ALAMEDA -- A proposal for a walking and bicycle path aimed at improving access to the Fruitvale BART station from a new housing development near the Fruitvale Bridge has been dropped by the City Council after nearby residents said it would undermine safety in the neighborhood.

More than 100 people signed a petition opposing the path, which likely would include reopening a pedestrian gate at the foot of the bridge that was closed in November 1997 to curb crime in the area.

"Our neighborhood was just easy prey," Marina Drive resident Bill Garvine said, adding that his family experienced break-ins and bicycle thefts before the gate was closed. "Shadows would scare our kids. They felt vulnerable."

The Planning Board included the option for the path as part of a tentative map for 11 single-family homes proposed for the vacant lot that borders Fernside Boulevard and Versailles Avenue, as well as Tilden Way.

While the path was not part of the design of the tentative map -- which the council unanimously approved Tuesday -- the Planning Board included it as a condition in the event that city officials wished to improve pedestrian access in the future.

"Crime is a serious consideration and issue, and we should not take lightly what these neighbors are saying," said Councilwoman Beverly Johnson, who has family living in the neighborhood.


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Johnson also noted that the Planning Board included the path after nearby residents already had weighed in on the housing project, preventing them from commenting on the proposal.

It was "offensive to transparency," City Manager John Russo said.

The tentative map calls for splitting the 1.29-acre property -- once an Exxon oil distribution facility -- into parcels that range from 4,050 square feet to 5,289 square feet.

A single developer could end up behind the entire project, or the parcels may be sold individually, according to Andrew Thomas, a city planning services manager.

Most of the homes would front Fernside Boulevard and Versailles Avenue. Just when construction might begin remains unknown.

Officials still must review the design of the future homes, as well as a sound wall proposed for along Tilden Way, a gateway for people arriving and leaving the city via the Fruitvale Bridge.

The idea behind including a walking and bicycle path was to provide a link from Marina Drive and other nearby streets via the bridge to the Fruitvale BART station.

But some nearby residents said Tuesday that the path would shave little time off someone's commute, while providing an easy route for thieves to enter and leave the neighborhood on foot.

Both Johnson and Doug de Hann voted to drop the path option, while Rob Bonta and Lena Tam abstained.

Bonta said he wanted to review police records before making a decision, while Tam said improving pedestrian and bicycle access is part of the city's General Plan. Dropping the path as a condition also limited options for a future city council, she said.

Along with Johnson and de Haan, Mayor Marie Gilmore rejected including the path as a condition, although she said it might benefit the neighborhood in the future.

"I don't know what it's going to look like 30 years from now," Gilmore said. "That's the one thing that gives me pause."

Despite the council's decision, city officials can still move to put a path through the development, but will now have to purchase any property needed for it, Thomas said.

After Exxon closed the oil distribution facility on the site, buildings and underground storage tanks were removed between 1986 and 1988. Around the same time, city officials approved 15 units for the site, but that project fell through, and since then the property has been vacant.

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty/.