By Barbara Grady
Safeway Inc. has tentative plans to tear down its Albany store and reconstruct one twice the size with a parking lot underneath the building, according to an application to the Albany Planning and Zoning Commission.
The grocery chain, whose Solano Avenue store is a mainstay of Albany commerce and the only full service grocery store in the city, would build a Safeway supermarket to better match the needs of the local market, said Todd Paradis, head of real estate negotiations for the company’s Northern California properties, at a commission meeting last week. The current store is only 25,600 square feet and doesn’t carry some merchandize that Safeway sells elsewhere, he said.
However, the proposed 52,000 square foot retail store for Albany – which is scaled down from a plan Safeway proposed two years ago – is regarded by many of Safeway’s neighbors as too large for a lot that’s next to residential homes and families with kids.
Video and blog by Barbara Grady
There are 18,400 public high schools in the United States and chances are each one has a jazz band. Of them, 1,550 hoped to be invited to this month’s “Essentially Ellington” High School Jazz Competition & Festival held at Lincoln Center.
Only 15 school bands were selected. Albany High School’s Jazz Band was one of them.
To listen to what makes the Albany Jazz Band stand out, click on this video of the band practicing songs they later performed at “Essentially Ellington.”
Playing with Wynton Marsalis, the legendary trumpeter who is Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and attending sessions taught by conductor David Berger, saxophonist Jimmy Heath and bassist Rodney Whitaker, the Albany students experienced what it’s like to play in the Big Apple with some of the world’s best under the glittering lights of Lincoln Center.
“For Jazz, New York is one of the biggest hubs, it pretty much is the biggest hub,” said AHS saxophonist Tad Nicol. “It’s really cool to go to the place where it all kind of evolved.”
AHS Instrumental Music Director Craig Bryant said being invited to the festival was the culmination of lots of dedicated work.
“We’ve been trying for a number of years to get in to the festival,” Bryant said. “We worked really hard,” not only practicing but then also preparing an audition CD which turned into a team effort for band members, he said.
The 19 students and their director headed off to the festival on May 7 for three days of jamming, competitions and good listening.
No doubt, some of these kids will be back – as professionals.
View Albany Waterfront in a larger map
The Albany Waterfront future, as envisioned by Albany residents. Blue markers indicate areas residents want converted to, or preserved as, open space. The area enclosed by the blue line represents the approximate space most residents would allow to be developed to generate tax revenues.
By Barbara Grady
A two year study aimed at figuring out what Albany residents wish for the city’s 190 acre waterfront concluded this week with a report to the City Council indicating most people want a major expansion of public park space.
The “Voices to Vision” community engagement found that 62 percent of residents who participated want to expand open space by at least 75 acres, according to Fern Tiger Associates, which did the study. That would mean a total of 163 acres of parkland, wetlands, trails and supporting structures at Albany’s waterfront, an area that now includes the Albany bulb, the Golden Gate Fields race track and parking lot and the Eastshore State Park plateau.
However, ‘Voices to Vision” also found that half of participants hope that enough development occurs on the waterfront to maintain current tax revenue generated from the site: approximately $1.7 million now received from Golden Gate Fields.
Of course, any community vision depends on a developer’s inclination to follow that idea or a local government’s willingness to implement it. Right now, 102 acres of the waterfront is privately owned by Golden Gage Fields racetrack owner Magna Entertainment Corp. The bulb is owned by the city and the plateau by the state. Magna, which has been in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceedings since last year, has entered an agreement to give Golden Gate Fields to its largest shareholder, MI Developments Inc., in exchange for repayment of debt. MI is a real estate operating company which manages commercial and industrial developments. However, any major new development on the Golden Gate Fields property would require a zoning change and therefore city approval. That is why the city sought to determine residents’ interests.
Read the rest of this entry »
I proudly present you here a series of profile stories written by my students — sophomores and juniors learning journalism at Shantou Univeristy, China.
You will find the series rich and lively, ranging from profiles of an artist, a dentist, a tailor, a cleaner, to a stone sculptor, a restaurant owner, and a pig raiser, as well as people whose life usually remains unknown to the public in China, such as a lesbian and a leprosy patient. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jordan Sampietro
Would you be surprised to learn that drinking alcoholic beverages on the streets and sidewalks of Albany is legal? People are legally able to stroll down Solano Avenue or walk by a school with a beer or Jack Daniels whiskey in hand. According to the Albany Police, our city lacks something called an Open Container Ordinance which would make drinking in public illegal. All of the cities that surround Albany have Open Container Ordinances in place: Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, and Richmond. One police officer I spoke with said Albany may be the only city left in Northern California that doesn’t have an ordinance.
