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Developer Challenges Albany Shore Petition

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 02, 2006

Stop that initiative or we’ll sue, an attorney for Golden Gate Fields has warned Albany officials. Citizens for the Albany Shoreline (CAS) filed the initiative in question, an attempt to stop shoreline development, with Albany City Clerk Jacqueline Bucholz on May 16. 

What’s behind the threat: charges that the initiative’s proponents didn’t publish notice of their intent to circulate petitions in a legally qualified newspaper. The notice appeared in The West County Times, one of several area papers currently being sold by Knight-Ridder to MediaNews, but allegedly not one approved by the court for legal notices for Albany. It’s a subsidiary of the Contra Costa Times, published out of Contra Costa County.  

In her May 25 letter to Albany City Attorney Robert Zweben, track attorney Marguerite Mary Leoni charged that the West County Times “is adjudicated neither for the City of Albany nor for the County of Alameda,” thus invalidating the initiative. 

A representative of the advertising staff of the paper said Thursday that the West County Times wasn’t adjudicated for Albany, though the Berkeley Voice/El Cerrito Journal, a local weekly also part of the Knight-Ridder package, was. 

Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA), said the publication requirements are set in state statutes, and require a court finding before a paper can accept legal notices. 

“The laws were an attempt by the legislature to make sure the newspaper is established in the community and is one which residents will look to for important public notices,” he said.  

The measure would call a halt to all shoreline development—including a mall which Los Angeles super-mall developer Rick Caruso is planning with the racetrack’s parent corporation, Magna Entertainment. 

Their plan calls for an upscale open air mall on the track’s northwestern parking lot, within the zone where development would be banned by the CAS initiative. 

Under the initiative, waterfront development outside the immediate coastal strip would be suspended until a formal planning process is developed.  

Leoni cited a Sept. 21, 1989, opinion by the state Court of Appeals Third Appellate District holding that signatures collected before the legal notice requirement had been fulfilled “should not be counted because they were gathered outside the legal time period for circulating the petition.” 

CAS turned in 2,446 signatures for the intiative—nearly three times the required 950. If approved, the measure would go on the November general election ballot. 


High stakes 

The battle carries high stakes on both sides. 

In one corner is an ailing racing company seeking to revive itself through development deals and holding out promises of big tax and other benefits to the city. 

They are paired with a major developer with deep pockets and a demonstrated willingness to bankroll seven-figure election campaigns. 

In the other corner is a collection of environmentalists and local businesses who see the project as a threat to both the biological and the local commercial environments. 

Robert Cheasty, a former mayor and an environmentalist who runs his legal business out of a Solano Avenue office, is one of the initiative’s most outspoken backers. 

“We used the process the city uses for publication of all its notices,” said Cheasty. 

The City of Albany also publishes notices in the West County Times, raising possible issues for the city as well. Calls placed to City Attorney Zweben were not returned. 

Cheasty said the CAS had certainly fulfilled the intent of the publication ordinance. 

“There were stories in all the local publications and coverage by the television stations. We also posted the initiative on our web site,” he said. 

Another proof that the initiative was widely available is the fact that a fourth of the city’s voters signed it, Cheasty said. “We went out in good faith.” 

Cheasty said the decision cited by Leoni was only one of several cases related to the issue. “The authority on this issue is split,” he said. 

As for the attempt to kill the initiative, Cheasty said, “This is like Goliath telling David, ‘No slingshots.’” 

Even if the track suceeds in killing the initiative, their mall proposal would still have to go before voters under the provisions of Measure C, a 1990 initiative that called for public votes on all waterfront projects.