Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items about the election. Don't forget to mark your calendar for two forums in October to help you meet the candidates. See our full Abany 2012 Election Guide here. Have more questions? Comment on individual candidate profiles to ask for more information.
Question 1: With the failure of the Whole Foods project, Albany Little League could lose their fields. What will you do if that happens?
ULAN MCKNIGHT (PATCH PROFILE)
I will negotiate with UC for permanent ball fields. One of the reason I am opposed to the current development deal is specifically because it does not ensure long-term fields. Little League is only granted fields for 10 years. This is unacceptable to me.
Albany has the power to approve or deny UC's requests for zoning variances. I will not approve any zoning variances that do not guarantee long-term ball fields for Albany Little League.
SHERI SPELLWOMAN (PATCH PROFILE)
I will work to preserve Albany Little League fields permanently. Albany Little League is an extremely important and popular youth program that has been part of our community for over 50 years. It involves hundreds of Albany families, including girls and boys. As a parent, an athlete and a yoga teacher for kids I strongly support athletic activities of all kinds for youth. Sports’ activities, including ALL, provide an opportunity for kids to improve their health, coordination, self-esteem, commitment, confidence, perseverance, sportsmanship and teamwork that will benefit them throughout their lives. The friendships made between players (and between families) are also invaluable. Some of these athletes will go on to use their skills to secure scholarships and/or future professions.
The UC Mixed-Use (Formerly Whole Foods) Development Project Agreement did not guarantee permanent status for our ball fields. I will insist that any new development agreement include a guarantee to protect/preserve Albany Little League fields permanently.
PETER MAASS (PATCH PROFILE)
The “Whole Foods” project seems to be currently “on hold”. With the loss of the anchor tenant, Whole Foods, and an uncertain outcome of the upcoming Referendum and the lawsuits, UC and the developers have stopped work on the project. Hopefully this is a temporary development and a new super market can be found to replace Whole Foods. If the Little League were to lose use of the fields, I would work with the Cities of Albany, Berkeley and El Cerrito, the East Bay Regional Park District and other relevant agencies to find acceptable alternatives for Little League Baseball.
PEGGY THOMSEN (PATCH PROFILE)
I will continue to work with the university and Albany Little League to ensure youth have uninterrupted fields in the future.
NICK PILCH (PATCH PROFILE)
Whole Foods has decided to terminate their contract. However, UC has expressed their continued support of the project with a new grocery tenant. The Development Agreement includes a provision to protect the fields in their current location for 10 years and for UC to pay for their being moved, if UC wanted to move them. What puts the fields in jeopardy is the referendum to put the Development Agreement up to a vote. The result of the referendum being certified is that the City Council must decide to either rescind the Development Agreement or put the Development Agreement up to a vote. Unless the City decides to put the Development Agreement up for a vote and the vote passes, the agreement will not be in force and the Albany LIttle League (ALL) will have the same status it always has - to rely on the good graces of UC to continue to provide the fields.
If UC decided to remove the fields from its property, I would put whatever pressure I have to bear on UC to prevent that from happening. But, in any event, if elected, right away I would seek to understand in depth why, after so many years, the Little League fields at the Tom Bates Sports Complex have not been built. I would seek to move that project forward so that ALL can have some expansion and breathing room. I have asked for a meeting with ALL to understand the issues with that project, whether I am elected or not.
MICHAEL BARNES (PATCH PROFILE)
Background: As part of the UC mixed-use project development agreement, Albany Little League was guaranteed at least 10 more years at the ball field in UC Village, and the promise that UC would pay for the fields’ relocation if necessary. That guarantee is worth perhaps millions of dollars.
The development agreement was challenged by a referendum process. This referendum was sponsored by groups supportive of Occupy the Farm (OTF), the illegal trespass on the Gill Tract. If the development agreement does not survive the OTF referendum, than the ball field agreement is also negated.
Whether or not I am elected to the council, I am gearing up for another election in the spring. I think the odds are very good that the Albany City Council will decide to hold a special election on the OTF referendum then. It is also very likely that the OTF referendum will be defeated and that the development agreement will go forward.
There is little point in my speculating what will happen if the OTF referendum succeeds, since I intend to make sure that it doesn’t. I’m more interested in starting to plan the campaign to defeat it.
