Tuesday, December 06, 2011

New Oped on CEQA Challenge to Albert Park Pro Ball giveaway

Marin Voice: Albert Park lawsuit about more than baseball in San Rafael


Guest op-ed column
 
THE IJ's Nov. 28 editorial gives the false impression that neighbors and community members are only thinking of themselves in filing a legal challenge to the planned changes in use at San Rafael's Albert Park.

Crying foul over reasonable demands that the city and the project proponents play by the rules does little to advance understanding of the historical or current use of the ball field or the laws governing environmental review for projects such as this one.

Here are some facts to set the record straight about the reason the community group the Albert Park Neighborhood Alliance, seeking compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, has filed its lawsuit against the city of San Rafael and Centerfield Partners:

• Contrary to the claims that neighbors don't want to see baseball at Albert Park, the neighbors have peacefully coexisted with baseball nearly every day and evening of the week since Jacob Albert donated the land for public use in 1937.

• Baseball is played there regularly now, only recreational, not commercial ball. The differences are major league. Recreational ball is just that — local youth, amateur adult and semi-pro teams use the field for fun, not for profit. Many of these teams are slated to be displaced by the new use. According to the agreement between the city and Centerfield, semi-pro and collegiate teams may use the field no more than six nightsa season, altogether, without permission from the minor-league team's owners.

This is a major change in use that is bound to have impact. No other use generates anywhere near the traffic contemplated by Centerfield.

• Even the popular collegiate team the San Francisco Seals averaged only 300 fans during its run from the mid-1990s through 2002. Most teams now using the field not only have far fewer spectators, they seldom use amplification or sell concessions.

• Every other use of the land left by Jacob Albert is either city-managed or run by a nonprofit entity for the public's use and benefit — including the day care center, bocce ball courts, tennis courts and community center.

The deed of the land was explicitly for public recreational use, with commercial uses allowed for not more than one week at a time.

• The city's own attorney has already conceded that this use is a "project" under CEQA. And as recently as Aug. 9, Centerfield Partners had agreed to do the necessary environmental studies. It pulled its promise in favor of a "downsized project." This does not change the need for environmental review.

• Even though it has been "downsized," there is no way a commercial venture that has to hire players, purchase equipment, attract investors and promote a fan base will be satisfied with a single-year lease. The Albert Park Neighborhood Alliance feels that such investments can only lead to more leases, more changes in the park's configuration and increased impacts, all without environmental review — amounting to "piecemealing" a larger project, in violation of California's environmental laws.

• The agreement signed by the city allows changes in practically every aspect of the lease, at the whim of the parties, without community input or review.

The Albert Park Neighborhood Alliance is merely asking that they follow the same rules any other project with potential environmental impact has to follow.

The question this paper should be asking is, "What is Centerfield afraid a proper environmental review will show?"

Dotty LeMieux is a San Rafael lawyer and representative for the Albert Park Neighborhood Alliance.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Housing for People not for Profit

When a group of us started the Co-operative natural food store in a Never to be Named Coastal Town in 1976, our motto was "Food for People, not for Profit." That is still the motto, these 35 years later.

A Workers' collective runs the store, with minor adjustments over the years to allow for some division of labor, in ordering food, accounting, overseeing work done, and so forth.  But the basic premise holds true.

A small enterprise admittedly, but one whose principles can apply to other social movements.  We all need to eat.  Why should some get rich off the needs of otherwise?  There is a large movement in this country for Single Payer Health care.  Or what many are calling Medicare for all. The premise is simple, pool our resources, get rid of the middleman in the form of profit-happy insurance companies, and provide decent affordable health care for all.

Another basic need is for shelter. While there are non-profit housing groups, land trusts, co-housing ventures and the like, the profit motive is still big in the housing market, and it still drives housing speculation, while driving honest hard working people out into the street, because they can't afford their mortgage payments to the rapacious banks who suckered them into buying a home on nothing down and a big balloon payment in the not so distant future.

Why should banks, speculators, and developers profit on the need for shelter?  why not take the profit motive out of home sales.  More co-housing, land and housing trusts, sweat equity and local governmental regulation of the construction industry is a good start.

A fair wage for builders, architects, planners and others necessary to see that houses are built well to serve the needs of the people.

All the people. 

We will never have a truly equitable society so long as the few control the land and the land prices, so long as banks can bundle mortgages and land speculators can turn a profit from overbuilding in sensitive areas, because to build just what's needed would not be profitable.

Just today in the Marin IJ, a poor beleaguered developer is crying foul because the Planning Commission has rejected his bid to build 12 luxury homes in a area zoned for 5.  He'll probably get 7 or 8 because otherwise would be to deny him profitable use of his land.
He would cry foul and sue the County.  That's what they do. 

And yet, no one wants to touch this sacred cow of property rights.  Even so called liberals draw the line at anything that might impinge on their ability to turn a profit on land sales.  Yes, many of us have the equity in our home as our only asset.  Selling the family manse to take care of needs later in life like medical bills, colelge tuition and a well deserved retirement is a time honored tradition.

But what if medical needs were taken care of, tuition was free and decent wages were guaranteed for all?  What if there were more cooperative or collectively run businesses, so that over priced everything was no longer the norm?

Then maybe overpriced mortgages would go the way of child labor and sweat shops (oh, yeah, we still have those too). 

What if shared resources were the norm, not an aberration indulged in by Utopian fantasists and old hippies?

Ask yourself the question, what has trickle down capitalism done for me lately?    

Keep capitalism, but make it trickle up; let the many, the 99% decide who runs the banks, (or the credit unions), the businesses and the housing market.
Homes for People, not for Profit.  Think about it.  Good issue for Occupy?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Would Albert Park be a field of dreams—or a field of screams?










Feature: Aaay, batta-batta!



No other endeavor epitomizes the vision of small-town America, romantic past and present reality, than minor league baseball. Hollywood types knew that when they made Bull Durham.
Although that movie looked into the lives and loves of players on their way up and down the baseball ladder, it didn't reveal the real world of minor league baseball, a world that came to San Rafael this year. A proposal to bring minor league ball to Albert Park touched a nerve. Many saw the possibility as an affirmative addition to San Rafael and Marin, an embodiment of the "small-town character" so often mentioned when city governments deliberate a new proposal of almost any kind. Almost nothing can be more "small town" than a minor league baseball team, supporters contend. The proposed team, the San Rafael Pacifics, would provide a welcome addition to the family entertainment possibilities during the summer months; the team also could add revenue to city coffers. A minor league team can bring millions of dollars in ancillary revenue to a town and give a boost to local schools and charities through cross promotions. What could go wrong with a proposal like that?

