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An Open Letter to the City of Albany Regarding Albany Hill Cross

November 12, 2015

My name is Larry Hicok, and I am the Coordinator of East Bay Atheists and the Northern California Director of American Atheists. I am also a former resident of Albany, living for ten years on Ventura Street. A number of our members are also current or former residents.

I and others have complained to the city about the cross in Albany Hill Park a number of times over the years, only to have our complaints dismissed by “It’s on private property.” Two years ago several of us carefully inspected the cross, and found it to be extremely unsafe and in violation of many basic codes and safety standards. Yet the cross is in the middle of a city park at a key position on the hiking trail/fire road that runs through the park.

While past communications with the city have left us frustrated and feeling ignored, we realize that there are many well-meaning members of city government who we think will do the right thing if they understand the extent of the problem.

Code Violations

The 110 volt wiring to the cross is illegally attached to a small tree to support it. This is a violation of Article 230.10 of the National Electrical Code. The swaying of the tree in the wind could create a break in the wire. According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG), “It is common for energized electrical wires to start fires when they fall into dry grass.”

http://training.nwcg.gov/classes/s130/508%20Files/071231_s130_m4_508.pdf

(“The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) provides national leadership to develop, maintain, and communicate interagency standards, guidelines, qualifications, training, and other capabilities that enable interoperable operations among federal and non-federal entities.”)

The cross’s foundation is extremely eroded, and two of the four mounting bolts are broken off. If the cross falls, it could easily start an electrical fire.

These problems are documented with images at http://eastbayatheists.org/albanyhillcross.html. At the top of the webpage is a link for thumbnails that expand into full resolution photos revealing much detail.

East Bay Atheists’ volunteers distributed 850 flyers to residences on Albany Hill on Saturday, November 7th, describing the problem and urging them to contact the Fire and Community Development Departments. Residents were clearly concerned about the fire danger, especially in view of the forest of Eucalyptus trees engulfing the hill. These trees are notorious for extreme wildfires.

All of these violations should be addressed expeditiously; however the live wire feeding the cross should be disconnected at the PG&E pole immediately. This would remedy the most severe danger: an electrical fire.

Private Property Meme

This cross is on city property, not private property. The land was gifted to the city for a park, on the condition that it included an easement for the cross and the Lion’s Club to maintain it. In return the city allowed the landowner to sell the property to condo developers, the result of which is the Gateway condo complex on the west side of Albany Hill.

The California Supreme Court ruled in 1985 on the lawsuit dealing with the transfer of the park land to the city. Here is a description of a key ruling by a Stanford Law review:

“Addressing the potential establishment clause problem raised by the city's acquisition of property burdened with a cross, the court found that the acquisition had a secular purpose and effect (use by the public as a park), that acceptance of the land neither advanced nor inhibited religion, and that it did not constitute excessive governmental entanglement with religion or violation of the First Amendment.”

The review makes clear that the land was still city property, “burdened with a cross.”

http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/thomson-v-call-30730

We have collected three images, one from Google Maps satellite view, and two from the Alameda County Assessor’s Office, documenting that the property on which the cross sits is still city property.

http://eastbayatheists.org/publicproperty.html

We strongly urge the Albany City Council to take leadership in remedying these violations on city property endangering nearby residents and others.

Larry Hicok

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