The City of Albany’s Social and Economic Justice Commission will be considering an Open Container Ordinance at its meeting March 10 at 7 p.m. at City Hall on San Pablo Avenue.
Read the rest of this entry »
Information submitted by Miya Kitahara
A small band of Albany residents has formed “Transition Albany,” one chapter in a growing global movement to foster community resilience in the face of climate change and related challenges of peak oil use and the economic crisis. (visit www.transitionalbany.org)
Transition Albany is the 59th official Transition Initiative in the United States, according to Transition US. The Transition Movement represents one of the most promising ways of engaging people in strengthening theircommunities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected, Transition US says.
This coming weekend, Transition Albany is showing the acclaimed 2008 British independent docu-drama on climate change, “The Age of Stupid,” at Albany’s movie theater on Solano Avenue, on Sunday, March 7th at 11:30 am.
It’s that time again: time to hammer out a school budget for the next academic year. Albany Superintendent of Schools Marla Stephenson will meet with the public Thursday evening, February 11 to present her proposal for next year’s school district budget.
The event is from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the new City Council Chambers at San Pablo at Marin Avenues.
Each January, the superintendent holds a budget summit to discuss how much money the state of California is expected to allot to education, and to Albany Unified School District in particular, for the following year and to unveil a tentative proposal for how Albany will operate within that sum plus the amount collected from local parcel taxes. For more detail visit http://ausd.ca.schoolloop.com.
In California, unlike most other states, at least 90 percent of school funding comes from the state through its general fund revenues collected from income, property and sales taxes. The balance comes from local parcel taxes and federal money. In Albany, the parcel taxes passed and renewed last November are estimated to make up about 10 percent of the school district budget. In many other states, taxes for schools are collected locally and apportioned locally.
Superintendent Stephenson in a memo said that on Thursday she would discuss the current AUSD priorities and options and how the Governor’s recently unveiled state budget would change district funding levels as well as possibly alter requirements. She’ll also discuss how Albany’s emergency parcel tax will augment our budget.
For more information on California school finances, readers may visit EdSource, a non-profit education research firm, at:
Speaking of the current budget season, EdSource states:
“As school districts around California begin work on their 2010-11 budgets, they are facing a financial situation likely to be even more difficult than this year’s. Much of the one-time money that the state and federal government provided in response to the recent economic crisis will have run out.”
On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, the City of Albany will .
host a second annual “Commit to Serve” expo. Designed to help people heed the call of president Barack Obama to devote the day to service, the event
will offer ways that people can volunteer to help the community and the world. It will be held at the Albany Community Center on Marin Avenue.
To honor Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to service, the “Commit to Serve” Expo will provide resources, contacts and ideas to assist people in making a pledge of service to your community in 2010.
“Make this the year you become a Block Captain, or volunteer at your child’s school, or help the elderly neighbor with his yard-it is up to you!” organizers said in an email.
The Albany Expo will feature representatives from local organizations offering volunteer opportunities and information as well as an idea board and tools to assist citizens in making a pledge of service to the community in 2010. To learn more go to. http://www.albanyca.org
People can also donate a coat to the organization One Warm Coat oor a canned food item to the Alameda County Food Bank.
At its first “Commit to Serve” day a year ago on Martin Luther King Jr. day, the event received 250 pledges of service, 500 coats and over 1,000 lbs of food.
Attenders will be asked what they would like to do to serve the community and then to fill out a “pledge card” and hang it on the Commit to Serve pledge card display at the Community Center.
Oranizers say that if each person in Albany gave one hour of service in 2010 that would add up to 17,000 hours of help to the community.
To learn more about the national day of service, go to http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/mlkservice/
By Ellen Toomey and Emma Rotem
Dec. 7, 2009 — This week begins the international summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, to craft a new global treaty on climate change.
“Thinking globally and acting locally,” Albany citizens and city government are learning and taking action to meet the climate change challenges we all face. These efforts include citizen groups Transition Albany and Carbon Neutral Albany. The City of Albany is in the process of creating a Climate Action Plan — a coordinated effort intended to reduce local emissions that contribute to global warming and to improve air quality, reduce waste, cut energy use and save money.The plan also aims to help the Albany community achieve greenhouse gas reduction.
On October 24, an international day of action organized by 350.org, people at over 5,200 events in 181 countries came together for what may have been the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet’s history — including members of these two Albany groups pictured.
“Our focus is on the number 350–as in parts per million, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. But 350 is more than a number–it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet,” the organization, 350.org, states.
