Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Piedmont City Council Approves Controversial Blair Park Plan

By Nate Seltenrich
Tue, Dec 6, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Follow the money: in this case, $6 million. A group of Piedmont residents offered it up years ago to construct a new soccer field and miniature sports complex on the city's last remaining open space, and last night the Piedmont City Council formally accepted. The meeting lasted until 2:30 a.m. thanks to a parade of speakers, reported the Piedmont Patch, but in the end the council voted just as it has in past Blair Park decisions: four in favor, and one, Councilman Garrett Keating, opposed.

"It’s a very disappointing decision," said Marjorie Blackwell of Friends of Moraga Canyon, a citizen's group that has led the often passionate opposition to the project among Piedmont residents. “They’re very determined to go ahead with this project. There’s been this relentless drumbeat to do it. It doesn’t seem to matter what we say; they’re still going to do it."

Criticism of the plan hinges on a few points: the small size of the plot, which requires the use of massive retaining walls cut into the steep hillside adjoining the existing park and eliminates sideline seating from the single soccer field; the environmental impacts, which entail the removal of 155 trees, including 55 mature live oaks, a massive bay laurel more than one hundred years old, and a row of Monterey pines planted along the street by residents in the 1970s; and safety and traffic concerns resulting from the park site abutting busy Moraga Avenue in a narrow canyon.

According to Piedmont Patch, Oakland Councilwoman Libby Schaff joined the chorus of dissenting voices at the meeting, saying she was "opposed to shoehorning a soccer field into a hillside." The news outlet added that Schaff expressed disappointment that "Oakland's concerns, including good access for fire engines and other emergency vehicles along Moraga Avenue, have not been addressed by Piedmont." Former Piedmont Mayor Al Peters also is opposed to the project.

Blackwell noted that in the coming days, her group intends to make a decision about whether or not to file a lawsuit. She said an attorney retained by Friends of Moraga Canyon determined that the city illegally proceeded with an addendum to its original environmental impact report rather than a supplemental report after significant changes were made to the plan, including altering critical pedestrian-access and traffic-flow plans and moving the location of the main soccer field.

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