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UC Plan for Sprouts Market, Senior Housing Wins Key Vote

After nearly two hours of public comment, largely from opponents, a major UC Berkeley-sponsored plan for a Sprouts Farmers Market and senior housing in Albany won key approvals from the city's planning commission Wednesday night.

About 75 people packed the Dec. 11, 2013 meeting of the Albany planning commission before it voted 4-0 in favor of UC plan for a Sprouts Farmers Market and senior housing next to UC Village. Photo credit: Charles Burress
About 75 people packed the Dec. 11, 2013 meeting of the Albany planning commission before it voted 4-0 in favor of UC plan for a Sprouts Farmers Market and senior housing next to UC Village. Photo credit: Charles Burress
Despite a last-minute turn-out by East Bay urban farming advocates opposed to the project, a long-debated UC-sponsored plan for a Sprouts Farmers Market and senior housing project next to University Village in Albany easily won a key victory Wednesday night from the Albany Planning & Zoning Commission.

The commission's 4-0 vote approved the tentative parcel maps and design review for the proposal, which began six years ago when the university submitted an application to the city for commercial development of UC-owned land at San Pablo Avenue and Monroe Street next to the University Village student-housing complex.

The vote came after nearly two hours of public comment by 45 speakers, most of whom opposed the plan, saying that Sprouts represents unhealthy industrial agriculture and corporate greed and that the currently vacant land should be used instead for urban farming and agricultural education.

Supporters said the project has been intensively reviewed, debated and ultimately embraced by the majority of the community and that it's time for it be approved.

An environmental impact report on UC commercial development of the site received City Council approval in July 2012. The plan at that time did not include Sprouts. Whole Foods had been the chosen anchor, but it pulled out in September last year following long delays and legal challenges.

The meeting room – the City Council chamber at City Hall – was filled with about 75 people, with others milling in the hallway.

The large opposition turn-out didn't seem to sway the commission discussion or thinking on the project.

When the comments were finished, commissioner Doug Donaldson said the commission has held four meetings on the current version of the UC proposal and that the Wednesday night meeting was a continuation of the previous commission meeting, when the item was held over to clear up some relatively minor issues of wording.

Commissioner Phillip Moss said he appreciated all the input from the speakers, but added that the commission must deal with the specific application presented to it, not "what-ifs." He said the opponents should address their energy toward the source of the proposal – UC Berkeley officials.

"I would like to encourage you, even if the vote doesn't go in your direction, not to give up," he said. "There are spaces out there still that can be developed into community gardens." He mentioned the community garden area on west side of University Village, which he said is not fully utilized.

"We're not turning our back on you," Moss said. "...The process here is not set up for this. The application is by UC for Sprouts and for senior housing, Belmont Village. These issues that you have should be taken up at a more core basis at UC."

Although the commission vote was a major step in approving the project, there's a 14-day appeal period of the decision. The proposal also still needs to have the final parcel maps approved and building permits.

Commissioner David Arkin recused himself from the discussion and vote because he lives close to the project site.

At several points in the meeting, commission chair Stacy Eisenmann asked unruly opponents in the audience to show respect and not shout out or interrupt the recognized speaker.

Several of those who spoke against the UC plan were also participants in the three brief "Occupy the Farm" takeovers of the plot earlier this year when they planted crops that were plowed under by UC Berkeley. Several of them also have been activists involved in the opposition to the City of Albany's planned eviction of illegal encampments on the Albany Bulb.

Some Albany residents who spoke said that most of the opponents who spoke do not live in Albany. Caryl O'Keefe, one of the city residents who spoke in favor of the plan at the meeting, later posted a comment Patch saying she counted 13 Albany speakers at the meeting, with five against the plan.

Albany resident Lisa Kleinbub, who said the project's senior housing component is not affordable to all who need it, also said the debate is not solely an internal concern of Albany. "Our community impacts and is impacted by every other city in the Bay Area," she said.

Ellen Davis-Zapata, an Albany resident since 1965, said she supports community gardening, including the garden that the residents of her apartment building maintain, but that Albany needs the senior housing project. "I've worked all over Europe, the world, and everywhere I've been, they have places for senior citizens to live in their communities, and in this town, we do not have that."

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that commissioner Moss referred to the previous City Council election as evidence of community support for the project. He did not make that statement.

