The East Bay Regional Park District will soon be the proud owner of vacant surplus federal property next to Alameda’s Crab Cove Visitor’s Center on Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach. The purchase follows fierce legal battles and a successful campaign by the Sierra Club and an Alameda citizen’s group, Friends of Crown Beach, to rezone the land as open space.
The park district has been seeking to acquire the 3.89-acre parcel in order to expand the park ever since it was deemed surplus. But instead of negotiating a sale to the park district, the feds decided to auction the land for top dollar. A private housing developer prevailed, but was unable to close the deal because the state refused to grant utility easement rights on the state parkland street leading to the parcel.
After the City of Alameda frustrated the park district’s park expansion efforts by zoning the parcel residential, an acrimonious three-year-long ordeal ensued, involving the park district, the city, the federal government, the state, and the private developer.
Unable to transfer easement rights to the developer, the feds convinced a district court judge that seizing McKay Avenue through eminent domain was for a legitimate “public purpose.” The feds asked the court to value the street at $10.
The feds’ potential buyer, meanwhile, walked away from purchasing the surplus property after a citizen-led effort got the property zoned as open space, and the newly elected city council threw their support behind the park district.
The district court later ruled that a jury would determine what the feds owed the state for taking the street. The state’s asking price of $1.41 million—a price beyond what the feds were willing to pay—was based on the diminished value of the parkland itself by loss of control over access and because the park district would have had to construct new parking facilities for Crown Beach visitors.
A settlement was reached shortly thereafter. The feds agreed to return the street to the state and sell the surplus property to the park district for $2,182,500—essentially splitting the difference between the park district’s unsuccessful auction bid four years ago and what the private housing developer was willing to pay.
“The community won with this agreement,” said Robert Doyle, General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. “We promised in 2008 through our Measure WW bond election that we would expand Crab Cove with this valuable land” and “are happy to deliver on our promise.” Doyle also thanked the community and the Attorney General for their “unwavering support during this lengthy process.”
Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer called the agreement a victory for Alameda. “We’re thrilled that this issue has been resolved in a way that protects open space and parkland, and expands access to our shoreline,” she said. “I sincerely thank all those whose efforts have now been realized. Many Alamedans worked years to save this parcel from development. We’re glad to finally see it protected.”