But this is Marin. Neighbors in the Albert Park area say the proposed team will create unacceptable noise and traffic impacts. They hired attorney Dotty LeMieux to represent their interests. On behalf of the neighbors, LeMieux filed a lawsuit raising a California Environmental Quality Act challenge. It's a common tactic here for opponents of almost everything. The lawsuit says the city erred in its assertion that the baseball team's proposal needs no environmental review under CEQUA. [sic]

"We're not against baseball," LeMieux says. "We just want them to play by the rules." She says an intrinsic part of a minor league team is the focus on family entertainment, which gives parents a chance to pass on values, set good examples—such as following the rules. "When you do a project like this, you need to have an environmental review. They were going to do that, but instead of doing a review they came back with this somewhat truncated project. But it's still a greatly increased use of the space. It still increases the number of people that can be there. They're planning to play baseball 45 days a year, which will keep some of the amateur and semi-pro people out, and there are going to be traffic issues," which have not been adequately addressed. Those issues should be looked at to determine whether a full environmental review is appropriate for the baseball proposal. It's not exactly evocative of the romantic crack-of-the bat vision. 

Lost in much of the debate is exactly who wants to come to town. The team would be the start of a new stable of minor league ball teams in the Bay Area. It's a tough proposition; teams have tried to make the North Bay home before, but they haven't lasted. 

Mike Shapiro is president and general manager of Centerfield Partners, an LLC corporation that bought the rights to run minor league teams in the Bay Area. Brian Clark, known in the aviation industry for playing a key role in bringing Virgin America to, well, America, started Centerfield. "His avocation is baseball," says Shapiro of Clark. "He had this vision and dream that he could form a company that could own and operate multiple minor league teams in the Bay Area." Clark retained Shapiro to put together a business plan and scout locations for the teams. "The first place I took him to was Albert Park because I had played there as a semi-pro player, and my sons currently play there as high school players." 

Shapiro played centerfield at Albert Park from 1974 all the way to 1993 on a variety of semi-pro teams. "I played on so many, it's hard to remember now," says the Corte Madera resident. His history at the ballpark raises one of the issues on which Centerfield and the city rested their contention that the proposal should be categorically exempt from needing a full environmental review. "The truth of the matter is that since [Albert Park] was built in the 1950s, it has hosted a wide range of activities, even some professional exhibition games. There also were collegiate, high school and Little League activities, all levels of play."
• • • •
LEMIEUX AND THE neighbors who object don't buy the contention that because Albert Park has been the site of past baseball activity, the city should open its arms to professional minor league play without an environmental review. The city has failed to assess the difference between the current usage and what will happen when minor league guys step up to the plate. "Even today with the teams that are there, balls hit the walls of nearby apartments." Players for the Pacifics, says LeMieux, "will be professional players. They are heavy hitters." That needs to be reviewed.

When Centerfield first approached the city in April about plans to bring minor league ball to Albert Park, the company proposed adding 800 temporary seats to a 700-seat grandstand. Centerfield also said it would upgrade bathrooms, install netting behind home plate and add other improvements. But neighbors soon voiced their objections. Centerfield responded by reducing the scope of its proposal. The new plan calls for adding just 100 seats and providing free parking. Neighbors said that without free parking, those attending games wouldn't use designated parking and would clog neighborhood streets. Centerfield agreed to the no-fee parking plan.

In addition, a committee will review activity during the season and act as a liaison between the neighborhood, the team and the city. That came about during discussions with the city, Centerfield and the neighbors, says Shapiro. "They said they needed a venue to focus and direct their comments and concerns, and they wanted responsiveness. I said we would do that as a matter of course." Centerfield also agreed to put aside its desire for a three-year lease and sign a one-year agreement with the city. At the end of the first year, Centerfield can go back to the city for an extension, which Shapiro is confident Centerfield will be able to secure after a season goes by with few problems.

San Rafael City Councilman Damon Connolly and Mayor Al Boro served on a subcommittee that went out to the community prior to the city council voting on the team's proposal. The council voted twice, both times giving Centerfield a unanimous nod to round third and head home. "It's fair to say that the process got off to a rocky start," says Connolly. "Neighbors expressed concerns that they weren't being heard. In response to that, we made a point to meet with the neighbors. By the end of the process, I was satisfied that this will be a good opportunity for the city, and I've heard a lot of positive feedback from the community on the vote. I hope [the team] will be a boost to local business and provide a source of family entertainment." Connolly says the city decided the proposal could be exempt from an initial environmental review because of the process the city undertook to get community input, which led to the scaled-down proposal and the concessions to which Centerfield agreed.

City Councilman Greg Brockbank came up short in his bid for the mayor's chair in the recent election; he's leaving the council and has no ax to grind. He says the neighbors "are overly concerned" about the impacts from the Pacifics playing at Albert Park. "There won't be any night use. There might be slightly larger crowds, and maybe their PA system will be used a little more often than it is now," but the impacts "won't be unduly burdensome."

Brockbank acknowledges the neighbors' concerns over the increased commotion and clamor that will occur, but he points out that the neighborhood already has noise and impacts from the local farmers' market and the current activities at the park. "Some people think they ought to have the right to have their windows open on a summer night and not have to hear baseball noise." But the crack of the bat already sounds in the park, proponents reiterate. It's also true, as LeMieux points out, that the players cracking the bats now aren't heavy-hitter pros. Still, when a prospective homeowner buys property next to an airport—or a baseball field—it's reasonable to assume that some noise will emanate from what should be an expected use.

Centerfield is proceeding with plans to start its 45-game season for the Pacifics in May, barring legal delays. The Pacifics will be part of the North American Baseball League, which includes teams in California, Hawaii, Texas and Canada. Commissioner Kevin Outcalt says a team in Nevada may be a new addition. "We're still working on a few team inclusions. We have our league winter meeting the first week of December, and we'll come up with our draft schedule then."
• • • •
THE NORTH AMERICAN Baseball League is independent, which means it's not affiliated with major league teams. It's been in existence for eight years, according to Outcalt. For six of those years, it was known as the Golden Gate Baseball League, with teams mostly on the West Coast. Last year, the league expanded and rebranded itself as the North American League. 

The minor league system in baseball includes a "farm system" of teams, each affiliated with a major league team. In the farm system, AAA teams are closest to the majors; AA is one notch down; and A teams are for newcomers to professional ball. The goal is to produce players for the affiliated major league teams. Winning games is less important than working with players to make them credible major league prospects. Independent minor league teams, like the Pacifics, play to win, although players on independent teams unaffiliated with major league teams can and do advance to the majors.
"Most of the North American League players will be players that played in major league organizations and were released," says Outcalt. "About half the team will have AA or AAA experience. The other half will be A players or a few college guys. It's tough to make a team in our league if you have no professional experience because the level of play is very high."

The history of minor league ball in the North Bay shows how tough it is to bring a team to the area and survive. The Sonoma County Crushers called Rohnert Park Stadium home until financial reality ended the dream about 10 years ago. A plan to bring an affiliated minor league team to Windsor met with opposition from the San Francisco Giants, which controls the North Bay territory for affiliated minor league teams.

Shapiro, who says he has two physical handicaps—he's short and a lefty—wound up in baseball management. He worked with the Giants and the Braves and was senior vice president of the Washington Nationals before returning to Marin to join Centerfield Partners.

