On April 17, the federal government filed a lawsuit against the state of California and the East Bay Regional Park District to acquire McKay Ave in the city of Alameda through the process of eminent domain.
Back in 2008, voters of Alameda passed Measure WW which gave the East Bay Regional Park District authorization to purchase a federally owned parcel of land to expand Crown Memorial State Park. McKay Ave falls within the parcel now owned by East Bay Regional Park District. The street leads up to the Crab Cove Visitor Center and connects with Central Ave.
The DOJ office leading the lawsuit is the Environmental & Natural Resources Division. The federal government’s claimed reason for pursuing acquisition of McKay Ave is to secure continuing operation of the federal building complex which is located on Central Ave. The federal government also stated, however, that acquiring McKay Ave will facilitate the sale of federally owned “surplus land,” to a private housing developer. Currently, McKay Ave is used by the federal government to access the 3.89 acre federally owned parcels and recently a bid was accepted for the sale of that land to a housing developer, Tim Lewis Communities.
The opposition to the sale of the land for residential development and the acquisition of McKay Ave is substantial not only in the Alameda community but by numerous organizations all over California and the nation. State Attorney General Kamala Harris has stepped up to speak for those in opposition to the taking. Her November 7, 2013 letter to the Department of Justice expressed her rebuttals against claims made by the federal government regarding the need for McKay Ave in order to operate the federal complex. She also addressed the State’s willingness to discuss the issues of access or security for the federal complex and her failure to see how a public street and sidewalk could be acquired for “public use,” particularly given that the State is willing to discuss any upgrades to the street that the Feds might desire. However, the federal government is confident it will be able to practice eminent domain over the street.
Recently, a group of 10 organizations opposed to the acquisition posted an open letter to the U.S. Attorney General urging the Department of Justice and the General Service Administration to not proceed with any and all eminent domain cases against California Parkland. The letter described the taking as “not defensible” and a “misuse “of state park property. The opponents to the taking want the land to be left as “open space.” Allowing a developer to build houses on the currently owned federal parcels is “a contrary notion that parklands are trivial…and can be easily undone.”
(The letter is available to view on Alameda Sun Time’s website.)
The elephant in the room is this: Is the federal government using their nearby federal complex as an excuse to proceed with an eminent domain case in order to make money? It seems a bit fishy that the federal government secured a bid for the sale of the 3.89 acre surplus property at the end of the street for a price that was double the parcel’s appraised value, and then went after McKay Ave. Although the federal government is not hiding the sale to the housing developer, it seems quite a coincidence that things have played out as they have.
Now the State of California must file a response to the lawsuit. It will be interesting to see how this case proceeds. One can’t help but to recall the infamous Kelo case and how its decision has influenced governmental acquisition of private properties for sale to private developers.
By: A.J. Hazarabedian
To learn more about A.J. Hazarabedian, the managing partner at California Eminent Domain Law Group, visit http://www.eminentdomainlaw.net/aboutAJH.php