Alameda loves its parks. We all agree on that. So, why is the East Bay Regional Park District (Park district) spending your city tax dollars and your park district tax dollars to sue the City of Alameda over our state-mandated Housing Element?
The fact is the park district has dragged the city into its fight with the federal government to acquire land -- for free -- at McKay Street, for a new park district parking lot. Here's why the park district's lawsuit is irresponsible: If the district acquires the site, they can already build the parking lot they desire, under Alameda's Housing Element; If they don't acquire the property, park district will still have ample opportunities to comment in public hearings about traffic or other concerns they may have about any project at McKay Street; The district is trying to force Alameda to rezone this site behind closed doors via litigation; and Even if the park district wins this, they still do not get the land, but they will have exposed Alameda residents to losing local control over planning decisions as well as losing state funds, including transportation improvement money.
This demonstrates arrogant disregard for your tax dollars and for the city's obligations to comply with California housing requirements. The park district is recklessly abusing the true purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act by using it to undo the feds' sale of the property. This lawsuit is nothing more than a negotiation tactic.
If you think your tax dollars should be spent on park services, not on some of the most expensive land-use attorneys in the state, please tell the park district to drop their lawsuit, get out of the courtroom and enter the public hearing room to solve these issues. Here are the facts: The park district demanded the federal government give them -- for free -- land on McKay Street for a new parking lot. Understandably, the feds decided instead to auction the land to the highest bidder. The city had no part in that decision. The feds held their auction, and the district was not the highest bidder. The city had no part in that process. If the park district had acquired the property, they could build a parking lot without having to change the zoning. In 2008, the city began work on its Housing Element and identified the site on McKay Street for potential housing. Four years later, that public process resulted in the city rezoning several properties to meet California's housing requirements. The city's actions complied with the Environmental Quality Act and were certified by the state. Throughout the four-year process, the city conducted extensive notifications and many public hearings for the Housing Element. Neighbors of the McKay property attended those hearings. The city posted large green signs on the site, which is immediately adjacent to the park district's building. The city published newspaper ads, and front-page articles appeared in local newspapers. The district did not attend any public hearings or send any comment to the Planning Board or City Council expressing opposition or concerns about the proposal to rezone the McKay Street site. A month after the City Council's final public hearing and the state's certification of the Housing Element, the park district notified the city that it was going to sue us. The city responded by inviting the district to initiate a public process to rezone the property to avoid a lawsuit. The district refused. It also ignored our written assurance that for any housing project at this site, the city would require full compliance with the Environmental Quality Act to ensure that the park district and members of the public have a chance to discuss potential impacts. The district ignores the city's attempts to satisfy their stated concerns because what they really want is the land, for free.
To see our correspondence with the park district, please visit the City of Alameda's website.
John A. Russo is Alameda's city manager.