"This offers me an opportunity to take all I learned in the majors and bring it down to the community level. I can't imagine having any more fun. I just turned 60 this year, but I'm way more immature than that."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walmart circumvents Environmental Laws.

Well, they're at it again.  Walmart is sneaking around circumventing California's environmental laws.  surprise surprise.  Don't fall for this tactic folks.

Walmart wins big with California initiatives

Thursday, November 24, 2011
In a push to expand across California without interference, Walmart is increasingly taking advantage of the state's initiative system to threaten elected officials with costly special elections and to avoid environmental lawsuits.
The Arkansas-based retailer has hired paid signature gatherers to circulate petitions to build new superstores or repeal local restrictions on big-box stores. Once 15 percent of eligible voters sign the petitions, state election law puts cash-strapped cities in a bind: City councils must either approve the Walmart-drafted measure without changes or put it to a special election.
As local officials grapple with whether to spend tens of thousands or even millions of taxpayer dollars on such an election, Walmart urges cities to approve the petition outright rather than send it to voters.
While most development projects don't attract much controversy, Walmart has become controversial across California. Backers of organized labor have demonized the company for opposing unions and paying low wages, while other critics say its superstores cripple local businesses and increase sprawl.
Walmart's use of the initiative process has angered elected officials who say the company's political strategy effectively holds them hostage.
"They circumvented the system and blackmailed the town," said Rick Roelle, a councilman in Apple Valley (San Bernardino County), where Walmart pushed through a superstore proposal in April. "We've had controversial projects, but we were never bullied like Walmart."
Walmart and its supporters argue that the strategy helps speed up development that can boost employment and tax revenue as well as low-price shopping. The initiative process, according to the company, pressures cities only because it shows the strong community support for Walmart.
"The initiative process was an opportunity that allowed voters to voice their support for the benefits that Walmart would bring their community, including jobs, affordable groceries, increased tax revenue, and infrastructure improvements," Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia said in a statement.
The company has employed the same well-honed strategy across the state, from the Central Valley agricultural community of Kerman (Fresno County) to the Silicon Valley suburb of Milpitas to Apple Valley, where the main street has a special crosswalk button for horse riders.

Ramping up

Walmart has ramped up the campaign in the last year, pushing through four new superstore projects and fighting big-box regulations in San Diego. The company spent $2 million on the effort, paying election lawyers, campaign consultants and public relations firms.
Walmart often rallies a crowd of supporters at city council meetings to back up its position. Pastor Ray Smith, president of a group called Pastors on Point, asked his followers to support Walmart in San Diego. He spoke passionately against an ordinance imposing new regulations on superstores, saying other stores don't hire enough African Americans.
At one city meeting, he called on a group of young people to stand and told the City Council, "You want to stop the violence? We need jobs."
Walmart paid Smith's church to bus supporters to council meetings and shuttle young people who gathered signatures for a ballot initiative petition against the regulations. Walmart's local political committee also reported paying $13,400 in salary and consultant payments to Smith directly, in addition to $5,500 labeled "van/bus rental."
Smith said the campaign filings were incorrect. "They did rent our buses ... but I was never a consultant for them," he said.
Walmart uses the ballot initiative process in part to shield its superstores from lawsuits under the California Environmental Quality Act. The landmark 1970 law requires state and local agencies to review and mitigate the environmental and traffic impacts of development projects. Lawyers often sue Walmart, contending that the review didn't go far enough.
The company has found a loophole: Once it switches to a ballot initiative, the law doesn't apply.
Other companies occasionally pursue ballot initiatives on development projects. But Walmart is the main player, and California is the main battleground.
Walmart's successful strategy raises questions about whether California's communities - dogged by economic woes - can afford an aggressive use of the state's system of direct democracy. Other interest groups could use the same strategy to pressure elected officials, as medical marijuana advocates recently did to defeat pot-club regulations in San Diego.
This year, four cities approved Walmart's initiative petition without an election. One of them, San Diego, repealed its own superstore regulations in the face of an election that could have cost $3.4 million. Only Menifee in Riverside County held a special election, costing taxpayers $79,000. Walmart spent nearly $400,000 there - and won handily.

Opponents' stance

The strategy violates the spirit, if not the letter, of state environmental law, said Richard Frank, former California chief deputy attorney general for legal affairs.
"It is disturbing because it appears to be a fairly overt circumvention of the CEQA process," said Frank, now director of the California Environmental Law & Policy Center at the UC Davis School of Law.
Walmart argues that it closely adheres to California's extensive regulations. The strategy is necessary, it says, to avoid spurious lawsuits targeting the company for political reasons. The retailer points out that it goes much of the way through a lengthy planning process, allowing for an environmental impact report and public input, before heading to the ballot box.
"In many places around the state," Garcia said, "we often obtain store approvals but are subjected to special interests that attempt to use political and legal challenges to unfairly delay a store's construction."
Since the 1990s, activists also have used ballot initiatives to block Walmart stores.
Walmart turned that strategy on its head when it began proposing its own initiatives. The company suffered a sobering, nationally publicized loss in Inglewood in 2004. The company spent more than $1 million on a ballot measure to open a superstore there. Unions fought back, and voters shot it down.
But Walmart hasn't lost in California since.
In 2007, Walmart used the initiative process to force Long Beach to repeal an ordinance banning certain superstores that sell groceries. The council, facing tough budgetary times, decided the city couldn't afford an election, giving in to the company. In 2009, Walmart defeated a big-box ban in Salinas the same way.
Last year, city councils approved Walmart superstore initiatives without an election in the small Gold Country city of Sonora and the Mojave Desert military base community of Ridgecrest. This year, with five victories, has been Walmart's busiest.
Walmart continues to see a big opportunity for growth in California. The company already has 212 stores and employs 67,525 people in the state.
Sometimes, council members ask Walmart to pay for the election. This year in Pittsburg, for example, another developer offered to pay for the election costs of its ballot initiative. But Walmart always declines.
"We are not embarrassed by our decision to move to an initiative and to allow the electorate to overwhelmingly weigh in, but we are not prepared to cover any costs for an election," Walmart spokesman Aaron Rios said at an Apple Valley Town Council meeting in April.
California Watch, the state's largest investigative reporting team, is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, visit www.californiawatch.org.
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/24/BA0O1M3DNR.DTL
This article appeared on page C - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Back in the News!

Neighbor group charges mound in San Rafael baseball dustup

Share

Humm baby? More like legal matter, baby.

Marin baseball fans shouldn't start planning their summers around the San Rafael Pacifics' home games just yet--the neighborhood group that's been jeering the idea of peanuts, popcorn and Crackerjacks at nearby Albert Park have informed the San Rafael City Council they intend to force an environmental review through the courts.

Centerfield Partners, the group that's trying to bring pro ball to the Gerstle Park-area ballfield, had initially offered to pay for an independent environmental review of their proposal, but after considering costs--and the possibility that it would delay their opening day to the 2013 season--Centerfield scaled back their proposal and put it before the Council without an EIR.

