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Pollster Finds Little Support for Magna’s Proposed Albany Mall By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday June 21, 2005

Albany residents reject a proposed shopping mall at Golden Gates Fields by a convincing margin, according to a poll City Councilmember Robert Lieber submitted to his colleagues Monday night. 

The survey of 400 registered Albany voters, conducted by the Evans/McDonough Company of Oakland, reports that when initially asked, 60 percent said they thought the project was either a bad idea or a very bad idea. Twenty-seven percent offered favorable opinions. 

If it is built, the maxi-mall, planned for a little-used 45-acre parking lot next to the entrance to the Albany Bulb, would provide 600,000 to 800,000 square feet of retail space in a scenic location—which merchants fear will kill businesses already reeling from a troubled economy. 

Two-thirds of Albany residents said they favored environmental restoration and open space along the waterfront instead of the upscale mall proposed by Magna Entertainment Corporation—the owner of the Golden Gates Fields racetrack—and Caruso Affiliated Holdings, run by Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso. 

The poll also revealed that most Albany residents (57 percent) have never visited the race track, with another 18 percent saying they visited once a year. Only 7 percent said they visit one or more days a week during racing season. 

Brian Parker, a former Albany City Council candidate, said he raised the funds for the survey, with the majority coming from two larger donors who have requested anonymity. 

“The biggest supporters of the mall are white males who are ‘decline to state’ voters, while the biggest opponents are older white Democratic women who shop on Solano Avenue,” he said. 

Parker said construction of the mall “would be the end of Solano Avenue,” the upscale street of shops and restaurants that begins in Albany and ends at Sutter Street in Berkeley. “If the mall goes through, we’ll be having vacancies again,” he added. 

Matt Middlebrook, the former Los Angeles deputy mayor who is working for Caruso to develop support for the project, said he was very disappointed with the poll. 

“I’m disappointed not with the results,” he said, “but with the fact that someone is spending $20,000 on a poll designed to influence decisions on a project that’s not even designed yet. It’s designed not to find out the opinions of Albany voters but to find arguments that will influence their decisions.” 

Any waterfront development in Albany must be submitted to voter approval. 

While Middlebrook charged that the poll presented to the council doesn’t include all the questions asked during the poll, Lieber said “we are releasing 100 percent of the results about the project.” 

The only information not included in the packet concerned voter opinions of individual elected officials, he said. 

“The biggest surprise was that voters were most concerned about traffic,” Lieber said. Nearly three out of four voters polled cited traffic as their greatest concern. 

“They probably remember the days when the track was more popular, but then traffic is a lot worse now and perhaps they just don’t want to see more of it,” Lieber said. 

Middlebrook scoffed at concerns expressed by those polled that the mall would result in concrete dominating the waterfront, the second-ranked concern reported by pollsters. “It’s currently dominated by asphalt,” he said. 

Likewise he dismissed fears that the mall could lead to a doubling of Albany’s population, the third-ranked concern. 

Caruso’s company has deep pockets, recently spending seven figures on successfully influencing a voter referendum on a mall in Glendale.m