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    State deficit means hit to Albany schools

    June 17th, 2010

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    Safeway hopes to rebuild

    June 9th, 2010

    Safeway in Albany would be torn down and rebuilt under company plan

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    AHS Jazz Band sent to Lincoln Center

    May 24th, 2010

    Albany High School Jazz Band practices for “Essentially Ellington”

    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.

    Voices to Vision report on Waterfront out

    April 14th, 2010

    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 »

    Transition Albany hosts climate change film

    March 5th, 2010

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Albany groups focus on Climate Change

    December 7th, 2009
    Albany activists at the corner of Marin and San Pablo during the Oct. 24 International Day of Action on Climate Change

    Albany activists at the corner of Marin and San Pablo during the Oct. 24 International Day of Action on Climate Change

    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:

    Waterfront survey open till Friday midnight

    November 19th, 2009

    The Albany waterfront

    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 »

    Golden Gate Fields Sale uncertain

    November 14th, 2009

    Horses and trainers prepare for a race at Golden Gate Fields

    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.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Albany to go to polls Nov. 3 for schools vote

    October 22nd, 2009

    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.

    Albany “Dry” Triathlon coming up

    October 20th, 2009

    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.”

    Albany Alums to perform for music benefit

    September 9th, 2009

    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

    AUSD votes 4-0 to put parcel tax on ballot

    August 6th, 2009

    By Barbara Grady

    Across California, local public school districts are picking up a job abandoned by the state by passing measures to adequately fund their schools. In ballot measures using words like “emergency” and “education preservation” 44 California school districts asked voters this year and last to approve parcel taxes rather than make students endure crowded classrooms or high school without sports, as the state would have them do.

    In Albany on Tuesday night, the board of education voted unanimously to put an emergency parcel tax measure on the November ballot. It would be a five-year tax of $149 per household (or parcel) per year to plug the holes in school funding brought on by the state’s $11 billion cuts to education. One board member was absent but all others voted for the measure. Read the rest of this entry »

    “Save Our Sports” event coming up

    August 4th, 2009

    The athletes at Albany High School are just not going to let Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators take away their bats and balls, championships and opportunities to compete.

    Instead, coaches, athletes and parents have organized “Save our Sports” – a massive fundraising tournament and auction they hope will raise enough money to let AHS continue its 18 interscholastic sports this year despite losing half its sports funding to state budget cuts.

    Their “Save Our Sports” fundraiser is a golf tournament, auction and dinner planned for August 21st at the Tilden Park Golf Course and the Emeryville Hilton Garden Inn.

    The goal of this event is to raise $50,000 to save “all” sports at Albany High School,” said Stephen Dunkle, coach of the high school swimming team and one of the organizers. Read the rest of this entry »

    Citizen Journalism Anyone?

    July 17th, 2009

    A proposal for news gathering on Albany Today
    Dear Albany Today reader:

    Albany received an incredible gift when UC graduate student Linjun Fan decided to set up a news blog about this community for her journalism degree master’s project. AlbanyToday.org became a vehicle for residents to learn about local issues and events. But, alas, Linjun has completed her degree and gone home.

    Since January, I had been helping Linjun when I had time by writing education stories and a few business stories. I felt, and still do, that Albany residents need to know about the decisions and issues affecting their community and I admired the journalism experiment Linjun undertook. But I have had only limited hours to give to Albany Today because my real work must take precedent. That continues to be the case and, as you can see, I file stories only once in a while. Although Linjun in her farewell letter optimistically said I would carry on Albany Today, we had only informally discussed that and I had not yet decided. Now, I have another idea – that WE ALL carry it on. Read the rest of this entry »

    Albany joins East Bay Green Corridor

    July 8th, 2009

    By Barbara Grady

     The City of Albany has joined the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership, which should open the way for Albany to participate in the green jobs creation and green business recruitment that its neighboring cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville and Richmond pursue.

     Joining should also help Albany to benefit from $76 million in federal Stimulus money awarded to the Partnership for weatherization, green job training, bio-energy research and carbon capture endeavors.

     “We are a small city,” without the space or clout to attract large businesses, said Albany Mayor Marge Atkinson. “But by leveraging strengths with the other cities and sharing information,” Albany can participate and benefit by the burgeoning green economic activity, she said.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    House on Buchanan caught on fire

    June 30th, 2009

    A house on 907 Buchanan Street in Albany caught on fire at around 6 pm Monday. The fire lasted for several hours before firefighters put it out. The house was severely burned but no person was injured.

    Bienvenido Galas, a tenant who lives there, said he was sleeping in his room when he sensed something went wrong.

    “Suddenly everything was hot, ” he said. Read the rest of this entry »

    Albany police seek information from public in investigating man’s death

    June 18th, 2009

    Albany Police are investigating the death of a man whose body was found on the Albany Hill two months ago.

    The man was identified as Alfredo Vega Gamboa, an auto mechanic who lived in Richmond. 33-year-old Gamboa was found dead in the woods on the west side of the hill on the morning of Saturday, April 18th. Read the rest of this entry »

    AUSD Superintendent outlines plan

    June 11th, 2009

    By Barbara Grady-Ayer

    After describing grim financial news she received from state education leaders, Albany Unified School District Superintendent Marla Stephenson on Monday laid out the plan for how Albany schools will function next year with a drastically reduced budget.

    Stephenson said the district will be receiving $1,100 less per student from the state in the new academic year than it did for the year just ending. That is almost a 20 percent loss, she said.

    To view a video of her talk, please click here

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Senior Albany City Staff passed away

    June 8th, 2009

     Barry Whittaker

    Barry Whittaker, an employee of the City of Albany who oversaw major public construction projects, passed away from a car accident recently.

    69-year-old Whittaker was riding his bike at a street crossing in Hercules City when he hit into a car on a recent Monday, according to Ann Chaney, Director of Community Development Department of Albany. Read the rest of this entry »

    What Governor’s action, May 19 vote mean to Albany

    June 2nd, 2009

    By Barbara Grady-Ayer

    Albany schools are likely to take some very serious hits in September now that California voters defeated the May 19 budget initiatives and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has responded by putting forth another round of harsh cuts.

    Gov. Schwarzenegger in recent days outlined a draconian budget plan that includes taking another $5 billion away from education. Combined with February’s cuts to education, that would mean a loss of at least $1,000 per student by next September.

    Albany Board of Education members say that size cut will all but eliminate the chances of preserving the school programs that it voted in February to put on provisional list for cutting in a worse case scenario.

    Read the rest of this entry »