Feds Going to Court Over McKay Avenue

McKay Avenue, AlamedaOn April 17, the federal government began court proceedings in U.S. District Court to seize McKay Avenue through eminent domain. The street is owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and leads to the Crab Cove Visitor Center.

The “public purpose” of the taking, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), acting on behalf of the federal General Services Administration (GSA), is for the continuing operation of the federal building complex located on McKay Avenue and to facilitate the sale of federal surplus property at the end of the street to a private housing developer by providing utility easements.

This move is opposed by eleven Bay Area, state, and national environmental organizations, as well as by State Attorney General Kamala Harris. The organizations have submitted a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to intervene to stop the DOJ from taking public land for a private developer’s benefit.

The California League of Conservation Voters, California State Parks Foundation, Clean Water Action, Citizens for East Shore Parks, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Refuge, Citizens for a Better Environment, National Parks Conservation Association, Save Mt. Diablo, Save the Bay, and the San Francisco Bay Chapter of Sierra Club have signed the letter.

“Many of our organizations have together fought and defeated proposals to develop, encroach upon, or misuse state park property in California, based on the strong belief that designation of parkland, once granted, reflects the best and highest use of those lands and should be upheld in perpetuity,” states the letter.

Entrance sign on McKayIn a November 7, 2013 letter to the DOJ, California Attorney General Kamala Harris rebutted the feds’ claim that seizing the street is needed for the operation of the federal complex, saying, “[T]he California Department of Parks & Recreation cannot identify any problem with the federal government’s continued use of McKay Avenue. If the federal government desires improvements or upgrades to the roadway and sidewalk to address any access or security issues for the Alameda Federal Center, then we are willing to enter into immediate discussions about them, in concert with the East Bay Regional Park District.” Harris continued, “[W]e fail to see how the GSA will ever convince a federal court that a street and sidewalk already devoted to a ‘public use’ still necessitates the federal condemnation of it.”

Surplus federal property Google Earth imageThe state-owned street currently provides access and utilities to the federally owned 3.89-acre parcel that the developer, Tim Lewis Communities, is eyeing. The GSA accepted a bid to sell the property to Tim Lewis Communities for $3.075 million, a price more than double the parcel’s appraised value at the time of the auction, although the sale has not yet been completed.

In 2008, voters of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties passed Measure WW, authorizing the East Bay Regional Park District to purchase the federally owned parcel to expand Crown Memorial State Beach. However, the district was prohibited by its fiduciary laws from offering more than the appraised value of the property.

The court filing claims the reasonable compensation for the taking of McKay Avenue is $10. The DOJ office leading the eminent domain effort to seize this California Department of Parks and Recreation street is the Environment & Natural Resources Division. The State of California has 21 days in which to file a response in court.

“This whole transaction is one of the stinkiest I have seen in 30 years of fighting for public parks and open space,” said Sierra Club’s Norman La Force. “This is the type of action which gives government a black eye. The city manager and the city council members who voted to zone the property residential should be ashamed.”

An Alameda-based advocacy group, Friends of Crown Beach, has been collecting signatures of Alameda voters to place a measure on the November ballot that would rezone the federal surplus property to Open Space.

Elsewhere on the island, developer Tim Lewis Communities acquired the former Del Monte warehouse property on Buena Vista Avenue in 2013 and is pursuing a plan to refashion the historic building into a retail and 414-unit residential complex.

Originally published in Alameda Sun

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