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."

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