Albany High’s EarthTeam joined a group of other participants to form a necklace of human “beads” around the summit of Mt. Diablo.
To learn about Albany citizen groups addressing Climate Change, go to:
For information about the Climate Action Plan being developed by the City of Albany:
For more information and photos from a Day of Action all over the globe:
By Barbara Grady
After a round of community meetings about the Albany waterfront indicated that residents want both expanded open space and a continuation of tax revenue-generating activities, residents now have a second chance to voice their opinions. They have two days left to respond to a detailed survey about their hopes for the 190 acres of land along the San Francisco Bay. (Go to www.voicestovision.com to respond to the survey)
Read the rest of this entry »
Horses and trainers prepare for a race at Golden Gate Fields
By Barbara Grady
The Golden Gate Fields race track is scheduled to be auctioned off for sale on February 25 in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceeding designed to let its owner Magna Entertainment Corp. sell assets to raise funds.
But whether a sale of the Albany horse racing venue actually takes place is still up in the air, officials said, and dependent on negotiations with bidders. As Magna, the largest owner of horse race tracks in North America, has put other race properties up for sale as part of its reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, it has met both success and obstacles. Two weeks ago it sold its Lone Star Park in Maryland with bankruptcy-court approval for $47.9 million. But a planned sale of its Pimlico Race Track in Maryland – home of the famous Preakness races – has been delayed as Magna bypassed its lead or stalking bid bidder.
“There’s still a lot of questions surrounding the auction and how it is going to take place,” said Robert Hartman, Golden Gate Fields general manager. “I’m not sure if Golden Gate fields will in fact be up for auction on Feb. 25,” he said.
Magna Entertainment filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection in March, stating that excessive debt and interest expenses. Golden Gate Fields and all of Magna’s horse racing venues have continued operations during the Magna restructuring.
By Barbara Grady-
Behind its huge, brightly lit score board, in the turf receiving the pounding hoofs of galloping horses and in other places at Golden Gate Fields, new energy and water saving materials have been installed and are turning traditions of this 68-year-old horse racing venue on its head. Golden Gate Fields has gone green.
In the beginning of this season, 10,000 incandescent light bulbs were removed from its score board and replaced with a lower energy use liquid crystal display system. Earlier, a water guzzling dirt track was replaced with turf that is a mixture of ash and wax that doesn’t need water – and is kinder to horses’ hoofs. Electronic betting terminals have been retuned to shut down automatically when not in use. In the kitchens, cooking grease is collected in special containers, filtered, and set aside for a bio-diesel fuel manufacturer to pick up. And outside, a race-track operated shuttle service from the Berkeley BART is cutting down on traffic and automobile emissions.
These and other measures won Golden Gate Fields a “StopWaste Business Efficiency Award” from the Alameda County Waste Management Authority and the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board for 2009. At an event Oct. 16, the county agencies named 12 large Alameda County businesses “whose leadership and continuous efforts to improve environmental performance and business efficiency have achieved outstanding results,” said Justin Justin Justin Lehrer, program manager of Alameda County’s StopWaste.org program.
Read the rest of this entry »
By Barbara Grady-Ayer
an endorser of Albany ballot Measures I and J
Albany voters will be asked to consider two parcel tax measures on November 3 aimed at saving Albany schools from the state’s worst financial crisis in half a century.
The Measures I and J would restore less than half the money the state took away from Albany’s school district this year. However, they would keep Albany schools from a rapid deterioration by paying for a number of the academic programs and teaching services that Albany is holding onto with virtual band-aids and shoe-string this year.
For the current year, the district is using 2009 federal Stimulus program grants of $1.2 million to fund some programs. That money won’t be available next year. It’s also using donations from Albany parents and citizens. Although those donations poured in at a record-breaking amount this year, they still added up to only a fraction of the $4.2 million the state took away from Albany in its education budget.
So in many ways, Measures I and J are a referendum on whether the community wants to preserve the kind of education Albany has had or let it slide downhill, many believe.
“I feel that I cannot stand by and watch the quality of education in Albany sink along with the state budget,” said Miriam Walden, a parent and board of education member who is leading the Measures I and J campaign.
Buoyed by the thought that Albany can bypass the troubles experienced in other school districts by passing the parcel tax measures — and by fear of what would happen if Albany does not get this funding — dozens of volunteers for the Measures I and J campaign have been out canvassing neighborhoods in recent weeks talking to people about the two measures. Last weekend, the volunteers visited 850 homes, bringing to 1,500 the number of front porch conversations or visits that have been had about Measures I and J in recent weeks.
Measures I is an emergency tax of $149 a year per house or residence. It is designed to get Albany schools through the current crisis by lasting five years.
