ALBANY -- The 40-year-old Waterfront Committee, the city's longest-running citizen advisory panel, will fade into the sunset in May after a unanimous vote this week by the City Council.

The decision came on the recommendation of city staff as part of the city's biannual review of its commissions, committees and boards.

The committee, at times high-profile as well as contentious during debates on the shoreline's future, was established in 1974 to advise the City Council on issues related to the preservation and enhancement of the Albany waterfront. The number of members has varied over the years -- the committee currently has five members, with each council member getting one appointment. It currently meets every other month.

City Manager Penelope Leach wrote the staff report with the recommendation and Community Development Director Jeff Bond, who worked directly with the committee, was also involved in the finding.

The staff report argued that Bond's time was spread among several advisory bodies and it could be better spent if the Waterfront Committee was eliminated.

Also, as issues have come up in recent years (including the proposed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at Golden Gate Fields, which lost out to a site in Richmond), the City Council has held its own hearings soliciting public input and created separate community advisory groups, making the Waterfront Committee superfluous, the report concluded.


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Councilwoman Joanne Wile also cited a contentious tone of some committee meetings that led to two of her appointees to resign. In addition, if the city is able to complete the transfer of the Albany Bulb to the East Bay Regional Park District, there will be only a tiny amount of waterfront land under city control.

The Waterfront Committee's duties can be handled by the city's Parks and Recreation and Planning and Zoning commissions, according to the staff report.

The 2010 review of the city's advisory boards recommended sunsetting the committee at that time, but it was retained by the council.

Three current members of the committee spoke against the recommendation at the City Council meeting on March 3, saying they had only received two weeks notice that the dissolution would be considered.

"It seems to me this is a little rushed," committee member Brian Johns said. "The committee itself was informed rather late that this question was being undertaken. I ... feel the community itself has not been given enough opportunity to discuss and debate whether the committee has naturally run its course."

He added that a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis was not part of the staff report.

Committee colleague Francesco Papalia said that "There is a right way and a wrong way to reassess the Waterfront Committee, particularly a committee that has been advising the city for 40 years. There could have been a full and open discussion of the merits of this idea. The pros and cons of the idea could have been assessed."

Former committee member Brian Parker, however, said it was time to move on.

"Back in the day, it may have been that there was no other body for leadership and conversations," Parker said. "But the council has done a real good job the last four or five years."

The Waterfront Committee will have its final meeting in April.

In other business the council approved the city's housing element, a legally required part of a city's general plan, for the 2007-14 cycle, meaning preparations start immediately for a new element for the 2015-22 cycle.

The housing element is a way for cities and counties to identify potential sites for housing for various income levels. The state law does not require cities to construct the housing, just to show that they have land zoned for construction of enough housing at all income levels to contribute its "fair share" to the region's housing needs.

The element was delayed in part because of staff reductions due to the recession, according to city consultant Barry Miller.

The council also gave final approval to an ordinance allowing digital billboards in the city. The ordinance had already passed a "first reading" at the Feb. 18 meeting.