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Sports Coalition Proposes to Develop Sports Fields in Mif Albright Land Swap

Last night, at the Alameda City Council meeting, Alameda City Manager John Russo referenced a letter from Griff Neal, President of the Alameda Youth Sports Coalition, asking that Council entertain an alternative proposal for the Mif Albright land swap that would see the coalition, instead of developer Ron Cowan, develop and maintain the proposed North Loop Road sports fields. Earlier this year the developer put forth a proposal that would let him exchange his undevelopable land on North Loop Road with a portion of the Chuck Corica Golf Course, where he would build 130 homes.

The letter provided by the sports coalition is the end result of initial discussions between Alameda resident Pat Bail and representatives of developer Ron Cowan’s Harbor Island Associates. Bail is the founder of the Alameda Youth Sports Coalition, President of the Board of Directors for Alameda Babe Ruth, founder of Alameda World Tournament Baseball, and she is on the Board of Directors for the Alameda Wolverines Football Team.

Cowan’s proposal has been met with overwhelming criticism; according to Bail, Cowan called on her “because he needed a friend,” given the opposition to the deal. Earlier this month, Bail first met with Cowan operatives Kirk Cowan and Tim Hoppen. “I was last on their list because I’m not real popular with developers,” she said. She also attended the council meeting last night to plead the cause of the sports coalition.

Before the meeting, Bail explained that the Alameda Youth Sports Coalition is a loosely formed group that covers every youth sport in town – “baseball, basketball, football, swimming, girls softball, golf, skateboarding, bike riding and so on.” The coalition was formed two years ago, because, she said, “we needed one voice in the city to try to improve the conditions for kids playing youth sports.” In Cowan’s foundering proposal, Bail saw an opportunity to develop new athletic fields for Alameda’s youth and garner seed money to develop the Alameda Point sports complex, long a goal of coalition members.

At a high level, Bail said, the sports coalition would like to see the City of Alameda grant the coalition a long-term lease to develop and maintain the sports fields proposed for North Loop Road, and set aside land at Alameda Point – as much as 60 acres – to develop a sports complex there. The Alameda Youth Sports Coalition would become a formal non-profit 501(c)3 corporation managing the athletic fields and would generate some endowment money in the near term from the swap, and in the long term from grants and donations.

The letter asks for a two month period for due diligence, to allow the groups within the sports coalition “to understand the costs and potential environmental impacts of building and maintaining sports fields on North Loop Road.” The coalition also wants the time to “define the land and financial requirements for a sports complex.”

“Our kids deserve and need adequate athletic fields,” Bail told Action Alameda News. “Soccer is not the only game in town. We have increased population demand, and the more [housing] developments we have, the more kids we have, and there are no new sports facilities being developed in any meaningful way. The City of Alameda has been unwilling or incapable of providing more facilities for the kids, and the city’s recreational spending is not adequate to provide the maintenance, upkeep and development of other sports fields. Until the City of Alameda has money to do more, the responsibility is going to fall on the youth sports programs to provide for themselves.”

One problem, according to Bail, is the lack of fields with lights for night-time practice or play: “football can’t find a place to practice after daylight savings ends because no fields are lit.” Another problem in her mind is that the city makes money renting fields to adult softball and other outside organizations, meaning they’re unavailable for Alameda’s youth.

Opponents of the deal have been vocal, voicing their opposition in letters to the editor and at city council meetings, and issuing demands for a recall of the Mayor. Action Alameda News has reported that Bay Farm Island residents cite the increased traffic from the sports fields and the 130 homes that Ron Cowan plans to build.

Readers on this website have questioned Cowan’s ability to deliver on his promise to maintain the North Loop sports fields in perpetuity. At last night’s meeting, Alameda Councilmember Doug deHaan cited problems with Ron Cowan going back to 1992, wherein the City of Alameda took legal action to force the developer to deliver on promises to build schools and a fire station on Bay Farm Island.

Bail counters that many Alameda parents clamoring for new athletic fields live on Bay Farm Island, that the 130 homes won’t be built all at once, and that a traffic study prepared by Harbor Isle Associates, if accurate, suggests only a 1% increase in traffic volumes as a result of the plan. (Bail wants to have the study verified by a third-party.)

Besides, she says, “those of us on the main island didn’t want the Harbor Bay Island development when it was proposed, or the South Shore Shopping center when it was built, but both went in anyway.” Bail would like to see opponents to the project accept a trade-off – more sports fields for all of Alameda’s youth in return for accepting the additional homes on what is now the Mif Albright golf course.

Anticipating accusations of having sold-out to a developer, Bail told Action Alameda News, “Nobody is giving me one cent under the table. There is no under-the-table deal, no shenanigans. This is straight, clean and transparent. Nobody’s giving anybody on the [sports coalition] board one cent. This is all about a non-profit organization taking the responsibility to be accountable to the community and legally and morally accountable. I would be highly insulted if anyone ever accused me of taking one cent under the table.”

In the letter presented to Alameda City Council, Griff Neal wrote, “our intent is to help address the concerns recently raised by the community. Our organization will work with you in an open and transparent manner to develop and alternative proposal which better addresses the needs of our community.”

“Those of us participate in youth sports,” Pat Bail said, “we go to other communities and see facilities that are mind boggling, while we struggle along in Alameda, with little or no help from the city. I know people have an issue with Ron Cowan – I had an issue with him for 40 years – but that doesn’t dissuade me from trying to develop the very best deal we can to come out on the other side where our kids get what they need and deserve.”

In the end, at last night’s meeting, Alameda City Council voted to continue exploring alternatives until a planned January 24th, 2012 meeting.

Alameda Youth Sports Coalition Letter
Coalition Letter 0001

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