TOD ABBOTT (PATCH PROFILE)
First off, I would say that I don’t think Little League will lose their fields any time soon. At this point, the UC Village development project is going forward, pending the outcome of a couple of lawsuits and the referendum. I believe the suits will be settled and the referendum will fail. It is also not entirely clear to me the extent to which the commitment to Albany Little League is dependent on the development agreement. In either case, however, I don’t think that UC is looking for an excuse to get rid of the Little League fields or that it has plans to do so in the next several years.
That said, should the development project eventually fall through, I would approach UC and ask about their plans for the fields. Any change is likely to be measured in years so I believe we would have enough time to find a new home and support for the fields.
Question 2: Albany Little League gave money, along with girls softball and soccer, for the Gilman Street sports fields. Baseball still doesn't have a field after 10 years, but money was taken from the fund to build the non-existent-burrowing-owl fence. Do you feel this was fair; what would you do to rectify it if you thought it wasn't fair?
I do not think it is fair. I will work with all interested parties to resolve this issue.
This does not sound fair. I am not familiar with all of the details of this particular set of circumstances. If elected to City Council I will gather all the facts, listen to all sides of the situation and help find a fair solution. I will also work to make sure that all of the youth athletic programs have the facilities they need.
Without being versed on the particular details of the original field agreement, it would be presumptuous of me to comment on the “fairness” of this situation. I think this question does demonstrate that field space for youth sports is at a premium. If or when Golden Gate Fields decides to shut down, and if at that time some of the space is able to transform into Public park/open space (as well as enough Commercial development to cover the revenues currently received by the City and the schools), then I would favor additional ball fields being built to cover baseball, softball, soccer and other sports.
I don't know about the negotiations relating to the switch of the sports fields to Gilman Street and the burrowing owl habitat to the Albany plateau. I do know that Albany Little League, girls' softball, and soccer representatives lobbied the state for years to get the fields for youth, and there needs to be a baseball field at Gilman Street. The Sports Authority JPA Board, of which I am a member, is continuing to seek funds for the baseball field.
I do not yet know enough about the project to say if it was fair. My understanding is that, in order to build fields in the location where they are currently, compromised burrowing owl habitat would have to be re-created elsewhere. This is why the burrowing owl habitat exists at the bulb. I think one unfair part at is that the Little League still does not have fields at the Tom Bates Sports Complex.
I think there should be a ball field for little league and girls softball at the Gilman Street facility. I was not a part of the decision-making process many years ago, so I can’t characterize it as fair or not, I just don’t know enough about what transpired.
My point is that I am interest in moving forward, not looking back. Money is tight, but the priority for Gilman Street should be a ball field, and if I am elected to the council, I’ll work with other supporters to identify funding.
As for the non-existent-burrowing-owl fence, and the non-existent burrowing owl habitat, I think the owls themselves have spoken volumes about the wisdom of that project. They voted with their feet. Or was it their wings?
First off, having spent many hours with my daughter’s softball teams at the Gilman field, I can report that it is not an ideal location for baseball/softball fields. The wind is unrelenting and strong enough to be a problem for both players and fans. They have now added wind screening to the field, but I’m skeptical it will help more than the infield.
However, if it is possible to install wind screens that would be adequate to the task, I believe there is still room for another field, and that would be my first choice for rectifying the situation (especially if it could include some improvement for the parking situation).
An argument about something being “unfair” doesn’t get very far these days. Because ABGSL does use the field extensively, it could be argued that Little League benefits by pressure being removed on other fields in the area. In order to pursue the issue, I would work to bring ALL and ABGSL together to advocate for a new field. The programs are growing, and more fields will be needed. Each new field, even if reserved for a specific league, helps by adding more to the pool.
Question 3: Albany has a sales tax measure on the ballot to cover a $160,000 deficit projected in two years time. On the other hand, if there had been no $600,000 Voices to Vision survey, no fence for the burrowing owl, and no lawsuit related to the University Village mixed-use project, then we wouldn't need that tax. If the tax fails, were those things worth it if it leads to the layoff of police and firefighters?
The projected deficit is less than 1% of our budget.
Sales taxes are regressive. It is hard enough for low-income people to live in Albany as it is. I am against making life here even more difficult.
The sales tax increase may do more harm than good. If businesses transact 6% fewer taxable sales because of it, we will actually lose money. The projected increase in revenue assumes sales will stay the same. Sales could go down once it becomes clear that Albany has the highest sales tax in all of Alameda County.