Published Dec. 12, 2013, 12:34 a.m., updated 7:02 p.m.
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Charles Burress (Editor) December 12, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Reply to commissioner Phillip Moss: My apologies! I'm quite embarrassed that I misattributed the comment about the past City Council election to you. Thank you for pointing it out. It has been corrected. We appreciate knowing about any mistakes we make so we can correct them.
dorthy manser December 12, 2013 at 12:58 PM
Is your point that assisted living is expensive everywhere, and more expensive in expensive places to live like San Jose and Albany? Or is your point that because assisted living is expensive we shouldn't have it here in Albany?
Bart Grossman December 12, 2013 at 02:43 PM
The point is Albany needs senior housing that Albany people can afford. Otherwise what's the point?
dorthy manser December 12, 2013 at 03:27 PM
But doesn't it also need assisted living housing? And if so, isn't that more expensive?
Ross Stapleton-Gray December 12, 2013 at 03:51 PM
I suspect that a good many seniors who've owned houses for fifty years will see a healthy return if they sell them; due to Prop 13, they'll have been paying less in taxes than more recent home buyers. I suspect that the new senior assisted living facilities in Albany will fill, quickly. And if the residents include some who've only just moved to Albany, that's fine too.
Bart Grossman December 12, 2013 at 04:11 PM
The problem is we don't seem to have any details about what this senior development actually is and what it will cost to live there. If it actually starts at $4000 a month i don't think the equity in Albany people's houses is going to be enough. Suppose you net $400,000. At $4000 a month that will last you a little over 8 years. What then?
Ross Stapleton-Gray December 12, 2013 at 04:18 PM
As the Republicans haven't yet abolished Social Security, there's that; pensioned employees (such as recently retired Mr. Parsley, though when I last saw him, he looked maybe 40 years from assisted living) will have income, etc., etc. But I would be amazed if the place didn't fill up promptly... there is significant demand for senior assisted living.
dorthy manser December 12, 2013 at 04:32 PM
According to the 2010 National Survey of Residential Care Facilities, the median length of stay for residents is about 22 months and, the typical resident is a woman about 87 years old. So my impression is that these facilities represent a bridge between living in ones home and a nursing facility, or death. It's a bit depressing, but how much would it cost a live-in aid or nurse? In the past, families would do this for free, but those times seem to be gone, so now we hire others to do it for us, and that's expensive. One thing is clear, though, these are not residences for the recently retired.
Bart Grossman December 12, 2013 at 04:43 PM
I have no problem with senior assisted living but i wish there could be some housing that would work for recently retired people. I think there are a lot of us seniors in Albany who would like to downsize and stay here but aren't yet in need of assisted living.
dorthy manser December 12, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Totally agree, Bart. Myself, I plan to move to someplace cheaper once it's time to retire.
Ross Stapleton-Gray December 12, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Bart, have you actively looked for apartments in Albany? There are many (it's like when I first bought a Subaru, or a loropetalum, and started noticing them everywhere... when I started looking for apartment buildings, they're more than one would have thought). It might be that vacancies are few (but I don't know); it certainly could be that rents are high, but that's endemic to the area (and still a good deal less than what's being charged in San Francisco).
SteveWu December 12, 2013 at 05:36 PM
How can old people retire to apartments in Albany? There is no rent control, and no eviction protection. If you are on a fixed income, you may be able to afford the rent this year, but, the landlord raises it, people come from San Francisco, prices go up, and you are evicted. It is not safe to plan your retirement in an Albany apartment.
dorthy manser December 12, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Agreed. Albany is not a good place to plan to retire to.
Ross Stapleton-Gray December 12, 2013 at 05:43 PM
Which is why people buy condos, I suppose, if they want certainty. Where exactly do you live, SteveWu? I'm vaguely recalling that it's somewhere north of here, but not in Albany, correct? We bought in Albany for the schools, and I think it's quite likely that, once we're empty nesters, my wife and I will consider retiring to elsewhere in California.
Bart Grossman December 12, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Does anyone else see something wrong with this picture? Someone is building senior housing in Albany and yet Albany seniors represented here thinking they will have to move out of Albany in order to downsize.
David Sanger December 12, 2013 at 07:06 PM
Yes I see something wrong with the picture where a developer wants to build something and a few people want them to build something else. Agreed it is not low income housing. So what? You might as well complain that Fonda or Rivoli ought not be allowed to have a restaurant on Solano Avenue because you can't afford to eat there. That's not to say that low income housing (and low price restaurants) are not a worthwhile idea. There are some things the City can do to entice developers to put forward such projects (eg. tax breaks, expedited processing etc). But unless the City is willing to run its own housing projects it will have to wait until someone comes forward who want to build such housing.
Ken December 12, 2013 at 07:26 PM
