The Albany City Council is always busy with the challenges that face our "urban village": land use, transportation, parks, public safety, social services, taxes, the business climate, and the rest.
In the past my blogging has been mostly about the very 'hot' issues of the Albany waterfront and the Albany Lions Club cross on Albany Hill. In the future. I plan to continue to cover these issues, but I also hope to be able to communicate more about the work of our City Council that affect our daily life and our future.
I am glad to be able to say that the Albany waterfront park has turned the corner and is now improving for the public, year after year. The Lions Club cross issue is in court as the Club has filed suit against the city - and the City of Albany filed a counterclaim in response, seeking an adjudication of the constitutionality of the cross and validity of the Lions Club's easement claim.
For those with an interest in the Lions Club cross matter, the complaint, counterclaim, and other documents of interest can be read here. And I have written an essay expressing my personal view about the Albany Lions Club's decision to start lighting the cross on December 7 and September 11, which I have posted in the sidebar. It's a bit too long for a blog post, but I hope that those with a strong interest in civil liberties and/or local history might find it worthwhile.
More on other topics soon.
On November 22, 2016, the City of Albany waived the confidentiality of it its settlement proposal of April 4, 2016, to the Albany Lions Club in the matter of the cross on Albany Hill.
The city proposal is posted so that everyone can know what the Albany Lions club leadership knows already - namely, what Albany has proposed as a solution.
This letter should be read in conjunction with the letter to the Lions Club International that I have already posted under the heading "Public plea from the City of Albany to the Lions Club International". That public letter was sent before the city council subcommittee (myself and Mayor Maass) attended the Albany Lions club meeting on February 4, 2016. This letter was sent after the meeting as a follow up.
The city never received a response to this offer - not even a rejection of the proposal - from the Albany Lions club. In July, I inquired of the club's lawyer Robert Nichols whether Mayor Maass and I might come to another meeting to hear the club's feedback on the letter, and he responded that "Once the Club has considered all of its options, I am sure it will communicate its decisions to you."
A long silence followed, and then last week (on November 17, 2016) we received the pre-litigation claim that I posted here - a claim that singles out myself, Mayor Maass, the fire chief, and two members of the city staff for the accusation that we violated their rights.
I would be pleased to hear comments on the Volunteers Memorial idea expressed in the letter. I would also be very pleased if people would share this with members of the Berkeley Lions Club or any other Lions they might know (including members of the Albany Lions club - while the lawyer and leadership surely saw the letter, the 'rank and file' may have been kept in the dark).
Right now, we are still hoping that the Lions Club itself will reconsider its belligerent position and do the right thing . . . that it would sit down with city representatives to try to resolve the matter in a way that serves everyone's interests, including the interests of all of the people of Albany and the affected general public of the East Bay.
Those who have read my previous posts about the Albany Lions Club's threats to sue the City of Albany, and about the history of the Ku Klux Klan may be interested in this NON confidential letter the city of Albany sent to the Lions Club International early in 2016, asking the LCI (whose logo is displayed on the cross) to intervene to prevent litigation.
If anyone reading this can share it with local Lions, regardless of which club they belong to, I would be very grateful (and any feedback is appreciated).
In my earlier post about the Lion's Club cross on Albany Hill, I noted that the cross was constructed in the 1970s and I said it was 'not an historic structure.' I was distinguishing this cross from other crosses on public land that have some special historical meaning besides their religious significance - for example, crosses that were raised to memorialize the sacrifice of veterans of World War I, and crosses on historic graves.
A number of people replied that they feel the Lions Club cross is indeed an historic structure, despite its relatively recent construction, because there is a long history of crosses on Albany Hill. They are right that there is a long backstory here. I have actually tried to avoid talking about this past in public, because I am afraid that some people will think I am trying to associate the cross, and the people who maintain it today, with some people of the past who were very much on the wrong side of history. But - people are asking this question, and it should be answered.
Before I get started, I want to emphasize this: I am not accusing anyone of anything based on this history. I respect people who participate in service clubs in general, and the Lions Club in particular. These groups do terrific things and they build an amazing culture of voluntarism and community care, benefiting us all. The Lions Club has a remarkable history of promoting good government, opposing vigilantism, and it was an early adapter of inclusivity in an era when most service clubs were still strictly segregated by race.
I also respect people of faith (I am one, though not a Christian). I understand that many Christians need to share their beliefs and encourage others to convert. I just don't think that in this country our government should join them as a carrier of that message - which is something Albany has been doing for decades (it has never even posted a sign in the park to explain the presence of the cross, or to indicate that its maintenance there is not a city function).
So, having said all that: Lions Club members in this region should be aware that the original 'illuminated cross' on Albany Hill was almost certainly a Ku Klux Klan cross burning. I encourage everyone interested in this issue and/or local history to watch Faith Fancher's KTVU mini-documentary for the 'Second Look' program on the early Ku Klux Klan in the Bay Area. It was originally broadcast in November of 2000, but you can watch the re-broadcast in the archives here:
In the documentary, Fancher says: "Cross burnings were common. Albany Hill, now the site of modern condos, was a spot favored by the Klan, as was Cragmont Park in Berkeley near Grizzly Peak. In the 1920's these East Bay Hills were alive with the symbol of hate, cross burnings so bright that witnesses said you could see them from Pinole to Berkeley."
Unfortunately, documentaries lack footnotes, Ms. Fancher has died, KTVU has changed hands, and I have never been able to learn what sources she relied upon for her story. I beileve she was right, though, for two reasons.
First, she was absolutely right about Cragmont Park. I have attached an article from the Berkeley Daily Gazette dated April 2, 1923, "Fiery Cross of Ku Klux Klan on Cragmont Last Night".
