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Press Release: Major Environmental Groups Oppose Albany City Effort to Bar Non-Resident Comment on Proposal to Combine Lawrence Berkeley Labs and Shopping Mall on Golden Gate Fields Site

From Norman LaForce
Monday July 25, 2011 - 05:20:00 PM

The City of Albany is restricting public debate on a major Golden Gate Fields development proposal involving Lawrence Berkeley Lab's proposed campus, according to a group of organizations and community leaders who say the public is being excluded from debate at City workshops paid for by the developer. 

The Stronach Group has proposed shopping and hotel rooms for Golden Gate Fields in combination with a Lawrence Berkeley Lab Second Campus at the expansive bayside racetrack site. The developer's proposal would cut open space in the development to only 35 percent of the site, down from 75 percent promised in a public process a year ago. 

"Golden Gate Fields is trying to resurrect the shopping mall plan that Albany residents rejected," said SPRAWLDEF president Norman La Force. "The city just spent $500,000 and went through a long visioning process to arrive at a plan that the vast majority of residents supported. That plan called for 75 percent of the site to be park and open space. The City Council and the Stronach interests want to get the citizens to jettison that vision." 

The City of Albany has scheduled public workshops regarding selection of Golden Gate Fields as one of the six potential sites for the Lawrence Berkeley Lab Second Campus. 

But the City and its consultant, Fern Tiger Associates, is barring any but City of Albany residents from attending the workshops, set for July 30, 31 and August I at the Albany Community Center. Attendees to the community meetings must preregister. Registration is provided only to Albany city residents. 

Exclusion of the public from the workshops violates constitutional free speech rights and deprives Albany residents of the contributions of the broader public to the important waterfront decision, according to the Sierra Club, Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP), Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF), former Albany mayor Robert Cheasty, former El Cerrito mayor Norman La Force, Ed Bennett, Teddi Baggins, Robert D. Postar and Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin. 

"The City and its consultant want Albany residents to abandon the vision for the waterfront the residents said they wanted for a plan that resurrects the shopping mall proposal people had rejected." said Norman La Force. "City residents are best served by hearing all viewpoints, not just those chosen by the developer." 

The group's attorney, Kelly Smith, objected to the public's exclusion from the meetings in a letter to the City Attorney on Monday. He noted that all of the groups and individuals objecting have important contributions to make to any discussion regarding Golden Gate Fields, the Lab campus and local parks. 

The letter to the City states that limiting a public meeting at a public place is a "prior restraint" of free speech and a violation of the United Statesand California constitutions. 

"A non-resident member of the public will reasonably construe the preregistration requirement as an admonition that they will not be allowed into the meetings if they attend or that they will be otherwise restrained from fully and actively expressing themselves at the meetings," according to the letter. 

Because the group's rights will be deprived once the public hearings begin this weekend, the attorney's letter demands that the City immediately lift any restriction on attending and participating in the meetings. 

"The constitutional violations stated above involve a very short time before the community hearings are held, and my clients' right to participate has been irrevocable infringed. 

"We intend to pursue all legal remedies, including injunctive remedies if the prior restraints are not removed by close of business Tuesday, July 26, 2011," according to the attorney's letter. 

"It is astounding that the City of Albany proposes to bar Save the Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin from attending these meetings," said La Force. "Just imagine if the during the civil rights movement city officials in Birmingham, Alabama held a meeting on civil rights issues, but told Martin Luther King that he couldn't attend or speak because he was a non-resident. That is the principle at stake here," La Force said.