"Stop feds' land grab from state parks"
2013-12-20 from "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/editorials/article/Stop-feds-land-grab-from-state-parks-5082588.php]:
In an audacious display of bureaucratic arrogance, the federal government is threatening to use its eminent domain powers to seize a state-owned street near Alameda's Crown Beach to accommodate a proposed development of up to 90 homes.
It gets worse. The targeted property is not exactly state surplus. It is a short stretch of McKay Avenue that provides access to the interpretive center at Crab Cove, which sits at the eastern edge of the largest stretch of public beach on the San Francisco Bay. The General Services Administration wants to claim the road to assure utility services for the Roseville (Placer County) developer who outbid the East Bay Regional Park District for the 4-acre site on what is known as Neptune Pointe.
The parks district had hoped to acquire that plot of abandoned federal office space to accommodate a park expansion - funding for which was included in the 2008 Measure WW, which was passed by more than 70 percent of voters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
So to sum it up: We have the GSA selling its surplus office park to a private developer for $3 million, a price that was nearly triple the parks district's appraisal, on the presumption that state parks would willingly cede access on McKay Avenue for utilities. When state parks balked, the federal government pulled out the eminent domain threat.
"We're very experienced here at dealing with urban parks and developers and politics ... but this one's for the record books," said Bob Doyle, general manager of the regional parks district. "We just haven't been able to get a fair shake from day one."
State Attorney General Kamala Harris' office recently sent a strongly worded letter to the U.S. Department of Justice about GSA's threat to use eminent domain to seize the street and sidewalks of McKay Avenue.
"We are extraordinarily troubled by GSA's intent to take public land for a private developer's benefit," Deputy Attorney General John Devine wrote.
The letter went on to cite federal law dictating that agencies disposing of surplus property should give priority to public uses, and can offer it to state and local governments for discounts of "up to 100 percent."
The park district had bid $1 million, a third of the sale price to Tim Lewis Communities, a home developer based in Roseville. GSA officials said they needed to get full market value out of that 4-acre plot as part of the offices-consolidation project that made that area surplus.
Doyle directs some of his irritation at the city of Alameda for rezoning the land from office space to residential after the sale. The parks district has filed a lawsuit against the city for making the zoning change without an environmental impact report.
However, Alameda City Manager John Russo called the parks-district lawsuit "a bazooka on a fly" and a big waste of taxpayer dollars. He explained that the zoning change was made because the property was being acquired by a developer - and the growth-resistant suburb has long been under pressure from the state to do more to meet housing demand for diverse income levels.
Besides, Russo added, the developer's initial application with the city is not going anywhere until the McKay Avenue dispute is resolved.
"If you don't have access, you don't have a project," he said, adding, "They all need to get together to work something out."
Here's what should happen in the public interest: The GSA's deal with the developer should be nullified by one or both parties because of the lack of access. Parks officials have made plain they are not giving up the street to a development that would preclude expansion plans and could even come in conflict with the park experience and its operations. The GSA should then strike a deal with the parks district - at a reasonable discount - to facilitate the park expansion that voters overwhelmingly approved five years ago.
Members of Congress need to get off the sidelines and lean on the GSA bureaucrats to work out a deal with the regional parks. The attorney general's office should not be the only high-level voice against the taking of a state-owned street for the benefit of a private developer.