Second, the earliest newspaper report that I could find of a church-sponsored hilltop cross in our area was one erected by the Stege Presbyterian church ("Easter Service on Cerrito Hill," Oakland Tribune April 6, 1933). The Stege Presbyterian church had previously earned the endorsement and financial support of the Ku Klux Klan ("Solemnity Prevails at K.K.K. Visit", December 5, 1922, copy attached).
The fact that the KKK liked that particular church, and that church put up an 'illuminated' cross in the decade after the Klan peaked, does not establish that the later lighted cross is connected to the earlier cross burnings. But it does suggest there could be some link, such as a desire to remind the community of the earlier events and/or reaffirm the message of white Protestant supremacy, at a time when the Klan history was still a vivid memory - and a frightening one for local African Americans, Asian Americans, Catholics, and Jews.
Finally, it is important for everyone to understand that by 1940 the cross had become an official municipal function in Albany, maintained - ironically enough - by the Albany Fire Department ! A short 'Albany News' item in the Berkeley Daily Gazette Dated March 19th, 1940, states "Either tonight or tomorrow evening Albany's Easter cross will blaze forth for almost the entire Bay region to see. The 30-foot emblem was to be taken out of storage at the City Corporation Yards this afternoon and erected on Albany Hill by members of the Fire Department."
The history of the relationship between the city of Albany, the Ku Klux Klan, the Lions Club, and the past and current 'illuminated' crosses is a troubling history in many ways. Perhaps one good thing that could come out of a lawsuit initiated by the Lions Club would be that this entire history might be carefully examined and documented. I would love to see this history understood and preserved . . .but would still prefer that the Lions sit down and talk to the city, and try to resolve this in a way that turns this entire history in a positive direction going forward.
Litigation threatened by Lions Club against Albany and city officials - regarding cross on Albany Hill
I am writing to get the word out, and seek the community's help, regarding litigation that is being threatened against the city of Albany and a number of officials personally - including myself.
Here is the story: the City of Albany, California, hosts a giant illuminated cross in its Albany Hill park. The cross is maintained by the El Cerrito-based 'Albany Lions Club' pursuant to an easement it was apparently granted for free years ago, in a complicated transaction engineered by a dishonest Albany mayor.
There is nothing historic about this cross, which was constructed in the 1970s, and it is not dedicated to the memory of military veterans or to any other public purpose. The Albany City Council and many residents would like to see it replaced with something nonsectarian. We envision a site that could still be used for Easter services and other Christian religious ceremonies, but that could also be used for non-Christian and non-religious purposes.
We want this city park to serve everyone equally. In this day and age, we should not be using public property to promote one faith as if it were the official religion of our city and region. The recent presidential election, with its disturbing talk of registering Muslims and internment-camp precedents, makes this situation all the more troubling.
The East Bay Atheists organization, which includes some neighbors of the cross, recently discovered and pointed out to the Albany Fire Department that, whatever might happen with the cross in the future, right now it relies on a eucalyptus tree to serve as an electrical pole - posing a fire danger to the park and the neighborhood. So the electricity has been turned off - and now the Lions Club is gearing up to sue the city, the fire chief, me, the mayor, the city manager and the community development director (see the documents attached for more details).
I am hoping there might be Lions Club members on Nextdoor who would be willing and able to help persuade the 'Albany' Lions Club group to work with the city rather than suing us. The Lions Club International website says one of its purposes is to "Create and foster a spirit of understanding among the peoples of the world." Shouldn't the LIons be supporting the City of Albany's efforts to make its public park a welcoming place for everyone?
If you are a Lion or know Lions Club members, especially in the East Bay, please be sure that Lions are informed and encouraged to make their voices heard about this behavior. My hope is to hear some roars of disapproval from local Lions who work to foster that 'spirit of understanding' we all should share.
A year ago I planned to start blogging about Albany and the work of its City Council . . . but life got in the way.
Today I have no real choice: I expect soon to be sued for my policy advocacy, for a nonsectarian Albany Hill public park I want to share about this subject so people who care can get a more in-depth perspective than is available in the local press.
The subject of the cross has been heavily discussed on the hyper-local website Nextdoor.com, I strongly recommend that Albany people participate in NextDoor since it allows comments (I don't want to be in the position of moderating comments on this blog). I will re-post my pieces from that site here as well, so people who are noton Nextdoor have access to the information as well (though you have to sign up over there to read the comments as well as to comment yourself).
Thanks for visiting this site, I hope to have a chance to interact with you about our Albany issues!
Hello, and welcome.
Some Albany residents will remember me as a blogger on the Patch website in 2013-14. On that blog I tried to keep the community informed about the issue of the encampments in the city parkland on the Albany Bulb. I argued for offering housing assistance to the Bulb campers - and also for requiring those not seeking to move indoors to find new locations for their camps.
In July 2014, the City Council appointed me to the seat left vacant by the untimely death of Mayor Peggy Thomsen. I stopped posting on the Patch, which allows anonymous comments on blog posts, because of City staff concerns that a quorum of council members could enter into dialogue with one another in an unwitting violation of the Brown Act.
Now I am taking up blogging again. I hope to help keep Albany informed, and to share my views, about municipal government issues of interest.
I grew up in Albany, California, and returned to my home town after twenty years leading the 'Keep Tahoe Blue' group. My areas of interest include: improving parks & other public lands, reconciling wildlife and watershed protection with public outdoor recreation (including safe & sane dog walking), improving support for elders to remain in their own homes & communities, local history, and educating kids to take an interest in stewarding nature and learning from the past for a better future.