ALBANY -- City leaders and residents this week discussed the next steps on a referendum asking the city to rescind the hotly contested University Village development agreement or place the matter before voters.
Several speakers told the City Council on Monday that it should rescind the agreement with the University of California, while others spoke about the long process that led to the agreement, passed in July after a six-hour special council meeting. Many claimed that the groups circulating the referendum petition had given incorrect information about the project.
The issue will return to the council, probably at a November meeting.
Councilman Robert Lieber, who will be termed out after the November election, had the most to say after the public hearing on the referendum closed.
"I really respect the citizens who signed this and wanted to bring it back to council," Lieber said. "Whether or not the information was clear or not, most of them probably knew what they were signing. People in Albany are pretty smart."
The project has been in the works for five years. The university would like to develop the land, along San Pablo Avenue, into a market and assisted-living housing for seniors. Since the project was approved, the referendum to force the City Council either to rescind the agreement or force a public vote on the agreement gathered the required signatures.
Two lawsuits were also filed over the environmental impact report. As a result, Whole Foods Market, the proposed anchor tenant, withdrew from the project last month. UC has said it is looking for a new anchor tenant.
Because the university is a state agency, it is not subject to municipal zoning requirements.
On Sunday, meanwhile, urban farming activists once again broke into the university-owned land known as the Gill Tract, which is adjacent to the project site. Activists harvested food planted at the Gill Tract in the spring when a group called "Occupy the Farm" took over the land for a month.
Activists have said the land, which they claim is the last agricultural land in the area, would be threatened by the development.
Lieber, who has generally pushed for slower, smarter development in Albany, said the council could rescind the development agreement and "it would practically change nothing."
"The development agreement isn't essential for this project to move forward," he said. "I believe that unless something really big happens, that we passed the time where we could get a deal on the Gill Tract. We had a big stick. We had a big carrot. Now, we have neither.
"I think it's a red herring. At the end of the day, it just doesn't achieve the goals that the referendum-gatherers wanted."
Councilwoman Joanne Wile and Mayor Farid Javandel both countered arguments that the council had moved too fast on the agreement.
"As far as outreach goes, I think there was a fairly robust outreach," Javandel said. "The only one that had more was Voices to Vision (a waterfront planning project). We can't spend (the money spent on Voices to Vision) on every project that comes before us."
If the council does not rescind the agreement, a special election would need to be called. No date has been determined. Javandel said the cost is unclear.
"I heard $60,000 or so for a special election," Javandel said. "Now I'm hearing higher numbers than that. It's a shame."