While the original proposal called for a three-year lease and Centerfield's promise to modernize the 60-year-old field, spruce up the bathrooms and add seating for about 800 fans--the revised plan now seeks a single-year lease with only 100 added seats and minor changes such as netting behind home plate and fencing behind the dugouts and limiting the noise after 9pm. Additionally, the team's first year will be overseen by a seven-person citizens advisory committee--made up of neighbors, a business, a P&R commissioner and Centerfield representatives--which would review its findings after the season.

The Council on Oct. 3 approved the proposal unanimously.

But on Nov. 4, attorney Dotty LeMieux, on behalf of the Albert Park Neighborhood Alliance, said via a letter to the council that the group plans to convince the courts that the city "abused its discretion" in exempting the project from environmental review.

Looks like this game may be decided by the umps in the Marin Count Superior Court.

Still, Centerfield is taking an "on with the show" attitude; on Nov. 2 the group unveiled the name of the team--but the fate of the San Rafael Pacifics will likely be decided in extra innings.


Stay tuned for more news as we go forward.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cell Phone Towers Popping up in Lucas Valley

Lucas Valley residents fight plan to install wireless poles


Click photo to enlarge
A utility pole in Lower Lucas Valley, with equipment instsalled by ExteNet Systems






Residents who live in a peaceful section of Lucas Valley with no street lamps or above-ground utilities are fighting a proposal to erect three poles for wireless equipment in their neighborhood.

ExteNet Systems Inc., an Illinois-based telecommunications company, has submitted applications to San Rafael, Marin County and Novato to install a 16-node network to improve cellphone service in the Lucas Valley Road area, said Patti Ringo, the company's director of municipal relations for the West.

"We do not transport signal — we only build infrastructure," Ringo said. "Each individual location is multi-carrier capable, meaning I have the capacity to put more than one carrier at each location."

ExteNet has already installed equipment at five sites in unincorporated Marin County. The company normally affixes its equipment to existing poles, but must construct approximately 30-foot poles at two proposed sites on Idylberry Road and another on Creekside Drive, Ringo said.

That's because the Eichler community in that neighborhood has no poles or above-ground utilities — a look many residents say they want to preserve.

"The master plan for the community that I live in is that there be an undisturbed view of the hills," said Eric Forbes, who lives on Mount Whitney Court and has been researching the proposal with a subcommittee of the Lucas Valley Homeowners Association.

Forbes, along with about a dozen other residents, has

gathered about 330 signatures opposing ExteNet's plan in the community of 538 homes.

Residents say Sprint coverage is good in the area, but many other carriers don't have a strong signal, leading some homeowners to install "microcell" network extenders at their houses.

ExteNet is installing its network for T-Mobile, but is in talks with two other major carriers, Ringo said.

Bill Hansell, a Marinwood Community Services District board member, said he's interested in learning more about any proposal that would boost wireless service in the area.

"There are a lot of people who I've heard who want to get better coverage," Hansell said. "I don't think people really have much of a choice in terms of providers, because Sprint's the only thing that really works."

Forbes said he and others would welcome better cellphone coverage in the area but don't want to sacrifice their neighborhood's character or appearance to get it.

"There are no two-story houses back against the open space," Forbes said. "It's a really amazing place. It looks like you're camping almost when you look outside, especially at night. There are no lights."

Lindsay Beaman, a resident who lives near both proposed sites on Idylberry, agreed, saying, "We have no wires, no poles, no streetlights and people want it that way.

"It's on the books with the county and the county has enforced this," he said.

ExteNet filed an application with Marin County earlier this year, which is currently incomplete as officials await the company's response to various questions, Supervisor Susan Adams said.

Residents were angry to learn that ExteNet also filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission on Oct. 5 to proceed with the project, Beaman and Forbes said. About 80 people from Lucas Valley and North San Rafael packed a meeting with ExteNet last week to learn more about the project and voice their concerns.

"It appears that the ExteNet company is trying to do an end run on our local planning process," Adams said. "By going to the (California Public Utilities Commission) and asking them to make the determination, it further removes our local government."

Adams said she expects the Board of Supervisors to get involved in the utilities commission process and push for local jurisdiction. She added that ExteNet should be considering alternatives to the poles.

"There's lots of creative opportunities," Adams said. "They can find a homeowner that might be willing to allow their home to be used or a tree-top device. ... There's different ways to do it besides installing a pole."

Ringo said ExteNet has been simultaneously getting approval through the utilities commission for projects and obtaining permits from local agencies.

She emphasized that the company will get permits from local officials before it begins building.

ExteNet is also considering moving the poles a couple of hundred feet from the current proposed sites and possibly putting some equipment under shrubbery, Ringo said. The company put a temporary hold on its Lucas Valley application with the utilities commission Tuesday so it can research those possible changes.

However, "we can't put antennas underground," she said.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

We are in the News

San Rafael neighbors continue to debate the merits of minor league baseball in their town. from the North Bay Biz, October, 2011, Bill Meagher

It’s midsummer, and a bright sun beats down on Albert Field in San Rafael, doing its best to bake the infield rock hard and fade the grass from green to brown. The stands are quiet, the dugouts filled with plenty of nothing. This baseball park, which dates back to the 1950s, is old in a charming way—like a favorite aunt who’s arrived at that age where her face speaks gently of character, and the twinkle in her eyes peeks out from beneath a feather of salt and pepper hair.


Centerfield Partners (CP) wants to fill the stands here next season with families and baseball fans, and the dugouts with minor league players hoping to punch their ticket to the big leagues.

The company, led by CEO Brian Clark, Corte Madera resident Michael Shapiro and Petaluma’s Brian Sobel, hopes to have a yet-unnamed entrant to the new North American League (NAL) playing at Albert Field for 45 games next season. The NAL is an independent league, which means none of the teams are associated or under contracts to major league teams. (For instance, the San Francisco Giants have a rookie team in Oregon, a Class A team in San Jose, a double A squad in Connecticut and its top farm club in Fresno.) Instead, the teams in this league would hail from a dozen different locations as far flung as Edmonton, Alberta Canada; Wailuku, Hawaii; Edinburg, Texas; and Chico, Calif.

For years, the city of San Rafael has tried to bring activity and energy to its downtown after 5 p.m. with its “Live after Five” program. So bringing a minor league team to Albert Field, just a block off Second Avenue, would seem to be a home run.

Not so fast.

Early innings

Before a public hearing regarding the team in mid-July, a TV truck from KTVU (Oakland Channel 2) is parked outside San Rafael City Hall. The cameraman is filming a group of kids dressed as a hot dog, bags of popcorn and peanuts as well as Cracker Jacks. The kids are either very gifted costume creators, or mom and dad are minor league baseball fans.

Not everyone is a fan, however, not by a long shot. Lawyers Nick Rossi and Dotty LeMieux have been hired by different groups of Gerstle Park (where the ball field is located) residents who’d like to keep the pros off the field. The neighbors are concerned with traffic, noise, alcohol abuse and parking woes.

