Michele Ellson

Updated at 12:05 p.m. Tuesday, November 13

Managers of the East Bay Regional Park District announced they're suing the city over its decision to zone a piece of federal property adjacent to Crab Cove and Robert W. Crown State Beach to allow housing, a move city leaders fear could nullify new zoning rules approved by the state. District officials had wanted the property to expand Crab Cove's facilities.

“The Park District’s long history in Alameda, providing local jobs, plus millions and millions of dollars over decades invested into Alameda to operate and maintain Crown Beach makes this especially troubling. I am very disappointed with all of this," Doug Siden, Alameda's representative on the park district's board, was quoted as saying in a press release on the lawsuit.

The park district had hoped to purchase the 3.899-acre property from the federal General Services Administration but another bidder, developer Tim Lewis Communities, offered a higher bid. A representative for the developer said in a letter that they hoped to build 48 homes on the property, though a proposal has not yet been submitted.

City leaders zoned the site for housing as part of their effort to gain state certification of the housing element for Alameda's general plan, which must show that the city has enough properly zoned land to build the amount of housing it is expected to need. The site is zoned for 95 homes, including apartments.

The park district, which has pressed their case with leaders at every level of government and with Tim Lewis Communities, claims the city failed to obtain their input before making the zoning change. They're saying the zoning change was made without proper notice and without fully analyzing its potential environmental impacts.

In a statement released Tuesday, city leaders denounced the suit as an irresponsible waste of taxpayer money filed in an attempt to nullify the federal government's sale of the land. They said the park district could use the land for park purposes if they are able to acquire it from the federal government.

"This is a complete misuse of the legal system," City Attorney Janet Kern was quoted as saying in the statement. "The City will vigorously defend this lawsuit. We will not be bullied into setting aside the Housing Element after the full and fair public process that lead to its certification by the state."

The City Council won state approval for its housing element - which demonstrates that the city has zoned enough land to accommodate new housing the state thinks Alameda needs - earlier this year, after being out of compliance for two decades.

City leaders have denied the park district's claims, saying they had ample opportunity to comment on the plans and didn't. The park district had threatened to sue earlier but put its plans on hold to see if it could negotiate a deal with the city.

“The Park District’s complete failure to monitor this public process is not only bewildering to us, given your apparent interest in the site, it also would be a bar to the lawsuit you threaten,” City Manager John Russo wrote in an October 17 letter to the park district.

The park district wanted to expand Crab Cove Visitors Center and put its parking on the federal property.

The case was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, and the case number is RG12655685.


Submitted by Bill 2-Wheel Smith on Wed, Nov 14, 2012

The East Bay Regional Park District needs this park!

The district has long wanted to use this land to expand the popular visitor center, increase recreational and educational programs, and better separate parking and maintenance facilities from the heavily used picnic areas and beach at Crown Beach, which includes both the Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach and the adjoining mile of beach along Shoreline Drive owned by the city. Taken together, these adjoining beaches are the largest swimming beach on the San Francisco Bay, with over 1.3 million annual visitors. There is no other suitable location for improving the visitor center without impinging on the existing park lands.

The city, however, recently rezoned the site as multi-family residential, and a private developer has submitted the high bid at auction to purchase it, with plans to build 48 single-family homes there.

Alameda's rezoning of the property, along with 15 others in the city, was intended to satisfy state housing requirements for multi-family housing. Development of multi-family housing is one of the best alternatives to sprawl development on open space. But if the new owner builds single-family housing here, it stymies both park improvement and multi-family development. Further, the noise from the Park District's adjacent maintenance yard would disturb adjacent residences.

The Park District has sued the City to prevent the construction of residences on the property and to block the long-delayed closing of the sale of the property to the private developer.

Bill Smith
Lead Alameda Sierra Club Activist for the Expansion of Crown Beach State Park