One of the Sierra Club's core values is protecting the quality of the natural environment. In 2008, we put our values into action to support the expansion and improvement of public parkland throughout the two-county East Bay Regional Park District. The Sierra Club's get-out-the-vote effort was instrumental in the passage of the district's Measure WW.
The expansion of Crown Beach, through acquisition of a 3.89-acre surplus federal parcel next to Crab Cove, is one of 67 Park District projects approved for funding by voters in Measure WW. The site is ideal for adding picnic sites and play areas, enhancing wildlife habitat, and improving access for all park users. We were pleased that an overwhelming 71 percent of Alameda voters voted for the ballot measure.
Unfortunately, the goal of expanding Crown Beach has been put at risk by the narrow interests of the federal General Services Administration. Rather than accepting the park district's fair market cash offer, the GSA decided to auction the parcel off for twice the appraised value. The City of Alameda compounded matters when it rezoned the parcel to residential rather than to open space from its prior status as government office use. The site is also vulnerable to flooding if sea levels rise up to 55 inches by 2100 based on current projections by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).
Before the auction, the GSA, the city and the winning bidder (Tim Lewis Communities) had been informed by the park district that the state owns the access street, McKay Avenue, and that only limited street easement rights were available to private developers. The city, the developer, and the GSA chose to move forward anyway.
It is now two years since the property was auctioned off, but the sale has still not closed because the state says it will not grant the required easements for private development. (Without secured easements, the city will not approve building permits.) To complete the deal -- and to get its asking price of $3 million -- the GSA is now threatening to use eminent domain to take the street so that the private developer can obtain the easements and building permits. If successful, the GSA's tactic would be an alarming abuse of power.
We urge the GSA and the housing developer to end this real estate transaction -- including its eminent domain proceedings -- and urge the city to begin to remove the site's multifamily residential zoning. This site is not necessary for the city to comply with the state-mandated housing element law -- the pretext for the rezoning to residential -- and it is not likely to be included in the new housing element that is due in 2014.
The Sierra Club advocates for the environmental advantages of infill housing development, particularly around transit corridors, to reduce urban sprawl. While we oppose the indiscriminate development of suburban and rural lands, we do not support the unconditional commercialization of the urban Bay shoreline under the false pretense of preventing sprawl. Building housing on this problematic site rather than expanding the existing park would be a reckless and irretrievable loss of open space in an ever more crowded urban landscape.
Olga Bolotina is the chair of the Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group, and Norman LaForce is the chair of the Sierra Club's East Bay Public Lands Committee.