Measure to bar homes from federal site likely headed to ballot

Measure to bar homes from federal site likely headed to ballot

Michele Ellson

Parks backers are putting a measure intended to halt the proposed development of a 3.899-acre federal property on the ballot.

Supporters of a park on land slated for development as a residential neighborhood submitted petition signatures for a possible ballot measure that would bar the city from allowing homes to be built there instead.

Friends of Crown Beach submitted petitions containing 6,347 signatures to the City Clerk on Wednesday afternoon supporting a ballot measure that would rezone a 3.899-acre federal property across the street from Crab Cove for park use, a spokesperson for the group said. The group needed to collect the signatures of 10 percent of the island’s 43,701 registered voters in order to place the measure on the November ballot, making the prospect that it will qualify for the ballot appear likely.

The city has 30 business days to conduct a random signature check to ensure the signatures are valid. If the group has collected enough valid signatures, the measure – which the Friends group has dubbed the Crab Cove Open Space Expansion Initiative – will be placed on the ballot.

The City Clerk's office confirmed Wednesday that they had received the petitions and transferred them to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters for review.

The East Bay Regional Park District aggressively lobbied for the McKay Avenue property, which once housed offices of the United States Department of Agriculture. But instead of granting or selling it to the park district for what parks representatives have claimed was its true value, the federal government put it up for auction in what representatives said was an effort to recoup the cost of downsizing operations there.

The federal government inked a deal to sell the property to homebuilder Tim Lewis Communities for $3.075 million, and the city, at the developer’s request, rezoned it to allow homes to be built there. The decision prompted an outcry and, ultimately, a lawsuit from the park district, the opening salvo in what has been a burgeoning dispute involving the city, the park district, state and federal representatives, park lovers and environmental groups.

The state refused to allow the developer to build utilities under McKay Avenue or to use the road to access the 48 homes it wanted to build, stalling the project. So the federal government is suing to reclaim it using eminent domain, which allows the government to take private property and put it to public use.

The day the eminent domain suit was filed, a coalition of local, state and national environmental groups called on the federal Department of Justice to reconsider its plans to initiate it, saying the road would be used to benefit a private developer and not the public as required by the law.

The measure is the latest effort Island parks backers have launched to limit the city’s ability to build on land they want reserved for parks and open space. In 2012, voters approved Measure D, which eliminated city leaders’ ability to exchange parkland for private property following a failed bid to swap the city’s Mif Albright golf course to developer Ron Cowan for land he owns on North Loop Road.

Backers said the measure closed a “loophole” in the city’s existing ban on selling or disposing of city park property, which had been okayed by voters in 1992. The 2012 measure passed overwhelmingly, with 79 percent of voters supporting it.

In 2002, voters narrowly approved a measure requiring the city to rezone the former Alameda Belt Line rail yard for park use. The 22-acre property is being developed as the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.


Submitted by elliott gorelick (not verified) on Thu, May 1, 2014

So if a majority don't want homes there, shouldn't that effectively terminate the federal government's eminent domain suit (which I think is flawed for many other reasons). How can they argue it is for public benefit when the public opposes it?

Submitted by Joseph (not verified) on Thu, May 1, 2014

"Highest and Best Use" is the appraisal principle that applies. This implies there are no legal constraints to that use (sale and development). A ballot initiative could result in such a constraint, but the VALUE of the property can not be ignored. If Alamedans want to make this area public land or impose an easement, then they have to pay market value for it through a bond or line item tax. It is also possible that a land trust might have an interest in purchasing the land or paying for a conservation easement. Also, has anyone considered a land swap with the Belt Line parcel?

Submitted by elliott gorelick (not verified) on Fri, May 2, 2014

Joseph, I can only believe that you work for Tim Lewis (or are friends with whatever Alameda city admin or politicians gave them the wink that the land would be rezoned). First, there was no additional value until the land was rezoned. Second, there still is no additional value until the easement issue is settled. Quite simply, you are wrong. If the federal government wins their eminent domain lawsuit then you may have a point, but that's still an "if".

Submitted by Joseph (not verified) on Fri, May 2, 2014

Elliot - I work as an appraiser for numerous land trusts in California and have nothing to do with these local matters, although we have been involved in several eminent domain cases over the years. If you believe the value of the property can be ignored or somehow discounted, and that political pressures don't influence zoning decisions, then you are seriously mistaken. These principles simply do not change. You "can only believe" whatever you want.