EL CERRITO -- The City Council on Tuesday took yet another step toward making the city environmentally friendly by approving preparation of an Urban Greening Plan.
The plan will investigate ways of creating "pocket parks" on unused land and connecting the parks to open space to create greater opportunities for recreation, bicycling, and walking, said Melanie Mintz, El Cerrito's environmental services division manager.
A long-term goal would be to link East Bay Regional Park District land in the El Cerrito hills with park district property along San Francisco Bay through the city's streets and open space, said Mukul Malhotra of MIG Inc., the contractor chosen to design the plan.
Urban greening will improve air and water quality in several ways, including increasing open space and vegetation, maintaining creeks and streams, and controlling stormwater runoff, Malhotra said.
The council voted unanimously to award the $169,400 contract to Berkeley-based MIG. The plan will be paid for from a $239,498 grant from the state Natural Resources Agency.
MIG was chosen ahead of three other contractors that submitted proposals, said Melanie Mintz, El Cerrito's environmental services division manager.
The Urban Greening Plan complements the city's Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and influence environmental targets in developing the city's general plan, Mintz said.
She added that it will also serve as a guide for further development of Park and Recreation Department facilities.
The research and design stage should take 12 to 14 months. MIG will solicit ideas from the community with online surveys as well as surveys conducted in person at major community events.
Councilman Mark Friedman said he is excited about urban greening, but emphasized that he is "more interested in action rather than planning."
Friedman, a manager for the Alameda County First 5 nonprofit program, wondered if some of the state grant could be used to hire a grant writer to raise money for design and construction of projects.
"Let's concentrate on implementation," he said.
Mayor Greg Lyman said the Ohlone Greenway Master Plan, a blueprint for open space development around the BART tracks, should be "dovetailed" into the Urban Greening Plan.
He added that concept drawings and cost estimates for development should be included in the plan.
"Let's have detailed budget projections," he said.
Earlier in the evening, the council recognized the El Cerrito Police Department for its fundraising to benefit the Special Olympics, the sports competitions for intellectually disabled adults and children.
The police department-sponsored Bike the Bridges ride, to be held on June 9 this year, has raised $200,000 in its history to send Special Olympics competitors to regional events.
The department is also hosting a Tip-A-Cop event from 6 to 9:30 p.m. March 28 at the, El Cerrito Plaza location of Macaroni Grill to benefit the program.
The council also voted to participate in Earth Hour, asking all residents and businesses to turn off nonessential lighting from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. March 23 to demonstrate concern about climate change.
More than 1 billion people worldwide have participated in the annual action, which started in Sydney, Australia, said Maria Sanders, an environmental analyst with the city.