Well…in the best tradition of Marin County, it’s a little more than that. After a public hearing that ran more than four hours and included 45 different citizens speaking both for and against the idea of baseball at Albert Field, I can tell you first-hand that some neighbors are concerned with their home values being dragged down by minor league baseball. There are also folks worried about their health—so much so that one well-meaning local offered to bring the mayor a note from her doctor regarding the ill effects of noise on the human body—or concerned that their tree-lined streets might become home to post-game violence or car vandalism. There are also neighbors who fear people using their front yards as restrooms.

Just as there are two teams in every baseball game, the meeting also included neighbors who support the upstart league, expressing to the patient city council their hope to be able to bring their kids to see baseball in a less pricey venue than the Giant’s yard at AT&T Park. Some supporters talked about dining downtown and walking to the park. Other speakers told the council they simply wanted to enjoy baseball in an old-fashioned setting in their own hometown.

As the clock slipped past the midnight hour, Mayor Al Boro found himself in front of a crowd so large the Fire Marshall had to hang around all night. Boro, a baseball fan who was once a batboy for the San Francisco Seals (when the Pacific Coast League team called 16th and Bryant home), knew the time had come for him to play umpire. He told the crowd that while the city staff had recommended Centerfield be allowed to use the park, the council wouldn’t take a vote on the issue. It was clear the neighbors had legitimate concerns. Instead, he said, another meeting would be scheduled. Vice mayor Greg Brockbank chimed in, imploring Centerfield Partners and the neighbors to get together to find some middle ground.

The minors

CP owns the rights to four different NAL baseball franchises in the Bay Area. This means the NAL will let CP own four independent teams—and CP hopes the San Rafael entry will become a successful setup model for the others to follow.

Since NAL teams are independent, the league has created some guidelines for its teams to survive. Team rosters are limited to 23 players, and teams have a minimum and a maximum payroll for all players; the least that can be paid is $60,000 and the most is $90,000. To put that into perspective, the major league minimum salary is $450,000, exactly 80 percent more than the NAL top rung.

On the other hand, the NAL has left room for teams that feel they want to go the route of the New York Yankees and buy themselves a title. Teams can exceed the cap by $20,000 and kick in a 25 percent luxury tax. The scale goes all the way up to $80,000 extra if the team is willing to pay 100 percent tax.

While the league lives on a shoestring, that hasn’t kept some big names from getting involved. The Lake County Fielders, the Zion, Illinois-based team, is partially owned by actor Kevin Costner. The Edmonton Capitals are owned by Daryl Katz, the same guy who owns the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League. Jose Canseco, the one-time Oakland A who wrote a tell-all book on baseball and steroids, is co-managing a team in Tucson, Ariz., along with his brother, Ozzie.

Like all independent leagues, the NAL is colorful. For instance, the Fielders have bounced paychecks or not issued them at all, the play-by-play announcer quit in mid-game and a new stadium promised by the city of Zion failed to open. Almost the entire roster of players, fed up with living hand-to-mouth, either quit or were released after protesting their plight. (Lake County has gone out of its way to explain Costner isn’t involved in the day-to-day operation of the team.)

In July, the Tucson Toros ceased operations, and the Yuma Scorpions are now pinch-hitting for them while Toros ownership tries to unravel a puzzle that involves the city of Tucson, its Hi Corbet Field and various claims. One of the 2011 starting pitchers for the Chico Outlaws is Eri Yoshida, a 19-year-old woman who was born in Japan and throws a wicked knuckleball. It’s the second year in the league for the player known as the “Knuckle Princess.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to fess up a bit. My Dad played in the minor leagues—with Jackie Robinson in Montreal in 1946, no less. I’ve watched minor league games in Denver (before the Rockies were a glint in Major League Commissioner Faye Vincent’s eye), Reno, Chico, Stockton and Sonoma. I played in an instructional league for the Dodgers and in college. Baseball has always been a part of my life, so I bring a little understanding to this story.

Minor league baseball is about a trio of adults bending over to put their foreheads on a bat, spinning around and then trying to walk a straight line between innings. The minors are a place for 8-year-olds to get a huge thrill from getting the autograph of a guy who won’t get any closer to the big leagues than buying a ticket. And it’s the spot to see a player like Sergio Romo strike out the side on his way to the bigs.

By the way, Romo played in the NAL before ending up in the bullpen of your world champion Giants.

The deal

CP is led by Brian Clark, who made his money in the travel industry. Clark was formerly an officer with Virgin America and senior vice president at Fly.com, a travel search site. The Dublin, Calif., resident is now CEO of travel startup Vayant Travel Technologies. While Clark has no background in minor league baseball, he does have two key ingredients: cash and passion.

He’s also had the good sense to bring Corte Madera’s Mike Shapiro on board as a consultant. Shapiro has a baseball background, having served in either management or legal capacities with the San Francisco Giants, the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals. He also has his own company, Redwood Sports and Entertainment Group. And Clark brought Brian Sobel in to help navigate the maze of municipal approvals in Marin. Sobel, a former member of the Petaluma City Council and a long-time political consultant, has his own business, Sobel Communications, in the city that was once the chicken capital of the world.

Clark views the San Rafael team as a good first entry into the NAL for CP. “San Rafael would be our first team, and it would have the smallest venue [1,500 seats at Albert Field] in the league. By way of comparison, the average attendance at independent baseball games last year was more than 2,800 fans,” he says. “Despite the smaller venue, we feel comfortable we can do well. But the margins in independent baseball are typically thin. We’d be pleased to have multiple teams each making ’OK’ margins, adding up to a decent return overall.”

While Albert Field, from an old-time baseball perspective, is charming, it’s also long in the tooth, and the city of San Rafael has pretty much given up on maintaining the park, choosing instead to focus on keeping the libraries open and cops on the streets. This means CP is on the hook for any needed improvements. The team will replace the backstop, paint the grandstands, refurbish the locker rooms and bring in more seating as well as temporary bathrooms and concessions. “We expect to put tens of thousands of dollars worth of improvements into Albert Field before we’ve ever made a nickel,” Clark says.

The city expects to make $4,000 to $12,000 from rental of the park to Centerfield, with much of that payment being made before the season even starts. The team plans on charging between $6 and $15 per seat. CP will take advantage of the parking lot at the adjacent office complex owned by Seagate Properties.

The brushback

Dotty LeMieux is a spirited advocate, the kind of lawyer who brings a passion along with a major league savvy to any fight. She’s long been a presence in Marin politics as a consultant, and her 13-page, anti-NAL letter to the city is a study in reasoned argument. In the first sentence, she tells the city that minor league baseball at Albert Field is, essentially, a privatization of a public facility. She says the city stands to gain little, if anything, from its association with the team, which she labels a “highly speculative business venture.”

