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    State deficit means hit to Albany schools

    June 17th, 2010

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    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 »


    Commentary: Why Albany Needs an Open Container Ordinance

    March 9th, 2010

    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 »


    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 »


    MLK Jr day: Commit to serve

    January 15th, 2010

    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/


    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.

    albanyclimatechange2

    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:
    http://transitionalbany.org/
    http://www.carbon0albany.org/

    For information about the Climate Action Plan being developed by the City of Albany:
    http://albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=256

    For more information and photos from a Day of Action all over the globe:
    http://www.350.org/


    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.


    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 »


    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 »


    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 »


    Albany residents petition City to act on nuisance houses

    June 8th, 2009

    Albany resident Mindi Ritzman and Jennifer Dyment wrote the letter below to urge city officials to solve the problems with two dilapidated houses on their block:

    “We live on the 900 block of Jackson Street, which contains two abandoned houses – 947 and 953 Jackson Street. Over the years individuals in our neighborhood have asked the city – Community Development Director, Building Manager, City Attorney, Council Members, and other city staff – for help in correcting these problems. Unfortunately, all of our individual requests have been disregarded. So we created a petition to ask, as a large group of residents affected daily by these properties, that our elected officials on the City Council simply do what is outlined in Chapters 12 & 18 of the Municipal Code. 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 »


    Commentary: A new vision for the waterfront comes out of your participation

    May 1st, 2009

    Albany Mayor Marge Atkinson and Vice Mayor Joanne Wile wrote the following letter responding to the commentary Albany’s public funds should not be used on a disappearing waterfront published on Albany Today earlier this week.

    “Both of us, along with all the members of the City Council, have supported a visioning process, so that we can hear everyone’s ideas, including those who think we should do nothing.”

    Dear Readers of Albany Today:

    We are glad to see that Albany’s “Voices to Vision” community visioning process with Fern Tiger Associates is already generating ideas.  We respect Mr. Barnes and Mr. Blanchard, the authors of the latest opinion piece in Albany Today, about this planning process.  We hope that they will participate in the community meetings in their neighborhoods and express their ideas. Read the rest of this entry »


    School Board seeks ideas on budget tonight

    April 28th, 2009

    By Barbara Grady

    With 42 school programs on the chopping block – everything from music in the elementary schools to athletics at the high school – the Albany Board of Education will meet Tuesday night to discuss how to salvage some of these programs with parcel tax revenues and community fundraising.

    The board of education will meet at 7:30 at the Community Center on Marin Avenue and take stock of its list of earmarked cuts and a small pool of money that comes each year from parcel taxes that Albany voters passed in 1999 and 2005.

    Read the rest of this entry »


    Commentary:Albany’s public funds should not be used on a disappearing waterfront

    April 26th, 2009

    Charlie Blanchard and Michael Barnes, two former members on the Albany School Board, wrote the following opinion article on the waterfront issue. They warn about the risk of high tides flooding the Albany Waterfront and oppose using the city’s  public funds to develop the land.

    “As Albany residents,the two of us do not want our tax dollars spent to acquire and upgrade land for parks that will soon  be submerged. And we certainly wouldn’t want to live there, either.”

    The controversy surrounding the Albany waterfront is presented as a choice between two opposing positions — commercial development or parkland. But these two positions are not really so different. They are both models of development. Read the rest of this entry »


    Twenty-nine teacher layoffs rescinded

    April 17th, 2009

    By Barbara Grady-Ayer

    All 29 of the regular Albany public school teachers who received pink slips on March 15 learned Wednesday that their layoffs are rescinded and they’ll have jobs next year, thanks to retirements and leave requests among their colleagues.

    However, another 28 temporary teachers have not been so lucky and their layoff notices are likely to stay in force, according to district and union officials. Read the rest of this entry »


    SchoolCARE calls on residents to donate to Albany schools

    February 27th, 2009

    school-care-header

    SchoolCARE, a non-profit organization in Albany, is calling on members of the community to participate in an action plan to deal with the imminent budget cut on local schools.  Below is an open letter from the organization:

    As our school district — along with the rest of the community and nation and beyond — feels the impact of the economic downturn and struggles to provide quality education with fewer state dollars, it is important that we as a community work TOGETHER and harness parent energy in the most productive way possible for the benefit of all. Read the rest of this entry »


    Donation needed for emergency supplies at Albany High School

    January 27th, 2009

    Keng Lam, a student at Albany High School, wrote the article below calling for donation from the community to help the school purchase emergency supplies. Lam is also  President of the Red Cross Club at the school.

    It was eight o’clock at night. I looked through the emergency classroom bag inventory sheets filled out by the Albany High faculty members. I sighed. None of the sheets showed satisfactory results for the emergency classroom bags. Some bags were missing non-aspirin, while others were missing bandages. None of the emergency classroom bags were ready for disasters. Read the rest of this entry »


    Sen. Hancock defines $ problem, offers solution

    January 25th, 2009

    A open letter from State Senator Loni Hancock to her 9th district constituents defines the problem plaguing California’s budget-making system, which in turn, is about to devastate our schools and cities. As she points out, it doesn’t have to be this way.

    Dear Constituent:

    We begin the New Year with the real possibility of the financial collapse of our State government in February. As your State Senator, I want to share with you how I see our precarious situation, and what I believe must happen if we are to salvage the promise of California. Read the rest of this entry »