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Council Votes 'Yes' on 'Whole Foods Project'

Scroll down to take our poll about the project. Several of the items approved Monday night will return before the council for a final vote July 16. Click the "Keep me posted" button for email updates about this topic.

In a six-hour meeting filled with cheers and jeers, the Albany City Council approved  needed to move forward a University of California plan for development of a grocery store and senior housing facility at University Village.

Project plans have been underway for five years, and include a Whole Foods store up to 55,000 square feet just north of Monroe Street, as well as a 175-unit senior housing complex just south of Monroe.

The council approved in the Village, which the university said were necessary for completion of the project, as well as changes to municipal open space and parking requirements, the project's and a development agreement. (.)

Officials estimated that 150-200 people attended the meeting; some of them had to watch a monitor from outside the room because the hall where the meeting was held was filled to capacity. (There were 120 seats set up in the room for meeting attendees, and many people also stood and lined the walls of the room throughout the night.)

said after the meeting that it was the latest-running one she could recall during her 11 years working for the city.

Approximately 40 activists and supporters for urban farming, many of whom said they want an agro-ecology center created on the Gill Tract agricultural research fields, as well as the preservation of agricultural land,  various aspects of the project. 

Though many said they lived in Berkeley or the greater East Bay, quite a few of the speakers against the project, including at least two Albany business owners, said they lived in Albany or had close ties to it. 

About 16 people spoke in favor of the development, including many members of Albany Little League, which has several playing fields in the Village. The project development agreement, which was approved Monday night, assures the league that its current fields will remain in place for at least 10 years, and that the university will pay to move them if the need arises.

Unlike many Albany meetings, which are marked for the most part by moderate public comments and a largely orderly tone, Monday night's meeting was punctuated by frequent outbursts despite repeated attempts by the mayor to reign in public emotion.

"We extraordinaly bent our usual public speaking policies," he said, in allowing audience members to "cede time" to fellow commenters, which is not a common practice for Albany. "We allowed you to get away with all kinds of clapping and booing, which is not allowed." 

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Many of the speakers against the project were affiliated with Occupy the Farm, a group that took over the university's Gill Tract in April to plant an urban farm and advocate for a permanent center on the UC research fields for community farming efforts. 

Critics of the university's plan said the project's environmental review document failed to address issues such as pollution and traffic impacts adequately. Numerous speakers said, as a result, council approval of the document could leave the city open to litigation. 

David Clore of LSA Associates, the firm that prepared the environmental impact report, told the council that "what we heard simply, in many cases, was not accurate," and assured council members that the 2,500-page document fairly described all the impacts.

Many speakers talked about their inherent distrust for the university, and railed against what they described as an increasing privatization and corporatization of the institution.

Supporters of the project said it would ; revitalize a depressed portion of San Pablo Avenue; bring much-needed revenue and jobs to the city; create nearby housing for seniors; and improve access to creeks and cycling paths. 

Just after 1 a.m., as the council worked its way through the seven separate approvals on the agenda, attempted to convince the other four council members to approve an easement to protect the Gill Tract research fields as open space. 

His motion received a yes-vote from , and no-votes from and . abstained from the vote, which resulted in its failure.

Atkinson was the lone no-vote in approving the project's Environmental Impact report, saying she wanted to acknowledge community concerns voiced about the document.

Lieber was the sole no-vote on the development agreement between the university and the city, as well as the density bonus requested by the university to lower parking requirements.

Overall, however, he said he supported the development. 

"This is good for Albany. It does create a community space that fronts San Pablo. It does create an income that this city sorely needs," he said. "We have scraped and cut and found really great ways to make up our budgets. But we need this. That's the way I feel."

Council members expressed interest in preserving open space on the Gill Tract fields and working with the university to investigate the possibility of creating an agro-ecology center there.

Several of the items approved Monday will return to the council for a "second reading" on July 16, but may not be open for additional public comment unless the council decides to re-open the public hearing.

The city also will revise one of the to provide that the project will , said Albany's Community Development director, Jeff Bond.

Do you agree with the council decision? Take our poll below. See live tweets from the meeting in the PDF attached to this story.

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on the Whole Foods project. Learn about the proposed .

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email at albany@patch.com.

Francesco Papalia July 12, 2012 at 03:57 PM
(Apologies for the double post) People talk, write and act differently when they use their real full name and identity in the public setting. (Note the OTFers who wear masks during their protest) Their facts are better researched and their opinions and personal references are tempered by their personal public exposure. Using your full name will usually help to identify in which city you live. This discussion, both online and at public meetings, has sometimes been inundated with non Albanians. I crave to hear new opinions and perspectives from my Albany neighbors who will stand behind their words with their real full names. It is time for prolific posters like Tatter Salad and Dover to come out of the blog closet. I would value your ideas if you did. Otherwise your writing lacks the intrinsic integrity that comes with full disclosure of your identity. Yes, it will make you more vulnerable. But I, for one, will listen and consider what you have to say with sincere interest and respect. And that might make me a better person. Isn’t that what we all want in the end? Isn’t that what we all deserve?
Michael Barnes July 12, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Francesco, I agree for the most part, and it never occurred to me not to use my real name when I signed up. But I know of some serious commentators who do use pseudonyms. They might, for example, happen to have the last name of a local public official, and they don't want to spend time fending off the the misconceptions that would create. I think the reality is that we are not going to change this, so I've accepted that we have a two-tiered system. Serious people use their real names. Seats in the virtual peanut gallery are reserved for those who use pseudonyms.
Dover July 12, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Ulan does know who I am as we have children at the same school and have spoken many times. I admit that I haven't patted him on the back for his involvement in illegal activities so I likely do not stand out in his mind as favorably as those who regard his anti-social behavior in a more kindly light. I can live with that. If Ulan and Margaret viewed their home as sacrosanct, they would not hold publicly announced OTF meetings in their home nor invite complete strangers to their home. Nor would they have used their family situation to argue against the installation of padding in the Tot Lot that has enabled disabled children to also use the facility. (I still have the printed materials.) It's rather presumptuous of you to assume that I express myself any differently here than I do elsewhere. Not the case at all. My opinions do not change based on location or format. Do yours? If you are unable to derive any benefit from reading my posts simply because you have not met me yet, I invite you to pass them by. I won't hold it against you. I am not here to seek your respect and you are not obliged to value my ideas. If being a better person is dependent on the actions of others, well, let's just say you have some issues that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. The OTFers who wear masks during their "protests" hide their faces because they are breaking the law. I am not. Please refrain from lumping me into the law breaking category. Thank you!
Margaret McKnight July 12, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Dover, while we may indeed have met you in person, you have never identified yourself to us as 'Dover' and so we don't actually know who you are. We would welcome clarification. Holding a public meeting at our house means the public is invited at that time for that purpose. That is all it means. Do you use the Tot Lot at Dartmouth? While they city has technically complied with ADA they have yet to fix the actual problem that prevents handicap access; this oversight happened in part because they never allowed park users to have a voice. Furthermore, park usage is visibly way down since the renovation. I'm disappointed in both the process and the outcome, and I stated both in public letters posted on the city website. No need for you to physically stockpile the evidence. Francesco, thank you for your very well stated commentary. On this, we agree completely. Over and out.
Emilie Raguso July 13, 2012 at 12:29 AM
See political cartoonist Jim Beller's take on "win-win-win-win" solution for the University of California development project here -- http://patch.com/B-cdvP

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