paid for the housing. My grandparents had little money to be used up--not like they were going to be missing trips to Maui for the golfing or anything--so it seemed fair. My parents explained to me that that's how seniors could afford to live in any assisted living situation, so I've been assuming the same holds for the senior living complex. That is: if you can't afford it, that doesn't mean you'll automatically be denied. And yeah, they're all expensive. I looked for such housing for my other (really demented, poor thing) grandmother in 1976 in Portland, Oregon: oh my god. But the care required may be why. I remember living with Grampa really well. Picking him up off the floor in the bathroom in the middle of the night after he tried to do it all on his own, the poor guy. So $4,000/month may be high, but our elders are high-maintenance.
Ross Stapleton-Gray July 18, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Prices vary, though WF has lately been putting out store-brand products (365) to compete directly on price (e.g., with the TJ's canned beans). But it's also a question of specific product, e.g., buying Eden Organic at WF, as they're the only (that I've seen) BPA-free liner manufacturer. I likely will shop closer, though the Ashby store is also convenient to other things I go to regularly, and I'm going to be doing a lot more driving down that way with Kye starting HS in Oakland.
Dee July 27, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Let them build a Whole Foods-why would you want to restrict grocery options (for others if not yourself)? It would also be another retirement housing option for baby boomers, maybe not an option for you or you or you, but it will be for others and that's fine by me. Limitation and restriction is not such a productive or positive frame of mind for making things work. Possible pressure for a portion of affordable units? um...Belmont Village resident discount cards for Whole Foods (in addition to the bulk food options).. what else? We can all contribute ideas and energy for solutions. In my experience, when the complainers and kvetchers mind power (whether adult or child) is redirected, they have the smartest and most productive solutions.

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