Save Alameda’s Waterfront Pocket Parks

An issue that was highlighted back in 2007 and earlier in the 1970’s as well, is coming to the fore in the next month.

You can take action here.

Here’s an op-ed I co-wrote from the Alameda Journal (8/26/16), it’s not available online yet:

Alamedans love their parks. Which is why an issue that came forward to the Planning Board in July is so perplexing.

City planners and developers of yore developed the East End shoreline to ensure that the waterways around Alameda were open and available to all residents, not just those lucky enough to be able to afford to buy (or inherit) waterfront property. Six to seven pocket parks were built to allow all Alamedans to reach the bay and estuary and the City owns them.

But somehow, some of the property owner next to a few of these parks have taken them over, privatizing them for their own benefit. This isn’t a new practice, the Alameda Times-Star had a front page story about it in the early 1970’s, calling on the city to return the public’s land to the public.

Yet moving forward is a plan that will accomplish the opposite.

Right now city council has the opportunity to stop the wholesale removal of three waterfront parks on the east end and ensure that future generations have access to the city’s waterways. But this means that they’ll need to support the Planning Board’s unanimous recommendation and direct the City Attorney’s office to work harder to ensure that the public interest is raised about the interests of six waterfront property owners.

On September 6, staff will bring forward a proposal that for the first time will privatize some of the waters of the estuary, and in doing so, three of these historic waterfront pocket parks will lose the future access to the water. This is because the deal that has been negotiated literally gives the mud under the water to private owners who will end up surrounding the parks. They’ll have docks and access, the public will not. The winners in this deal? People who have fenced off the parks and built structures on public land, who have literally taken over public parkland and claimed it as their own.

Hopefully the city council, knowing that the recreational use of our waterways is growing, will avoid this. This is why new developments are being required to provide docks and launches and better access. It is confusing how in the same breath as requiring new developments to provide water access to all residents, the City is working so diligently to remove that same access from its own land.

The beauty of the issue at hand is that it requires no monetary involvement from the city. At this time, the council is not being asked to spend a dime building docks or fixing up the parks. But now is the time to decide whether to giveaway city property and reduce access for all for future generations.

This is why we, the President and Vice-President of the Planning Board, are writing to encourage the city council to support two recommendation from us and our colleagues:

  1. Vote to ensure that public access to the water, including the future ability to provide fishing and boating docks off Alameda’s pocket parks. With sports like paddle-boarding, kayaking and canoeing growing in urban areas, there’s no reason to reduce the ability for non-waterfront-proterty-owning alamedans to walk from their homes and get out on to the estuary. Do this by retaining full rights to the estuary properties that abut the City’s existing land.
  2. Before any land transfers occur with the six private property owners who have fenced off these parks. Enforce the code, remove the fences and serve the property owners with documents that document where their private yards are actually public parks. For those who have built some of their private pools on public land. Sign a lease that requires them to pay for using public land and let them know that future pool repairs will necessitate them moving their personal swimming pool off public open space.

While it’s not required, because this is a land deal it’s likely the discussion and decision will be made in closed session before there is a public hearing. This isn’t right, which is why the Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend to the city council that they ensure public access to the water and estuary for years and generations to come.

If you agree, it would be good for the council to hear from you now. They’ve heard from the interests that have a lot to gain in the proposed deal, but silently, the rest of Alameda has not been given the opportunity to weigh in. Staff should be commended for tackling such a complex issue. Unfortunately, in navigating the tough terrain, they appear to have forgotten to look out for their primary focus, the overall city’s public good. We believe that most Alamedans want parks and public access, that’s why we joined the unanimous vote of the Planning Board to call for that. If you agree, write the city council today.

John Knox White, Planning Board, President

Kristoffer Koster, Planning Board, Vice-President