At the July meeting, she was very much at home as she patiently ticked off her objections to minor league baseball at Albert Field in an organized fashion, attacking the city’s lack of an environmental impact report along with detailing concerns of her clients. She told the council and the standing-room-only audience that having a college or semi-pro team play at Albert is a far cry from a season of minor league ball. She called on the city to delay a decision for another night, and her presentation was greeted with cheers from opponents of the proposal.

She was followed to the podium by a parade of people wishing to weigh in on minor league ball in downtown San Rafael. Those who felt Albert Field is a bad location for a minor league team talked about a public address system blasting music and bright lights disrupting calm summer evenings. Neighbors told the council that they feared the Gerstle Park neighborhood would become inundated with fans trying to save the $5 parking fee. Still other opponents worried that beer and wine would be available at the ballpark.

In the weeks that followed the meeting, Centerfield’s Clark and company met with neighbors. “We’ve actually had several productive meetings already with neighbors and other local residents. We met with the Federation of San Rafael Neighborhoods on April 20, which was before we ever presented our plan to the Park and Rec Commission. We’ve spoken with individual neighbors on several occasions since, and we sent an open letter outlining our plan to the Gerstle Park neighborhood.

“This program of community outreach is central to our operating plan and is detailed in several places in the use agreement proposed to the city council. Baseball, at its core, is a community activity. So we plan to be out and about in the community in-season and off-season,” says Clark.

Change strikes out?

One of the basics of living in Marin County is that change is rarely a welcome event. It goes beyond simple NIMBYism (the generic not-in-my-backyard attitude that can be found in many neighborhoods across the county). Here, it’s more pronounced, with bedrock roots driven deep by the heady combination of a population that’s well-educated, well-compensated and that sometimes has some spare time to explore the complexities of how to retain the highly valued status quo against all odds.

As one neighbor told the mayor and council, she moved to the neighborhood two years ago, attracted by its numerous trees and old homes with porches. There was no hint that there would be baseball at Albert Field, she complained. This, in essence, was not what she and her family had signed up for.

It’s an open question just how much a change the team would actually be. In the past, Albert Field played host to the Seals, a team made up of college players that played a full slate of games. Beer was served at the ballpark, and the city says it didn’t receive any complaints from neighbors about the lights, noise or intoxicated patrons mistaking Buicks for bathrooms.

Rick Wells, CEO of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, says his organization has taken the temperature of the business community on baseball. “More than 95 percent of the businesses that responded to the survey said they think professional baseball at Albert Field would be beneficial. The support is clear,” he says. “This proposal is about strengthening our local economy—more dollars circulating in the city and bringing the community together.”

End of the game?

As this issue goes to press, a decision regarding minor league baseball at Albert Field is still up in the air. After a series of meetings with neighbors and the community, the city has proposed conducting an environmental study of how baseball will coexist with the neighborhood.

The city would pick a firm to perform the study, which originally was thought would cost $30,000 to $40,000, and take perhaps four months to complete. But after CP took a closer look at what the parameters would look like, it was clear the organization wouldn’t be able to complete the study and get work done on the ballpark in time for the 2012 season. And with Centerfield estimating the cost of the study could climb as high as $70,000, the organization is trying to figure out if it can afford to play ball in San Rafael.

With 2012 already gone and the team wondering whether it could afford to bring pro ball to San Rafael, Centerfield brought a counterproposal to the city. It would scrap its plans to double the seating at Albert, and instead make do with the 700 seats already in the house. It would make parking free to encourage everybody to stay out of the Gerstle Park neighborhood. It would address the noise concerns by limiting music between innings.

The plan essentially mirrors what’s been in place for the Novato Knicks, a semi-pro team that has played at Albert Field over the years. And it reflects the use by the aforementioned Seals. In a way, it puts the city on the spot, since CP is no longer asking for anything more than what’s been allowed in the past.

At this writing, in the dog days of August, both Centerfield and the city are in modes of consideration. City Manager Nancy Mackle had this to say: “City staff recommended approval of the Centerfield concept as we seek to partner with others to bring events and activities to our community that we could not otherwise offer on our own. As with any proposals, we attempt to assess the benefits that would come to our community but also look at the potential impacts and have plans in place to mitigate them. We will continue to look at this proposal with Centerfield over the next few weeks”

As for Centerfield? Brian Sobel, who makes a living dealing with the media, was circumspect, only saying that Centerfield doesn’t know what will happen.

Were someone to suggest a wager on whether minor league baseball is coming to Albert Field, I have a Jackson that says if you want to see pro ball, you better hop the ferry to McCovey Cove.

The final score: Neighbors 1, baseball fans 0.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Let the Sun Shine In!

Having the warmth from the sun reach our property can bring us more than just a good feeling and keep our bodies warm. It can keep mold and mildew at bay and even increase our property values. And the emotional well being we derive from a summer's day has no price tag.

Many jurisdictions have sunlight ordinances. No, I mean real sunlight, the kind that comes from above. (Many also have "sunshine" ordinances, which are supposed to provide an open and transparent governance process, but that is a "whole 'nother story.") If your City has a tree and/or view ordinance, it may have a sunlight or solar access ordinance too. This means if you can document the existence of a view or sunlight that pre-existed your purchase of the property, you may be able to have trees blocking such a view or solar access thinned, trimmed or even removed.

There is generally a process invoving informal talks, attempts at mediation and often submission to a recommendation of a community "tree committee" before you have a right to bring a legal action to regain your lost light. Check with your town's Municipal Code (almost all the Municipal Codes for the whole United State can be found at http://www.municode.com/library/library.aspx )


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tree Law on the Radio!

Tonight, Thursday, Sept. 22, 9 PM, PDT, for those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area (and sometimes the signal goes north to Seattle, south to LA) I will be on the Peter B. Collins show with hubby, "Tree Detective," Ray Moritz, to discuss what can go wrong with your trees, what damage can be done to them, and what you can do about it.

Tune in and call in with your questions. 810 on your AM dial. Or listen at http://www.kgoam810.com/article.asp?id=2101434

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who ya gonna call when you got tree problems? Call the Tree Detective!

Here's an article about my husband, consulting arborist, fire ecologist, certified tree hazard assessor and urban forester, Ray Moritz. Got tree issues? He's the one for you. Got neighbor issues too? We work together on Tree Dispute Mediation.

Check it out.

Arborist Ray Moritz sees the forest for the trees

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ray Moritz grew up in a prairie town in Illinois. He always loved trees, and in the second grade he took an aptitude test that concluded, "You should be a forester."

"I ignored that all the way through the first portion of college," Moritz says. "I wanted to go into biopsychology - the study of brain function. But then I started doing docent work at an arboretum on weekends and I thought, 'Wait a minute, this is what I want to do.' "

Moritz, 67, hasn't looked back. An arborist specializing in fire-prevention assessment and urban forestry consultation, he alternately calls himself a tree detective, a tree whisperer and a forensic forester. He's worked 36 years in his field

"I love what I do," Moritz says in the San Rafael office of his consulting firm, Urban Forestry Associates. "I can't imagine doing anything in retirement I would prefer to this. They'll have to carry me out of the woods feet first."

