Government fight at Alameda's Crown State Beach

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In Alameda, there is an ongoing fight over what to do with a small plot of land near the bay's largest beach.

In Alameda, there is an ongoing fight over what to do with a small plot of land near the bay's largest beach. It's pitting the federal government against the state and local officials, and putting taxpayers squarely in the middle.

It is easily a gem in the crown of Bay Area recreation spots. Robert W. Crown State Beach in Alameda is the largest public beach on the bay, but this jewel has become tarnished and park officials say the federal government is keeping it from being polished.

Bob Doyle is general manager of the East Bay Regional Parks. He says, "We get about almost a million people a year using this very popular park."

The agency runs the popular park on behalf of the state and City of Alameda.

The US General Services Administration, or GSA, is responsible for managing the government's land interest, including property located directly across from the park. They decided to sell a nearly four-acre lot when they relocated some offices.

The park jumped at the chance to expand and asked voters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties to pick up the tab.

In 2008, voters approved measure WW to provide up to $6 million to buy the old facility and expand the park. The park offered what it had determined was fair market value for the property -- $1.5 million.

Doyle says, "General Services had other plans. They wanted to put this out for public auction. Somebody outbid us, thinking they could develop the property."

The GSA worked out a deal with developer Tim Lewis Communities. The company is willing to pay over $3 million for the property. They want to build 48 three-bedroom homes on the lot. There's only one big problem.

"The only access to that property is through the park," said Doyle.

The state owns McKay Avenue, the only road in or out. That means any developer who buys the property, would have to use it.

In April, the GSA began court proceedings to seize the park's road and utilities through eminent domain. The park district reacted with a lawsuit of its own over zoning issues. State Attorney General Kamala Harris has pledged to fight any federal eminent domain actions.

The GSA would not comment for this story because of the pending litigation, and the developer did not respond to our request for an interview.

But, in a letter to the editor written to The Alamedan last year, Jim Meeks, a representative for the developer said, it plans to "transform the now blighted area into single-family homes, native landscaping, and shoreline access that honors the area's rich history, while revitalizing the Crown Beach area."

The Alameda City Council zoned the property for housing in 2012.

"We started a petition drive to zone the property open space," said Karin Lucas of Friends of Crown Beach. The group collected more than 6,000 signatures to put the issue to voters.

"The community is really invested in this. They voted for it, we are paying property taxes for it, we want to see it happen," said Lucas.

Bowing to community pressure, the Alameda City Council voted to overturn their previous zoning decision in July, rezoning the property open space.

The GSA has shown no signs of dropping its suit, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for what will be a long legal fight while this prime piece of real estate sits unused.

"It is absolutely a waste of tax dollars to have this ongoing litigation," said Doyle.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel
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