I believe we can "innovate" our way our of this projected budget shortfall. We receive the vast majority of our revenue from housing taxes and business fees. Housing sales in Albany have increased every year for the last 15 years. Albany is an extremely desirable place to live because of our schools, safe streets and small businesses. I want to promote our local talent and believe we can generate far more revenue by keeping Albany small and local than we can from a sales tax.
It is ALWAYS a good thing to know what people in Albany want. Always. Was Voices to Vision worth it? I think the findings are critical and I agree with them. The price seems high, but i like the outcome. Yes, I think it was worth the excersize and expense.
The fact that we have a deficit is due to the decline in real estate values, or bursting of the housing bubble, not any one lawsuit, fence or community visioning project. The good news is that our projected deficit is less than 1% of our annual budget. Economic indicators are slowly improving and expected to continue in a positive direction. Even if our sales tax fails, I will not support the layoff of police or firefighters. Essential services and public safety are of critical importance to our city and there are other ways to tighten our belts if necessary. We must work together to find creative solutions that build community and promote sustainability. I believe the keys to a healthy future for Albany are to be environmentally responsible, support our low-income families, strengthen our schools, improve public health and promote local businesses to create a community-based economy. For more information about my ideas, please visit my website: spellwomanforalbany.org.
Singling out the Voices to Vision process, and the fence for the burrowing owl (which was an environmental mitigation agreed upon for the construction of the fields at the end of Gilman Street in Berkeley) seems a bit myopic. During this period of time, the City of Albany also spent millions more then the original estimate on City Hall upgrades. Funds are spent both wisely and unwisely by both public and private organizations all the time. It is the responsibility of policy makers to review the best available data and then make decisions so that the tax payer’s money is spent wisely. Emergency services should be the number one priority of any municipality.
The expenditures were previously made; now we have to look forward. While we like to think of Albany as a small town, in truth we are part of an urban corridor where those bent on criminal activity do not stop at the city's boundaries so we need a full complement of police and fire. I hope citizens agree.
It's impossible to predict what would have happened in various scenarios. The money may have been spent in other ways. We might have been in the same situation had none of these other projects been funded, or these events taken place. The economic downturn, and state of California budget crisis has hit many cities hard. 26 cities in California have sales tax measures on their ballots for November.
I’ve already addressed Measure F here, and I have urged Albany voters to support it: http://albany.patch.com/blog_posts/a-taxing-proposal
As I mentioned in the linked article above, I think Voices to Vision was a terrible waste of money. It cost more than $600,000, about the same amount as the additional tax revenue from one year of measure F. Only 100 Albany residents completed the whole process. That’s one percent of the registered voters, at a cost of $6,000 per person. Roughly 600 people completed some aspect of the process. Using that higher figure, the cost was roughly $1,000 for each resident who participated in ANY way.
But regardless of Voices to Vision, we need Measure F, which will sunset after eight years and bring in $600,000 annually until then. By that time, I hope Albany will have allowed some smart growth to help stabilize our tax base. We could start by making progress on the UC mixed-use project and the Solano Safeway upgrade.
But even with Measure F, there will be several rough years ahead. Without it, the city’s budget picture will be very ugly. The city is currently running with eight unfilled staff positions, including unfilled police and fire positions. That picture will get much worse without Measure F.
While I don’t think the Voices to Vision process gave us what we hoped, I also don’t think its impact on our budget situation today is significant. While the years in which we were paying for Voices to Vision would have had more money, it would likely make little difference today.
If the burrowing owl habitat had not been built, it’s likely that money would have been spent on the Gilman fields, so that, too, would likely not have significant impact on the current budget. Further, while it looks like the effort failed, I do not oppose the effort to replace the habitat the owls lost because of the sports center.
The lawsuits are taking many hours from our strained city staff, but I don’t know how much actual budget cost this represents. The referendum will likely have a direct cost to the city -- I’ve heard estimates of $60,000 to $80,000 for a special election. I certainly don't think that is worth it.
Finally I would say that the expenditures listed were the product of the democratic process. I don't have to agree with them to recognize that they were legitimate decisions made by the sitting council.
Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items about the election. Don't forget to mark your calendar for two forums in October to help you meet the candidates. See our full Albany 2012 Election Guide here.