Sorry folks, I am seeing a big disconnect here - assisted living is NOT senior "housing". Assisted living is staff-provided care for those who are having issues taking care of themselves (mobility, medication reminders, etc.) and requires that a provider is licensed by the state. Non care-related housing would be referred to as "senior apartments". Assisted living care is expensive anywhere, as the licensed operator is providing meals, staff assistance, transportation, social activities, etc. and must meet state regulations. Sometimes a developer works with a city to provide a certain percentage of "below market rate" rooms, but sometimes that isn't the case. Furthermore, we live in a market-driven system. In general, housing is pricey in Albany b/c of the schools, as is the case in places like Orinda, Piedmont, etc. If the market dictates that housing prices are high for whatever reason, then it's a perfectly rational (and reasonable) concept that residents can choose to sell their home and move to another city or area that better suits their needs at a given time (e.g., kids have moved out so no longer any need for the good school district - take profits from sale and move to a city that's not so pricey - nearby El Cerrito for example). It happens all the time. IMO, I personally don't think that just because one spends many years living in any one city that one should expect that the city will do something to meet my specific needs vs. the needs of others (including the city and the market). Sure, I like it here in Albany, but I don't have a problem moving to nearby Berkeley or El Cerrito after we have no more need for the good school district. In fact, the houses in both of those cities are far better value (and nicer IMO) than Albany b/c one is not paying the "school premium"!
Senior A. Titude December 12, 2013 at 07:44 PM
Ken is absolutely on point. I am retired in Albany with a paid-off house. I may move at some point to reduce the yard work and home repair jobs. El Cerrito's not an option because my property taxes would go way up, Berkeley in the same county so no problems there. My interest in the proposed senior housing would be for the time when I cannot live on my own in my own home/apt. This is not a Rossmoor type community for lonely retired folks; it is assisted living for folks who need help with daily tasks. That's why I have LTC insurance (which would easily cover Belmont's fees). It would be nice to stay in the area I am familiar with when I'm too old to do for myself (assuming I even know where I am!). It's not low cost senior housing because it's not senior housing - it's essentially a managed care facility but a little nicer.
tr December 12, 2013 at 07:50 PM
although the headline does not say "assisted living," the comment section shows that people are waking up to the reality. davis is affordable.
Dave December 12, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Ken-Thanks for a voice of reason and spot on. It is not cheap to live or work in Albany. The people providing incontinence services among other things deserve to make a living wage as do all of the other folks who go into running a facility of this kind. If the cost is artificially low, how are these folks going to make ends meet? Work hard, save lots of money and buy great insurance, or plan to move somewhere less expensive. Like it or not, that is the reality of the Bay Area and is not likely to change anytime soon.
dorthy manser December 13, 2013 at 09:47 AM
This from the occupiers: "There will be an appeal to city council, continued law suits, and actions will be escalating quickly. Actions are planned for Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and we need help. Please PM if you are interested in being involved." And this nonsense will continue indefinitely until it as expensive and inconvenient for them as is it for our town. I honestly hope that the city and U.C. Berkeley responds immediately and harshly to illegal acts by these people. Not violently, though. Just big fines and counter law suits when feasible. The occupiers think that the law is on their side. It isn't, and they need reminding of that.
Leslie J. Gold December 13, 2013 at 11:25 AM
I don't know the details of the senior housing project proposed for the UC Village area, but just want to point out that the term "senior housing" can cover not only assisted living, but independent living and nursing home care. These different levels of senior living arrangements are sometimes covered in a single facility (a CCRC or continuum of care retirement community), but can also be found in stand-alone facilities. For anyone interested in more comprehensive information, I recommend the Assisted Living Facilities Association website: alfa.org. In any event, I think more affordable apartment housing opportunities should be available in this area -- and not just for students or young singles.
Bart Grossman December 13, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Good point Leslie. When this project was initially proposed by the University they talked of senior housing. That has now morphed into assisted living.
B Lawrence December 13, 2013 at 06:51 PM
The Planning Commission's decision was absolutely right. Both senior/assisted housing and a grocery store are needed. Hopefully the other retail spaces slated to be built will enliven the entire area.
tr December 13, 2013 at 08:45 PM
"when _____ was initially proposed by ______ ...." u can fill in the blanks. (affordable care act /heritage foundation, remodel / safeway, tarp / bush administration...) . even when an agreement is in writing, incompetence, greed & free market capitalism, tends to mean the final product benefits the corporation over the people. . . . this project's profits are supposed to help provide affordable housing for students in the village. will that eventually mean, "we only raised rents by this much, rather than this much?"
Bart Grossman December 13, 2013 at 10:33 PM
tr, Under Regental rules the University Village is self supporting. When the University tore down the old WWII buildings rents naturally rose quite a bit. They are still officially below market rate but current market rate is unaffordable for most student families. The plan for the commercial development in the village was intended to defray rents. However, I think senior housing as well as assisted living could serve some additional purposes both for Albany seniors and University retirees. Fair disclosure requires that I mention I fall into both categories.
SteveWu December 14, 2013 at 02:06 PM
@Ross This year is the 20th anniversary of my moving to Albany. Maybe I have now lived here longer than you? Whenever people disagree, they say you must be from somewhere else. Albany has problems too. Not all problems come from somewhere else. You cannot make the poor and the old disappear.
Rochelle Nason January 01, 2014 at 12:37 PM
The West County times is reporting appeals of the UC/Sprouts/Belmont Village filed by Ed Fields and Amber Whitson: http://www.contracostatimes.com/west-county-times/ci_24825548/uc-project-albany-appealed
dorthy manser January 01, 2014 at 01:07 PM
I saw that too, Rochelle. Is the appeal process endless? Does every appeal involve another meeting? This is getting absurd.
David Sanger January 01, 2014 at 01:45 PM
Once P&Z approves a project then there is only one chance to appeal to City Council. They have to schedule a hearing within 30 days and hold the hearing within 60 days. Their decision is final and cannot be appealed further

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