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.

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