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    Albany hires new consultant for waterfront planning

    Trees in blossom at the Albany’s waterfront, whose future is being fiercely debated in the community. Photo by Linda (Linjun) Fan.

    The City Council of Albany voted 3-2 to hire a consulting firm Monday, aiming to build community consensus on the future use of the city’s waterfront, an issue that has sparked off fierce debates among Albany residents in recent years.

    Fern Tiger Associates was hired to gather information, hold public meetings, and conduct surveys on the issue in the following 18 months, and eventually develop a “vision for the future of Albany’s waterfront “. The City of Albany will pay about $600,000 to the company for the service.

    Two members of the Council, Farid Javandel and Jewel Okawachi, opposed the project.

    “Going through this visioning process is a good idea. However, I am concerned with the cost, ” Javandel said.

    The Council has set aside $300,000 for the project, and needs to take money from other city funds to pay for the extra cost.

    “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing now, and it’s worth finding the money for, ” said Councilmember Marge Atkinson.

    Atkinson was elected into the Council in 2006 by voters who opposed a commercial development plan on the waterfront proposed by Gold Gate Fields Racetrack, which owns a major portion of the land.

    “I feel that I was elected to form a vision for the waterfront, to promote this process, ” Atkinson said.

    A majority of the Council Members voted to start the visioning process last November, which is expected to bring about a community consensus on the divisive issue.

    Robert Hartman, General Manager of the racetrack, said that it’s useless to start the visioning process, since it wouldn’t be applicable for years. He dismissed the speculation that the land of the racetrack would be sold to developers soon, saying that his business is profitable and he even has a plan to double racing days next year.

    “There is zero intention of the racetrack going away, ” Hartman said.

    Councilmember Joanne Wile said that the land could be sold because its parent company is in financial trouble.

    Mayor Robert Lieber said that he would be happy if the racetrack will stay, but the city needs to prepare a plan of its own right now.

    “We can’t just wait for the next developer, or the next bad idea to come, and then spend all our time fighting that, ” Lieber said.

    Click here to read the scope of work and budget of the waterfront visioning process.

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