Fifty percent of his work is private consultation: advising homeowners on which trees to plant, how to treat diseased or pest-ridden trees, when trees should be left alone and when they're a safety hazard and need to be felled.

Another 25 percent of Moritz's work is fire-management consultation and the remaining 25 percent is forensics: investigating cases where someone poisons a neighbor's tree, for example, or determining how a tree or its limb crashed onto a person, house or car and who, if anyone, is at fault. He's often hired as an expert witness on tree-related disputes at civil trials.

Poisoning a neighbor's tree? Moritz says it happens all the time, "simply because they find the tree a nuisance. You'll hear people say, 'I don't like trees because they're dirty.' In most cases they are people who grew up in highly urbanized areas, then moved to the country and aren't used to having leaves and twigs around."

From 2004 to 2009, Moritz wrote a twice-monthly column, Ask the Arborist, for The Chronicle. "It was a lot of fun, but after each column, I would come into the office with great dread because when I opened my e-mail, there would be a lot of questions about trees. It was consuming a big portion of my time, and people would get upset if I didn't answer them."

The passion felt for our trees can lead to bad decisions. "Trees have great psychological meaning to people," Moritz says, "and one of the commonly mistaken notions is that trees are eternal. There are some trees that are awfully long-lived and, generally speaking, trees have longer life expectancies than people. But there are many trees that don't."

In the Bay Area, "there was a lot of grazing land when people first settled here. They wanted trees for shade and enjoyment and they wanted them fast. So they went out and got what I call the 'punk rockers' of the tree world: eucalyptus, Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, poplars. The live-fast, die-young, be-a-beautiful-corpse trees."

The people who planted those trees in the early 20th century are long deceased, Moritz says, "and the current homeowners and cities are dealing with the decay and decline of those trees. In the past two years, I've had more wrongful-death cases caused by tree failures than in my entire prior career of over 30 years."

Moritz says that people get attached to trees, they dread their loss, and that when a tree is gone, they mourn it like a beloved friend. "When the tree has to go altogether, when I've made a hazard assessment and I recommend immediate removal, some people are reluctant and don't remove it. I make it clear to them that, once I have notified them of this high risk of failure, their liability changes should that tree damage someone else or their property."

Usually, people respond to an imminent hazard. "Yesterday, a homeowner noticed some cracks in the soils around a couple of Monterey pines. While the trees were not a particular threat to her house, they were on a steep slope, and they actually targeted her neighbor's house across the street.

"So I went out there and probed the soils and realized that the root plate of the tree was lifting up. That tree was essentially in the process of failure. I believe that tree is being taken out today."

3 simple rules

"Trees got along fine for millennia before there were arborists," says Ray Moritz. Although special care is needed in urban settings with the stresses of pavement, home construction and pollutants, he says that in general "there's much more work done on trees than necessary." Here are his three simple mistakes to avoid:

1. Don't overwater: The most common problem I encounter when I inspect trees is excessive irrigation - which is surprising in Marin County, where water costs practically as much as Chardonnay. The symptoms on a tree of inadequate water are very similar to the symptoms of too much water. So, people see a tree starting to die back, the leaves changing color and browning, and they'll think, "It needs more water." They put more water on it and the tree declines that much faster.

2. Don't overspray: Trees are well adapted to most native pathogens and insects. And those pests have natural enemies - typically other insects - that maintain a balance in the forest. If you consistently and abundantly use broad-spectrum pesticides, spraying the whole canopy repeatedly, you kill off the predators. You're actually making the problem worse.

3. Don't top your trees: Topping takes out the physiologically most productive portion of the canopy. You can reduce the extent and height of the canopy through crown reduction, where you take a branch back to a secondary branch that can ultimately take over as the leader. But, if you cut that branch off arbitrarily, it produces sprout growth. As the sprouts get large, becoming branches, they're easily torn away from the tree by wind or simply fail under their own weight.




Thursday, August 18, 2011

More on Tree Mediation

Property Issues Crop up in Many Different Venues

If you are a lawyer reading this, know that at some time in your legal career, you will come up against property questions. Maybe you are administering an estate and need to determine the true boundaries of the real property. Is there an easement for ingress and egress that appears to be abandoned, but creates a cloud on the title because it’s still there in the deed documents?

Does the neighbor have a menacing looking row of Eucalyptus trees leaning toward your client’s house? Has a fire turned the property into rubble and you’re not sure who is to blame?

Even the most simple personal injury case involving the classic failure to yield collision may have some property management implications. Was the yield sign or line of sight obscured because the adjacent property owner failed to maintain a hedge in reasonable condition?

Did Caltrans let those median pittosporums get too scraggly for proper driving conditions?

All these and more can require expert opinions and evaluations beyond the standard accident recreations or investigations you deal with every day.

There are a number of tree experts who testify on these issues, including forensic foresters, fire ecologists, consulting arborists and others. There are surveyors and land engineers who can help bolster your case. When power line clearances are at issue, or trees improperly trimmed by power company crews cause major fires, liability fingers can be pointed all around; and will be.

Tree Dispute Mediation:

The most frequent issue that arises in my practice is Tree versus View. In towns with prized views of the Bay, these disputes are frequent and often nasty. Neighbor is pitted against neighbor. Sometimes drastic action is taken by one neighbor to retain or obtain a view. I have known people to do midnight tree topping or poison their neighbor’s trees and plants while maintaining righteous indignation that those pesky trees had the nerve to grow into their expansive (and expensive) view.

I have seen people defend the rights of looming eucalyptus, scruffy Monterey pines and scraggly acacias to grow as high as they like, ignoring polite offerings to trim the trees or mediate.

Both sides will say “I don't care how much it costs. It’s the principle of the thing!" when given an estimate of the cost for legal wrangling, including experts, court fees, attorney and mediator fees.

There are no winners in these pitched battles. Neighbors become embittered toward one another no matter the outcome. No amount of money can compensate for the loss of trees, the privacy and screening they provide, shade and shelter, and just plain beauty. On the other hand, messy foliage blocking your view of the Bay may serve no other function then to annoy the viewer. Most often, these disputes build over time until one side cannot take it anymore and fireworks ensue.

Stop the Cycle

How to stop the cycle? Some towns have Tree Committees, made up of volunteers, who will hear disputes and offer advisory opinions. Unfortunately, these citizen boards are composed of lay people, often with little or no understanding of botany or appreciation for the amenities the right trees can provide. Seldom do the disputes end amicably.

And neighbors hesitate to mediate their problems, fearing yet another round of “let’s make a deal” when all they want is what they see to be their rights: “My property, my trees.” “My property, my view.”

Something New - Mediation with a Twist

Twenty years of these same arguments and counterarguments have prompted me to try something new. Our firm, Green Legal Solutions, now offers mediation with a twist. We have teamed up with a consulting arborist and certified hazard tree assessor to act as neutral in mediation on tree issues. Will it work? Only if people are willing to listen to a “scientific” assessment of the problem. If they do, and if they can suspend their own personal animosity, maybe, just maybe, they can find the right compromise that will work. Otherwise, they will be back to hiring their own dueling arborists, go to more mediation and settlement conferences, maybe even to trial, to achieve something that is likely to look very much like what they could have achieved for far less in money, time and aggravation.