Measure J is not a new tax. It would renew an existing tax that is set to expire in a few years and thereby stabilize funding by keeping all past parcel taxes on the books. It also provides an exemption for seniors and low-income residents. (Go to www.savealbanyschools.org for more information)
“The message we need to send about supporting public education is not to a state legislature that won’t respond. It’s to our kids and to our teachers. And we’re the only ones who can deliver it. I’m voting yes on I and J,” said Bob Menzimer, one of the volunteers.
Marla Stephenson, superintendent of the Albany Unified School District, has said that renewing the existing parcel taxes is absolutely crucial if Albany is to maintain the level of educational offerings and quality it now is holding onto so tenuously. That is because as the state has withdrawn money from education, Albany and other districts have used parcel taxes to fund core programs, rather than extras, and to hold classroom sizes at teachable amounts. Still this year, classes in Albany schools are more crowded than they have been in a generation. Stephenson said Albany needs the emergency tax, Measure I, if it is to hold on to the quality that people have come to expect of Albany schools.
“Those parcel taxes are essential to the running of the school system,” Stephenson said at an Albany Board of Education meeting last summer when the parcel tax was being decided. She said if the renewal measure doesn’t pass “we will go back to the voters again and again until it does” because Albany desperately needs those funds.
If measure J does not pass, there would be a $2.5 million hole in the budget in addition to whatever reductions the state may or may not pass. The emergency tax, Measure I, would bring in $1.2 million. A committee of volunteers and the board of education determined last summer that to seek more than this amount would be too burdensome on some Albany residents. The committee did a research survey of a few hundred homes to see what level of a parcel tax most people would be comfortable with. They arrived at $149 a year instead of $200 or $250 because the recession is already putting stress on people’s pocket books. Stephenson said restoring all cut programs would cost above $250 in new taxes per household.
Measures I and J need a two/thirds majority vote to pass, so the committee felt it was essential that most people were comfortable with the tax.
A number of the volunteers no longer have children in the school system. But as several people said, the quality of Albany schools seem to be what has been holding up property values in Albany.
“Why should we impose this tax burden upon ourselves when prospects are currently so uncertain and funds so scarce? The reason is simple: self-interest. Albany property values far exceed expectations, primarily due to Albany’s commitment to schools,” said Robert Cheasty, an Albany resident whose children are grown and no long in the schools.
He said that while he definitely wants to support the education of children, “Any quick survey shows that those communities that pass school taxes are the communities with the best property values.”
To visit the Albany Unified School District web site go to http://ausd.ca.schoolloop.com
Barbara Grady-Ayer has endorsed and contributed money to the Measures I and J campaigns for Albany schools. She is also a parent of two children in the Albany school system.
By Barbara Grady-Ayer
So what if there’s no pool? Organizers of the second annual Albany Triathlon are not deterred by the lack of a pool. They’re just calling it the “Dry Triathlon” and it’s coming up this Sunday, Oct. 25.
The running and biking but hold-the-swimming event will launch from Memorial Field in Albany, with the first wave of racers taking off at 8 a.m. for a biking course of nine miles and a running course of two miles. There will also be a “Mosey” edition of the race involving a four mile bike ride and one mile run.
“The reaction of the community to the flexibility and openness of the triathlon’s structure where people could race or just participate, and feel supported by all, was great,” said one of the organizers, Michael Mejia, recalling how it went last year.
“Every Albany High School student has to run a mile for timing every week. Residents run and ride bikes on the BART Trail and Bay Trail and also ride to work,” he said. “Clearly hundreds of kids ride their bikes to school every day – over 50 to Albany High School alone. With these sorts of numbers of active people, an event like this a natural,” Mejia said. Volunteers with the Albany Athletic Boosters organized the event.
If last year’s Albany Triathlon is any guide, the event will bring out young and old, serious athletes and Saturday morning joggers as well as those who just like to walk. Last year, the 70 participants ranged in age from 10 to 68 years old and you can see the enjoyment they had by reading the Albany Today 2008 story on the event go to http://albanytoday.org/2008/09/29/504/
Albany’s pool has since been torn down for reconstruction. But participants from last year have been asking when is the next Triathlon, so organizers went ahead and planned something — sans swimming.
In addition, the triathlon is a fundraiser for Albany High School athletics whose budget has been cut in half. Last year’s triathlon brought in $1,100 but organizers are hoping for both more participants and more revenue this year since the need is so great.
The nine miles of biking entails 15 cycling laps around the Portland, Masonic, Thousand Oaks and Carmel block that surrounds Memorial Field and Albany High School. The two-mile running track is four laps around the sidewalks and lawn of the same block.
