ALAMEDA ELECTIONS '12: Measure D would require voter approval for park land sales, swaps

ALAMEDA ELECTIONS '12: Measure D would require voter approval for park land sales, swaps

Michele Ellson
Chuck Corica Golf Complex - contributed photo

Alameda voters are being asked to decide whether to take away the City Council’s ability to sell or trade the city’s park land, which the city’s charter now allows the council to do if a suitable replacement is found. Measure D would eliminate the council’s ability to make those calls and put them into the hands of voters.

Golfers and Bay Farm Island residents put together the measure after the council decided to consider a proposal to allow developer Ron Cowan to build homes on the Mif Albright golf course in exchange for cash and land he owns on North Loop Road, which would have been used to construct new ball fields. The council unanimously opted not to pursue the plan.

The city charter was amended by voters in 1992 to prohibit the sale or disposal of city park land, though the rules allow three exceptions. City leaders can lease or grant concession privileges in public parks; grant permits, licenses or easements for streets and utilities on park land; and sell or dispose of park land as long as the council decides, after public hearings, that they can replace it with a new park that “is of comparable size and utility and serves the same service area with substantially the same amenities and improvements.” Measure D would eliminate that last exception, requiring voter approval for such a sale or swap to occur.

Cowan sought to build more than 100 homes where the nine-hole golf course now stands and was offering $7.2 million to help build baseball and soccer fields on his 12.2 acre North Loop property, which sits between homes and an industrial complex roughly two and a half miles away. Golfers fought the plan, seeking to preserve the Mif course, and Bay Farm Island residents joined them, saying the new homes would create an unacceptable increase in traffic. Measure D would expressly forbid the sale or trade of golf complex property without voter approval.

“Recent events demonstrate why the loophole must be closed. Our Mif Albright par-3 golf course, where generations of young Alamedans learned the game, could have been exchanged by the City Council for property in a business park and cash,” says the argument in favor of the measure, which was signed by Tony Corica – whose father is the golf complex’s namesake – along with real estate professional Marie Kane, former Community of Harbor Bay Isle homeowners association president (and current school board candidate) Michael Robles-Wong, Alameda Junior Golf chief Norma Arnerich and community leader Nick Cabral.

It says that overwhelming public opposition stopped the deal, but the resulting controversy “distracted the work of city staff, Council, and citizens for years” and that unless the charter is changed, “the battle may have to be fought again, perhaps in defense of another park.”

The measure was formulated over 11 months’ worth of community meetings and is backed by Protect Our Alameda Parks, a community group. It has been endorsed by former mayor Bill Withrow; former City Council members Barbara Kerr and Frank Matarrese; sitting school board member Trish Herrera Spencer; and City Council candidates Tony Daysog and Jane Sullwold, who now heads the city’s Golf Commission and who fought the deal.

No argument opposing the measure was submitted, and the impartial analysis included with the ballot measure doesn’t contemplate any specific scenarios where the new rules might be invoked.

“Passage of Measure D will ensure that the sale or swap of any public parkland shall require a vote of the people,” Corica said when asked by a reporter why the measure is needed. “We are seeking to protect our precious public parks, golf courses and boating facilities.”

Related: Mif swap opponents press charter change language


Submitted by adrianblakey on Tue, Sep 4, 2012

Is this democracy? Don't we elect officials to make decisions on our behalf? Is it right that we take away the power of the office if they don't make the decisions we like? And is the reason that is given for voting for this measure even valid? In the case of the land swap, didn't the democratic process work as it's supposed to and the people's will was done?

Submitted by J. Carter on Tue, Sep 4, 2012

When I read the above post from Adrian Blakey, my jaw dropped. To answer your questions: No, this is not democracy, this is oligarchy. We elect officials to do as we tell them to do, not whatever they think is good for their campaign sponsors. We can take away the power of the office if they stray, but sometimes by the time we do that, because it is set up to be a very, very long and laborious process, it's too late to avoid some pretty nasty results. And yes, the reason for voting on this measure is because we darn near lost (another) big chunk of our golf course to a greedy developer who finances our City Council's campaigns. In case you hadn't noticed, We the People had to go out and spend a lot of money and time to keep the CC from doing exactly what we DIDN'T want. If you really believe our city, county, state, federal governments are functioning FOR THE PEOPLE, then nothing I say will likely make any difference.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Wed, Sep 5, 2012

Sorry, J. Carter, but your assessment is not correct. We did NOT ""darn near (lose another big chunk of our golf course to a greedy developer...."

Overall, Adrian Blakely has it right: a bad old idea (the golf course land swap) was resuscitated--temporarily--by our former Interim City Manager and Ron Cowan. The former ICM is gone and Cowan's plan was voted down.

That's what I call having democracy work. It was slow and inefficient, but it did, indeed, work. And we never needed the City Charter amendment or the petition to make sure the deal was torpedoed, either. (I attended almost every City Council meeting on the matter over several years and spoke frequently to many of the staff and officials involved. It was clear to me a year ago that the Cowan proposal was doomed.

Cowan's proposal was, indeed, considered--as it had to be for the City Council to discharge its legal "due diligence" responsibilities. But it was rejected--unanimously--after the Golf Commission and City Council fully considered the issues and heard hundreds of comments from the community--mine among them--in strong opposition.

Frankly, I do not believe that the restrictions in Measure D belong in our City Charter--or in any city charter. But that has nothing at all to do with whether or not I opposed the diminution of the Chuck Corica Golf Complex.