Tree Dispute Mediation: Try it in your next tree case.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

City Blinks First on Albert Park Pro Ball Issue

The City of San Rafael has been poised to approve a controversial proposal to bring pro baseball to the community's Albert Park field located adjacent to the densely populated Gerstle Park neighborhood. Currently, the ballfield hosts many youth and adult baseball teams throughout Marin and the Bay Area, a number of whom will be displaced by a pro team's use of the field. The proposal by Centerfield Partners (CP), of Dublin, California, would essentially allow the private for-profit company free rein with the public park, including doubling the seating capacity, using the park for at least 15 weekends from late May through early Autumn. Residents in Gerstle Park and the Southern Heights neighborhood have raised concerns over parking, traffic congestion on local streets and increased noise reverberating up to hillside dwellers.

Amplified music, concession stands in park open space and a grove of redwood trees and the sale of alcohol, have added to the residents' complaints, forcing them to hire attorneys, take up petitions and form an association, dedicated to pressuring the Council to perform necessary environmental review.

The association, Communities for Albert Park (CAP), has won the first skirmish in what may be a protracted baseball war. Previously the Council as well as the parks and Rec Department had insisted the project was exempt from review under California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

After repeated hearings, letters and testimony from attorneys retained by CAP, including land use attorney Dotty LeMieux, whose office is in Gerstle Park, the City grudgingly agreed to perform the first step in CEQA review, the preparation of an Initial Study, which will be used to determine whether a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), or a less detailed Mitigated Negative Declaration of environmental Impact (Neg. Dec.) is required.

At least the subcommittee made up of Council member Damon Connolly and Mayor Al Boro so agreed. The full Council will vote on Monday night whether to take this step. It should have come months ago. But it is a step in the right direction, and CAP applauds the City for relenting (though the City maintains it is not required, and agreed to it only after CP, realizing it was bucking a strong and well organized community group, whose good will they need to succeed, agreed to fund the study).

This study will not answer all the community's questions and may well raise more, but as Attorney Dotty LeMieux said, "We are grateful to the Mayor for realizing this the the right thing to do for the City and for the environment." She added, "We will however, be sure to make our wished known for what the Initial Study should look at in order to assure the best information is provided and the City doesn't simply use a cookie cutter checklist to justify not doing a full environmental review for this major change in use of a popular public facility."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More on Privatization of Albert Park

Article in IJ gives just a snapshot of the hearing at the City Council Monday night. We learned that this business entity, Centerfield Partners, wants to open 4 Bay Area pro ball teams, and that the City will be subsidizing this one to the tune of at least $25,000. No benefits to the City or business were outlined, save a feel good appeal to civic pride and kids' (and grown ups) desire to watch baseball. Many of these minor league ball teams have failed and take local businesses with them.

Why not set up a local non-profit Friends of Albert Park instead? Raise money the old fashioned way and keep our local teams playing in San Rafael.

Article below. I am helping the local citizens who want real environmental and fiscal review before approval:


San Rafael council delays Albert Park pro baseball decision
Click photo to enlarge
The Marin Academy High School varsity baseball team warms up before their game against Drew High...

After more than three hours of public comment and presentations — and one near-scuffle, the San Rafael City Council put off voting on a plan to bring professional baseball to Albert Park.

The council opted to delay weighing in on the proposal from Centerfield Partnership to start a new North American League team in San Rafael shortly after midnight, citing the late hour and still unanswered questions.

"In light of the hour, I don't think it would be very prudent to continue," Mayor Al Boro said. Boro noted that he and Councilman Damon Connolly would work as a sub-committee with city employees to bring the issue back in two to four weeks.

"What I'd really like to see happen is to see Centerfield Partnership meet with some of the neighbors" before that meeting, Councilman Greg Brockbank added.

During the at-times tense meeting, audience members cheered, hissed and booed during employee and applicant presentations and public comment. Two men on opposite sides of the issue appeared to be on the verge of a fist fight at one point, with one exclaiming "Let's go" and then alerting police officers in the building lobby about the "knucklehead" inside.

However, everything ended peacefully, and most of the approximately 300 people who packed the chambers and a seating area in the building's lobby listened and spoke calmly despite the crowd.

Under the proposal, Centerfield Partnership would lease the lighted baseball diamond,

which dates to the 1950s, from the city on a non-exclusive basis. It would also spruce up the 700-seat grandstand structure, add temporary seating for up to 800 more fans, upgrade the bathrooms and locker rooms and put in modern netting behind home plate, among other improvements. Centerfield plans to apply for a liquor license but wouldn't serve beer and wine after the seventh inning in accordance with major- and minor-league protocol, company officials have said. It would provide security and cleanup services as well as paid parking for about 700 cars in the San Rafael Corporate Center's Seagate lot.

The team's approximately 45 home games would take place between late May and mid-September, with games starting at 7:15 p.m. on week nights and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and at 1:05 p.m. on Sundays. The city expects to pull in between $4,000 to $12,000 a year in net revenue from the agreement, which covers a three-year period.

The plan hasn't sat well with everyone, and some neighbors have hired an attorney over concerns about traffic, parking, lighting, noise, alcohol consumption and general rowdiness. Opponents also expressed concerns Monday night that the city would actually lose money on the proposition.

"My concern is how much the city, who just asked their employees to take a cut in pay, is committing themselves," said Ray Moritz, who owns a forestry business on Willow Street near Albert Field . "It seems like the city's not getting a really good deal here."

Dotty LeMieux, an attorney representing some opponents, said she was worried that Centerfield was only looking to turn a profit.

"This is not a San Rafael team," LeMieux said. "These players don't live in San Rafael. This business is not a San Rafael business. San Rafael's not getting anything from this."

Meanwhile, resident Alezz Laielen said she wanted the city to look into potential negative effects the public address system and other baseball noise might have on residents' hearing and health.

"I can certainly feel sometimes the percussions from the farmers market," Laielen said. "Even people that aren't even aware of chronic noise, it damages their immune system. It's causing heart attacks."

But resident Barry Taranto suggested opponents were thinking of minor league baseball in exaggerated terms.

"We're not talking about Barry Bonds playing in every game, and we're not talking about rock concerts," Taranto said.

Resident Mike Lewis, another supporter, called the proposal a "fantastic opportunity for the city of San Rafael and the local downtown community to have a ballpark.

"Anything you can do to help out our downtown is fantastic," he said.

Eric Ahern, a 12-year-old Hall Middle School student dressed as a box of popcorn, stayed at the meeting until almost midnight with a group of friends in peanut, cracker jacks and hot dog costumes.

"Putting a minor league baseball team in Marin is putting smiles and joy on kids' faces and giving them something to do," Eric said. "The location is ideal and practical because kids can either bike or"...walk."