Mif swap opponents press measure to change charter language

Mif swap opponents press measure to change charter language

Michele Ellson

“People love the parks in Alameda,” longtime local activist Gretchen Lipow said. But the City Council’s recent consideration of a deal to trade the Mif Albright golf course to a developer for cash and vacant land led Lipow and others to believe the city’s parks could be in jeopardy.

So they’re asking local voters to consider putting a measure on the ballot that would eliminate the council’s ability to okay similar deals in the future, putting those proposals to a public vote instead.

The measure’s backers couldn’t say how many of the roughly 6,200 signatures that they need to gather to place the measure on the ballot they’ve collected so far, though they believe they’ll have all the signatures they need by the end of this month – well ahead of their six-month deadline.

“We are doing great. And we will get it done,” said Marie Kane, who’s in charge of the signature-gathering efforts for the Protect Our Alameda Parks campaign. She said the campaign has signed up more than 100 volunteers to collect signatures for the measure.

The council hasn’t taken a position on the measure, City Attorney Janet Kern said, and city staff hasn’t determined what if any impacts the measure would have if approved by voters. She said her office would write an impartial analysis of the ballot measure once it qualifies to be on the ballot.

“We haven’t done any kind of an analysis. So I can’t really say (what the impacts would be),” Kern said.

City Councilman Doug deHaan had asked his fellow council members to put the measure on the ballot, but his request died for lack of assent from his dais-mates. They said they believed citizens should put the measure forward.

In 1992, Alameda voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the city’s charter that forbade the sale of public land without a vote of the people. But it contained an exception allowing the council to sell or trade land if a park “of comparable size and utility” were to be built nearby.

City leaders used the swap exception to propose the swap idea to developer Ron Cowan, whose Harbor Bay Isle Associates had wanted to build homes on 12.2 acres of North Loop Road. Harbor Bay Isle offered the land and $7.2 million to develop fields on it and also, a new Mif Albright course, in exchange for the existing Mif and the right to build 130 homes on it. But the council balked, voting the deal down unanimously on March 6.

The swap proposal angered golfers and Bay Farm Island residents, who said they didn’t want new homes on the golf course. The idea for the ballot measure evolved during community meetings held by swap opponents over the 11 months the council considered the swap idea, Lipow said.

“We’ve been kind of upset that this wasn’t laid to rest when 90 percent or more of the public didn’t want this, all at the end of last year. We felt somehow there was maneuvering behind the scenes,” said Kane, who has been selling real estate in Alameda since 1973 and said she originally got engaged in the swap issue over concerns about the lack of an open bid for the Mif land and the appraisals that were done of the properties to be swapped.

The measure has earned endorsements from former City Council members Frank Matarrese and Barbara Kerr, former mayor Bill Withrow, school board trustee Trish Hererra Spencer and dozens of others, including Anthony “Lil” Arnerich, who authored the 1992 measure that barred park land sales.

“The public in general has been very responsive,” Lipow said. “‘Today it’s this park. What about our park?’ And people can make that connection.”

Title and summary of the proposed measure

Charter Amendment Changing Requirements for When a Citywide Ballot Measure is Needed to Authorize Certain Sales or Disposals of City Parks

The City of Alameda has a voter-approved City Charter that requires voter approval for any sale or alienation of any public parks or portion of public parks within the City. There are three exceptions to this requirement, which authorize the City Council, without voter approval, to do any of the following: (1) lease or grant concessions or privileges in public parks; (2) grant permits, licenses or easements for street, utility or other purposes in public parks; or (3) sell or dispose of all or any portion of a public park as long as the City Council determines, after a public hearing or hearings, that the park will be replaced by another park of comparable size and utility which serves the same area with substantially the same amenities and improvements. Passage of this proposed initiative would eliminate the third exception. For purposes of this Charter section, the term “public parks” means any and all lands of the City which have been or will be designated by the City Council for public park purposes and/or recreational uses and opened to the public, including the Alameda Golf Complex. If this proposal becomes effective, the City Council will continue to be able, without voter approval, to lease park property for any length of time, or give rights to use park property for recreational activities and provision of utilities. The City Council would no longer be able to sell or dispose of park land, without voter approval, even when the park land would be replaced with comparable parkland elsewhere in the City.

Source: Protect Our Alameda Parks website