The “Mosey” event will take off at 9 a.m. for eight cycling laps around that block and two running laps on the running course. Streets will be closed off to automobile traffic and event organizers will supply water, first aid supplies, course marshals as well as T- shirts and water bottles to participants. It costs $30 to enter and the race will accommodate the first 100 people who sign up. To do so go to http://Albanyhs.schoolloop.com/boosters/general and click on “Albany Dry Triathlon.”
from the Albany Music Fund
When Albany High School 2006 alumni Jonathan Sandberg and Emma Gavenda heard that the disastrous state budget cuts were threatening their alma mater’s music programs, they did what they do best: planned an evening of beautiful music as a benefit concert to keep the music program alive.
On Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m., Albany Music Fund proudly presents these two bighearted and talented alumni in a concert with selections spanning more four centuries. The concert is at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Palache Hall, 2837 Claremont Blvd in Berkeley. (To purchase tickets, go to http://www.brownpap ertickets. com/event/ 78916)
Jonathan, a vocal performance major at University of California at Irvine, will perform Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, Donizetti and Moore, as well as traditional spirituals and sacred works with accompanist Mary Low. Emma, a harpsichord performance major at University of California at Davis, will play Jean-Henri D’Anglebert and William Byrd.
All proceeds go to the Albany Music Fund, which sponsors much of the music program in Albany’s public schools, from elementary school band to award-winning vocal programs at the high school. Tickets are $25 – 50 sliding scale, and must be purchased online at brownpapertickets. com. For a direct link to this event, go to: http://www.brownpap ertickets. com/event/ 78916
By Barbara Grady-Ayer
It has become a right of passage for youngsters in Albany. When you reach fourth grade you get to pick out an instrument — shiny saxophones, silvery flutes, etc. – and play in a school band.
It almost didn’t happen this year.
So this past week, as 9 and 10 year olds in Albany public schools proudly chose their instruments and started playing – and some classmates began singing in school choirs – many adults were saying ‘whew, what a close call.’
Elementary music instruction was slated to be eliminated from the Albany Unified School District last spring after the state budget crisis forced the district to cut its spending by 15 percent.
But the Albany Music Fund, a volunteer organization of parents and teachers, saved the day – and the hopes of many a child.
The Albany Music Fund raised $84,000 to save music instruction in Albany’s schools. The sum allowed the elementary schools not only to restore instrumental instruction but to expand music to include vocal instruction or band instruction for every 4th and 5th grader. The fundraising also allowed Albany Middle School to keep its chorale program and allowed the high school to retain its range of music programs, specifically its Rythm Bound band.
“We worked very hard to accomplish this,” said Penny Barthel, president of the Albany Music Fund. “We are committed to keeping music really strong” in Albany Schools.” In fact, the organization has upped its fundraising goal for this current year to $125,000.
“As you can see, we’ve really stepped up to the challenges presented to us by the recent economic conditions,” she said.
So if you hear a classic tune coming from the lips of a fourth or fifth grader around this town, or for that matter a middle schooler or high schooler, remember how they may have learned that tune.
To learn more about the Albany Music Fund, go to www.albanymusic.org.
By Michael Mejia
Out of the gloom and doom of a $115,000 cut in the Albany Athletics annual budget, the Albany Athletic Boosters delivered the Albany “Save Our Sports” golf tournament on a glorious summer afternoon last Friday. One hundred and sixteen golfers descended upon the Tilden Park golf course in prime weather to ply their skills. Read the rest of this entry »
Albany Police Activities League
The Albany Police Activities League has chosen Yesenia Vasquez as their 2009 scholarship winner. Ms. Vasquez graduated from MacGregor High School in June 2009 where she stood out both as a top student and an outstanding contributor to the Albany community, the organization said. She will begin her college career next week at Contra Costa College.
By Caryl O’Keefe
Albany waterfront visitors, and those who might be visitors if conditions were different, will have a chance soon to offer suggestions concerning dogs on the publicly-owned 88 acres at the waterfront.
The City of Albany’s Waterfront Committee (WC) on July 27 voted to ask City staff to provide a report of conditions and issues related to dogs at the waterfront. This vote followed extensive discussion of a report prepared by committee member Francesco Papalia. Papalia researched waterfront conditions by interviewing park visitors onsite this spring. He concluded that Albany’s waterfront is “a de facto off-leash dog park without any enforcement of any rules.” (read Papalia’s report at These public parklands are contiguous, with few boundary markers, so Papalia’s report encouraged coordinated rules for an ordinance.