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?