Voters in the city of Albany, one of Alameda County’s smallest cities (18,000 population), will be asked to choose three City Councilmembers out of six candidates. All of the candidates are running at-large.
Proposed development of Albany’s waterfront dominates the concerns of the six City Council candidates, with no other issue (including city finances) coming close.
Cross is an attorney with more than 20 years experience in local government law and environmental law. “I’ve done almost everything you can do as a lawyer representing local government,” he said. He lists one endorsement: the National Organization for Women.
While Cross said that “everybody talks about how the waterfront is an important issue,” he doesn’t think it’s as important “in the same way as everybody else. They are concerned about it being developed by various rapacious developers, but I don’t think there’s much chance of that happening with Measure C in place.”
Cross said this law prevents waterfront development without voter approval.
“What’s more important is for us to choose natural use and open space for that area,” he said. “The best place for commercial development—maybe the only place, from my point of view—would be along the freeway. I think that would be fine.”
Cross also called for rezoning of San Pablo Avenue near the intersection of Solano Avenue to bring in “affordable housing that’s suitable for singles, couples, and young families. The kind of mixed use the city has supported in that area so far is two- and three-story condominiums for wealthy people.” Cross said that revitalizing that area depended on bringing in more people to live on San Pablo Avenue.
A registered Traffic Engineer and Civil Engineer and a member of Albany’s Traffic and Safety Commission, Javandel says that despite being the youngest candidate (at 34), “I’ve been an Albany resident longer than any other candidate than Jewel Okawachi, who has lived here her entire life.”
He ran for City Council two years ago, losing by less than a percentage point. He is endorsed by the Albany Peace Officers Association, the Sierra Club, the Alameda County, Green Party, Citizens For The Albany Shoreline, and Congressmember Barbara Lee. Although none of the current City Council members have endorsed his candidacy, Javandel said, “They all signed my nomination papers. If they didn’t actually want me to serve, I don’t think they would have signed my papers.”
Javendel called “intelligent planning” one of the key issues in the campaign, “particularly in specific locations such as the waterfront and UC village. Both of those are strong examples of the need for open space and parks. At the UC Village, we need to make sure that we don’t lose the baseball field for the Little League. At the waterfront there’s opportunities for park open space. Albany’s got very little in the way of parks for local neighborhoods. I’ve been hearing that we’re second or third densest in California. With that kind of density, it’s hard to have a lot of parks. So it’s an important issue to plan those sorts of things well.”
Javandel said that one of the city’s biggest challenges is “weathering through the [current financial] storm without doing too much damage. I see the financial shortage as a short-term problem. As the economy turns around, the city’s revenue base will recover. As we’re responsible along the way, we’ll get back to a healthier economic environment.”
Lieber says, with a laugh, that his biggest qualification for City Council is that “basically, I’m a smart guy.” He also lists years of experience as a grassroot participant in politics since he was a child, including work in the anti-war movements stemming back to the Vietnam War. He is being supported by Congressmember Barbara Lee, the Sierra Club, the Democratic Party of Alameda County, the Green Party of Alameda County, Citizens for the Albany Shoreline, and the League of Conservation Voters, as well as by Albany School Board members Miriam Walden, Michael Barnes, and Sherri Moradi.
Lieber sees the three most important issues in Albany as “saving our waterfront for a park,” “preventing massive development of malls in our city,” and “stopping any kind of casino gambling at all.” He said that the Magna Entertainment Corporation—which is proposing a 3,000 slot machine casino and shopping complex along the Albany waterfront—“is a company that has shown itself to be very unfriendly to Albany as a whole. On the one hand they say let’s get together and talk about how to have a really nice mall—that’s what the citizens want—but on the other hand they’re sponsoring Proposition 68, which would take all local control away from us if it passes. What I see is a corporation that is not talking to us in good faith.” Lieber said that in waterfront development, “I’m supporting the Sierra Plan that calls for about 15 percent development and 85 percent open space. The details of the exact type of development can be worked out, but we can’t work out those details if we give the land away.”
Okawachi has served on Albany City Council for one term, and is the only incumbent in the race. A lifelong Albany resident, she is a business owner of 27 years, has served on the city’s Parks and Recreation and Waterfront Committee, was a founding member of the Albany Education Foundation, and says that she is “active in support for the schools. I do a lot of other things with the city other than sit on City Council.” Okawachi said that she has “probably a couple of hundred endorsements from my Albany constituents. Those are the endorsements that I think are important, as far as I’m concerned.” She also lists endorsements by Assemblymember Loni Hancock, the Albany Peace Officers Association, and the National Organization for Women.
“It seems that the waterfront is a big issue. Magna is going to be coming out with their plan for development. We haven’t seen that plan yet, but I would guess that it’s going to be a pretty big plan. I’m certainly not for a big plan. I am for some small development in the waterfront area that would bring some more revenue into the city. There are also some other development plans for the area, including one by the Sierra Club. We are going to have hearings on this issue, as we did before, and so the public will be able to look at all the plans and decide what they want.”
Okawachi also said that improvements to the police and fire department were “also a big issue. It’s a matter of safety.”
Parker is a marketing manager with IBM, and worked for 20 years as a city planner. He lists the Sierra Club, the Alameda County Democratic Party, and the League of Conservation Voters as his key endorsements.
In his campaign literature, Parker lists three top priorities: “We need to stop [the] Golden Gate Fields plan for large scale development; I oppose Prop 68 and the proposed casino for Golden Gate Fields; and I support the Citizens for the Eastshore Park/Sierra Club Plan for more open space on the waterfront.”
Riffer recently retired as a financial manager and a Certified Public Accountant. He served on the Albany School Board from 1989 through 1996. “I deliberately did not ask for support from anyone who is outside of Albany,” he said. “Organizationally, I only have one endorsement: the Albany Peace Officers Association” He also lists endorsements by Mayor John Ely and Councilmembers Allan Maris and Peggy Thomsen, as well as School Board President David Farrell.
“Maintaining city services in the face of the budget situation,” is the city’s top issue, Riffer said. “Albany’s always short of resources. Health benefits for employees go up double digits. Retirement costs are escalating. About two-thirds of the city’s general fund is wages and benefits. So the ability for a small city to attract and retain staff and pay them fairly, those kinds of budget decisions would be one of the issues.”
Riffer also said that you “can’t seem to get anyone to talk about anything but the waterfront and Golden Gate Fields. We need to look at all the proposals and work with them. All of [the proposals] fall short, in my opinion. We’ll need to work with those proposals, and with the developer, and property owner and the environmental groups.”