Originally published on Albany Patch.
The Albany City Council voted 3-0 Monday night to allocate all available non-housing redevelopment funds toward several renovation projects in the Cleveland Avenue and Pierce Street area, including the development of trails and a long-desired park.
The special meeting, posted 24 hours earlier, was in response to Brown’s plan, proposed last week, to severely overhaul local government and freeze future redevelopment projects.
“I never thought I’d make the vote,” said Councilman Robert Lieber, “but yes.”
The plan approved by the council will launch two sets of redevelopment projects, with a total price tag of $10.3 million, through a grant provided by the Albany Community Reinvestment Agency, and entail the purchase of a 4.5 acre plot off Pierce Street from CalTrans for no more than $1.95 million.
One set of projects includes a number of improvements on Cleveland Avenue that would bring street repaving, traffic improvements at the Albany off-ramp, and bicycle and pedestrian trail connections with a cost of $2.8 million.
The second set of projects, located off Pierce Street, received wondrous fanfare from a number of residents, and council members, who have been involved in trying to acquire and improve the CalTrans plot for nearly 20 years.
Albany has been in talks with CalTrans to purchase a 4.5 acre plot off Pierce Street where the on-ramps to Highway 80 used to be. A group of neighbors and many council members have been working on acquiring and developing the area for decades.
Pierce Street resident Jackie Armstrong spoke to the council about how she wanted to have a park across the street from her house for her grandchildren.
“It’s a dream come true,” Armstrong said. “Now it’s going to happen.”
After the Jan. 17 vote, the city is authorized to buy the plot, and follow through with a number of improvements, for $7.5 million, that include a park, a new maintenance center for city equipment, and a connection between the Bay Trail and the Ohlone Greenway.
With the city on the precipice of putting the final touches on its plan, the fear of losing the ability to fund the project expedited the process, officials said.
Brown’s proposed budget includes a major restructuring of local government, most significantly a plan to eliminate local redevelopment agencies by July 1. The plan is to use tax money raised for redevelopment for a number of other services, such as incarceration of low-level offenders and parole services, which would be shifted to local control.
To facilitate this transformation, there is pending legislation to prevent redevelopment agencies from entering into any more contracts. This has caused a flurry of emergency sessions; locally, both Albany and San Leandro had emergency sessions Monday to push through redevelopment projects.
The projects would have come to the council within the next two meetings, but Councilwoman Joanne Wile said city staff decided to expedite the vote in light of the pending legislation.
“It was coming to fruition,” Wile said.
The redevelopment projects that came before the council were the only ones on queue with Albany’s reinvestment agency. Under the plan, all available funds—money not being used for affordable housing or debt payment—will be provided in the form of a grant to the city for all the redevelopment projects recognized in its Five-Year Implementation Plan.
What’s clear from the meeting is that there would have been a great number of disappointed residents had the Pierce Street project in particular been frozen by state legislation.
Councilwoman Thomsen, who has spent much time during a number of public hearings in the past with CalTrans over the project, expressed deep gratitude for the council’s approval.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Thomsen said. “A lot of people have put in a lot of time (to make this happen).”