Background about federal surplus property on Crown Beach
Public land: The General Services Administration (GSA) gave land to the State of California that became Robert Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda in 1961. Part of the land was used to build McKay Avenue, a state-owned street providing access to the park, with a utility easement to the federal government for contiguous government buildings.
Surplus federal Land: In 2006, the federal government closed some of its offices along McKay Avenue, declaring the 3.89-acre parcel next to Crown Beach as “surplus.” The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), the park/beach operator, immediately contacted GSA to express interest in acquiring the surplus property in order to expand the Crown Beach facilities. The parcel at this time was zoned “government office.”
Arbitrary federal land disposal: GSA departed from traditional disposal practice and turned down a public benefit conveyance request from EBRPD, as well as an offer from EBRPD to acquire the surplus property at appraised fair market value, instead announcing that it intended to sell the property (naming it Neptune Pointe) through a competitive auction.
Voter-approved park expansion: In 2008, EBRPD sponsored ballot measure WW, authorizing it to issue bonds to fund acquisition and development of park land. One of the specific projects listed in the measure was funding for EBRPD to acquire the surplus federal property next to Crown Beach. The Alameda City Council endorsed Measure WW in June, and voters in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties overwhelmingly approved it in November.
Flawed city action regarding Housing Element: In 2009, despite the passage of Measure WW just months earlier, authorizing bond funds for EBRPD to buy Neptune Pointe, and for reasons that have never been publicly explained, the City of Alameda identified Neptune Pointe as a parcel potentially available for residential use in its draft Housing Element. This draft was not adopted, but Neptune Pointe was included in all further iterations of the proposed Housing Element from that point on.
Misguided federal auction: GSA opened its property auction in June 2011. Constrained by the existing nonresidential zoning on the land, EBRPD’s bid at appraised fair market value was rejected by the GSA in favor of a higher speculative bid from a private housing developer, even though the parcel’s preliminary title report stated that street utility easement rights for anyone other than the owner — the State of California — terminate when federal property along McKay Avenue leaves government hands.
Further flawed city action regarding Housing Element: In March through June 2012, the Alameda Planning Board and City Council held a series of public hearings to consider a revised housing element. For each meeting, notice was supposed to have been given to property owners next to the proposed sites. Neither EBRPD nor the California Department of Parks and Recreation was given notice of any of the meetings. The first draft of the housing element proposed re-zoning Neptune Point to one-to-two-family residential and designating it for “above-moderate/moderate” housing. Then, for reasons that have never been publicly explained, the final draft approved by council on July 3 changed the zoning to multi-family residential and the designation to “very low/low” income housing.
State parkland right-of-way: The California Department of Parks & Recreation informed the City of Alameda in May 2013 that it would not grant utility easement rights on McKay Avenue for a private development. The GSA thus cannot consummate the sale with the housing developer who won the auction.
Eminent domain to facilitate sale: GSA announced in August 2013 that it plans to use eminent domain to seize the street. Although GSA says it wants to upgrade the street infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Justice admitted in a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris that its actual purpose for the proposed taking is to eliminate a “cloud” on the title so that the GSA can complete the sale to a private party.
No public purpose: The U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London held that the government may not take property under the “mere pretext” of a “public purpose” when its “actual purpose” was to “bestow a private benefit.” Since the EBRPD and/or the GSA can accomplish the street infrastructure upgrades without a change of street ownership, GSA’s purported public purpose of upgrading infrastructure is mere pretext, making the proposed taking unconstitutional.
State of California intends to fight eminent domain: In a letter dated November 7, 2013, Attorney General Harris advised the U.S.D.O.J. that the California Department of Parks & Recreation would oppose any eminent domain action by the GSA on the grounds, among others, that taking of State of California property for the sole purpose of facilitating the sale of land to a private developer is not a permissible “public use” under the Constitution.
Consistency with Bay Plan: GSA’s taking of McKay Avenue to enable a private housing development would compromise the public’s access to the shoreline and is inconsistent with the San Francisco Bay Plan, which lists Crown Memorial State Beach as a Priority Use Area. EBRPD’s park expansion plan would be consistent with the Bay Plan.