ALBANY -- The City Council on Nov. 19 voted 5-0 to repeal its development agreement with the University of California for the proposed University Village development on San Pablo Avenue. However, the repeal -- if finalized -- will not stop the university from proceeding with its development.
The council will vote again on whether to repeal the agreement at a second reading at its meeting on Dec. 3.
The repeal came after a petition for a referendum was filed in August. That petition forced the council to either place the development agreement before voters or repeal it. A special election would have cost $50,000 to $120,000, according to a staff report.
The development agreement was one of several ordinances passed at a special council meeting in July approving the University Village project. The development agreement covers ancillary items such as agreements with local labor unions and Albany Little League.
The project, as proposed, would provide assisted living housing for seniors and a grocery market. However, after four years of public meetings, the project was still controversial, and a group circulated petitions calling for a referendum.
At the same time, two lawsuits were filed alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. Those lawsuits are still pending.
One issue cited by the petition-gatherers was the future of the Gill Tract, a parcel of land that is not part of the proposed development. That land was occupied in April by a group called, "Occupy the Farm."
After being removed from the land in May, protesters have broken into the land several times to tend and harvest crops they planted. Many have claimed that the development will lead to development of the Gill Tract, removing one of the few pieces of farmland in the area.
After enough signatures were verified, the council had two options: It could repeal the ordinance or it could place it on the ballot. UC officials supported repeal and, according to a city staff report, unions and the Little League were in contact with UC and had been reassured that their objectives would be addressed after repeal.
Assuming the council votes again to repeal the agreement, it could then direct staff to enter into negotiations on a new agreement, wait a year to introduce an ordinance approving a similar agreement, or proceed without an agreement. City Clerk Nicole Almaguer said on Tuesday that staff has not been directed to negotiate a new agreement.
However, that may not be necessary. According to a staff report written by Community Development Director Jeff Bond, the remaining project approvals are all in place. That report said that, pending market conditions, the project would proceed in phases, with the senior housing likely to be "moving forward in the near term." Because Whole Foods Market, the original proposed tenant, has pulled out of the project, the grocery store portion of the project will have to wait for a new tenant to reach agreement with the university.
Gill Tract dispute
In other news associated with the UC property, College of Natural Resources Dean Keith Gilless sent an open letter on Nov. 16 to the Albany community as UC workers dug up crops planted by the occupiers.
The letter said staff was preparing the land for winter and that all land -- including that used by the occupiers -- would be used for research and teaching. The letter concluded by addressing the work of Occupy the Farm.
"In mid-September we gave them advance notice that all of the growing grounds would need to be planted with a cover crop this winter, yet in recent weeks they have continued with their unauthorized planting," Gilless wrote. "I truly regret that they chose to spend their time and efforts on planting that we have had to disc under, rather than seek ways to work with my college and the community. Their disregard for the rights of our research community and programmatic development activities are a direct threat to both academic freedom and our capacity to fulfill the university's mission."
Occupy the Farm responded with its own open letter on Tuesday.
"Over the course of the last month, members of the public sowed edible winter greens together with fava beans, a popular and effective cover crop," the letter stated. "Had the UC left these in place, the Gill Tract would have benefited from the necessary nutrient building over the course of the winter, and would have produced food for the community."