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Albany Race Hinged on Waterfront Plans: By JAKOB SCHILLER

Tuesday November 09, 2004

According to close observers of the Albany City Council race, voters sent a clear message last week by electing two new members who oppose large-scale waterfront development. 

Both Robert Lieber and Farid Javandel, who received the second and third highest percentage of the vote, respectively, were endorsed by the Sierra Club and have stated their opposition to the various development plans that have been proposed for the Albany waterfront.  

“I believe that this council won’t be a heavy development council, at least that’s what I’m hoping for,” said Lieber, who is a registered nurse at Alta Bates. “I think the city spoke out clearly by backing Sierra Club candidates.” 

The third candidate who won a seat, Jewel Okawachi, was an incumbent and has said she is also opposed to large-scale development. 

The development issues facing the city include the informal proposal by Magna Corporation, which owns the Golden Gate Fields racetrack, to build a 600,000- to 800,000-square-foot mall on a parking lot to the northwest of the racetrack. 

Magna Entertainment Corp., the largest operator of horse tracks in North America, has not released any formal plans for the development, but has selected Caruso Affiliated Holdings as the developer. Both the firm and its president, Rick J. Caruso, have generated controversy with their other developments around the state, such as The Grove, a megamall complex in Los Angeles.  

Magna’s future at the site is not certain, city leaders said. The company could shut down the Golden Gate Fields racetrack and focus on their new racing facility in Dixon, which sits on 260 acres adjacent to Interstate 80. If the race track is closed, the Albany site could be made available for a new development.  

Citizens for Eastshore Parks and the local Sierra Club chapter have already issued a proposal for what to do with the land if Golden Gate Fields leaves. They want 85 percent of the land to be parks and open space, leaving 15 percent for development. 

Inland, the new council will face new development by the University of California at the Gill Tract. The university is already moving ahead with new housing developments and plans to develop 72,000 square feet of retail space as well. All three council winners said they were concerned about the university plans for the site and wanted to see limited development. 

Lieber, who won 20 percent of the vote, second behind Okawachi, said he supports the CESP/Sierra Club proposal to keep the racetrack property and the parking lot as 85 percent open space and 15 percent development.  

“I would oppose a massive development down there,” said Lieber. “It would ruin open space and park land that are desperately needed by Albany and the entire Bay Area.” 

Javandel, who is a traffic and civil engineer, said he also supports the CESP/Sierra Club proposal. Both, however, hope the city can devise a way to bring in development that will generate a comparable amount of tax revenue if the racetrack leaves. 

“I’m not opposed to reasonable development,” said Lieber.  

To replace the racetrack Javandel said he envisions a resort-style hotel on the eastern portion of the land which would shield the open space near the shore from the freeway. 

“I think certainly as the race track diminishes as a revenue source it becomes necessary to replace the lost revenue for the city,” said Javandel. 

Robert Cheasty, the president of Citizens for Eastshore Parks and a former Albany mayor, said Lieber and Javandel being elected speaks loudly about the concerns of the community 

“People who are waterfront advocates were concerned that there was not a strong enough voice to stand up to development proposals,” said Cheasty. “It was clear that the town came out in support of the candidates that spoke for protecting the waterfront.” 

“I think we are going to have a good council,” said James Carter, the executive director of the Albany Chamber of Commerce. 

Carter said he hopes both candidates’ opposition to large developments will help local businesses survive. 

“I’m glad they are fighting them over there,” he said in reference to Magna’s proposed development. 

Carter said he also hopes both candidates help stop what he calls the “malling” of the Easy Bay. He said Albany businesses were hurt by the El Cerrito mall. With another down at Golden Gate Fields and development at the Gill Tract, he said, the East Bay is in danger of becoming another place dominated by big-box retail malls. 

“Some people want the East Bay to be L.A. I’m from L.A. and I certainly don’t want that to happen,” he said.