Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 9, 2014

They don’t really care about us

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, Development, Election — Tags: , , — Lauren Do @ 6:09 am

According to a twitter report, signature gatherers at the San Francisco Transbay Terminal are telling voters (who ask) that if the ballot measure is successful to rezone Crab Cove/Neptune Pointe/that GSA property thingie to open space a possible lawsuit against the City of Alameda is “no big deal” and that money to pay for a lawsuit is already budgeted in the Parks and Rec budget:

Putting aside the clearly incorrect statement of the Parks and Rec budget having any additional money to shell out in the case of an adverse settlement, notice how I caveated the whole statement with “voters (who ask)”.   That’s because the leadership of the ballot initiative have decided that proper disclosure about the cost to Alameda taxpayers is unimportant in the face of rezoning this particular parcel.

According to a series of emails sent between City Staff and one of the measure’s leaders even though they understand that if the ballot measure is successful it could expose the City (and therefore the taxpayers) to a lawsuit, they have made a decision to not disclose that information.  Here are the emails, I cut them out so I could display them in chronological order.

So this first email is from William (aka Bill) Smith to Andrew Thomas of the City of Alameda.  Just an FYI “inverse condemnation” is when a government entity (in this case, the citizens of Alameda via the ballot box) “takes” a property for some use which greatly devalues the property such that it’s equal to condemning the entire property (downzoning from Industrial with Government Overlay/Residential to Open Space) that the owner (GSA) might claim that they are now owed the entire value of the property.


I think it’s interesting that the Sierra Club is “hoping the matter settles” before the signature gathering is complete even though they know that is practically improbable since the owner of the land, the GSA, isn’t participating in the mediation process and has indicated that they will be doing all they can — including condemning the road to the property — to assert their rights to do whatever they want with the land.

This next email is from Andrew Thomas to Bill Smith, who fairly asks if the signature gatherers intend to disclose the information about a possible inverse condemnation lawsuit to the Alameda voters they are asking to sign off on the petition:


This next email is from Bill Smith to Andrew Thomas, who says that he will ask the other ballot measure leaders to “gauge the response”:



From Andrew Thomas to Bill Smith, self explanatory:



From Bill Smith to Andrew Thomas:



Without any irony whatsoever Bill Smith opens that the discussion they are having is essential for “good government” to avoid “poor communication” but then goes on to report that the crowd of signature gathering volunteers summarily rejected the notion that they needed to disclose any information to those that they were asking to sign a petition.

I’ll highlight this section from the email:

For the Sierra Club, and most citizens, a possible one-time loss to a City with an annual budget on the order of $100,000,000 is of concern, but not an overriding concern, given the permanent benefits to be accrued to the City and the region of an expanded State Park. [emphasis added]

Somehow despite failed efforts to convince our Federal elected representatives to shake down the GSA to tell them to hand over the land to the EBRPD, the ballot measure leaders think they are going to be successful in their efforts to tell the same representatives that a lawsuit would be unwise and not “smart politics.”  Gotcha.  Or else what?  They’re going to run someone against Boxer, Feinstein, and Lee?   Or *gasp* vote Republican?

So even though the “Sierra Club, and most citizens” seem to feel that a one-time loss to the City of Alameda is no biggie, in this email to Bill Smith from Andrew Thomas he articulates what I would imagine some people are feeling or at least I felt after reading that the “Sierra Club, and most citizens” don’t seem to have a problem with not disclosing the possible monetary hit to the very same set of citizens they are asking to sign the petition.   We don’t have enough money to build a proper swim center for our citizens but we do have money to pay off a self created lawsuit.



  1. So Bill Smith, what is your answer to the last e-mail??

    Comment by John P. — April 9, 2014 @ 8:56 am

  2. I’m curious to know if the Sierra Club is even taking an official stand on this issue. Bill is well known for misrepresenting his memberships in various organizations as an authorization to speak on their behalf when that authorization has in fact not been granted. Are there any campaign disclosure docs required to be filed that state that the Sierra club is one of the underwriters of this campaign?

    Comment by notadave — April 9, 2014 @ 9:56 am

  3. Like if anyone ever care for the last 15 years ……From the Mayor downward or Employees upward
    It’s all conflict of interest , poor ethic , a GIANT FARCE !
    Leaders elected with a very shady past
    — would you hire anyone who has plead guilty of a crime as Police Officer ?
    — an Arsonist as Fireman ?
    — a Pedophile as Pre school teacher ?
    — Maddoff in charge of the mortgage and banking industry ?
    Just curious .
    On the same subject it is time to tell the Fed to stop micromanaging the Country
    this will eliminate an entire layer of pencil pusher resulting in an efficient Gov.
    Both the base and crab cove were private property before the Navy saw a need for it turning it into a large chemical dump .
    Now let’s apply the same laws the Fed apply to you and me , clean up everything 100%
    I understand there is a 14000 feet deep ocean crevasse which could use some filling , Happy hauling ,
    since it is in international waters

    Comment by frank — April 9, 2014 @ 10:01 am

  4. The Sierra Club sent out an endorsement press release.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 9, 2014 @ 10:09 am

  5. I read the press release, my question is the sequence of events as described in the release correct. Bye the way I am not in favor of any housing going into that area.

    Comment by John P. — April 9, 2014 @ 10:36 am

  6. Vague Timeline, forgive any omission, I did this from memory:
    1. GSA surpluses land
    2. Puts land up for auction
    3. First auction deadline goes by with no bids (or no bids high enough)
    4. GSA finally closes bid and (I believe) after negotiation reaches a sale amount with Tim Lewis Communities
    5. City of Alameda starts Housing Element process (this land is already in the draft Housing Element as a site to potentially rezone to meet RHNA numbers)
    6. TLC sends letter asking for property to be rezoned based on draft Housing Element designation
    7. In Housing Element, Neptune Pointe site is included as one of the sites to be rezoned to meet RHNA allocation
    8. Housing Element is certified and completed
    9. EBRPD sues to invalidate Housing Element of City of Alameda
    10. GSA starts making noises about eminent domain of McKay Avenue
    11. Ballot initiative starts

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 9, 2014 @ 11:19 am

  7. They were hounding everyone at Off The Grid Saturday. This seems like a great spot for some dense housing. Close to a walkable downtown area, bus lines off and across the island. A corner of the West End that could use a little investment, revitalization and eyeballs. Crab cove and crown beach park are great, but not exactly bursting at the seams with overuse. It isn’t as if this property is home to some stand of old growth oaks or some other intrinsic value that would be a tragedy if lost to development. Giving it to EBPRD below market rate so they can have a nice place to park their fleet vehicles seems incredibly wasteful.

    Comment by BMac — April 9, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  8. “A corner of the West End that could use a little investment, revitalization and eyeballs”. I have to agree with you. The redevelopment of this site could revitalize the Neptune Beach District.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 9, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

  9. The takeaway: John Knox White misheard, Bill Smith misspoke, and Andrew Thomas misunderstood. The REGIONAL park district has the funding for park expansion, not the city’s park department.

    Andrew Thomas and John Knox White can write the ballot argument against the rezoning to expand the park. Or, if they prefer, either of them can initiate the rezoning of the property to back to the way it was. Or, they could write to the GSA echoing the sentiments of the California Attorney General regarding the disturbing use of eminent domain in our city on behalf of a private developer.

    I support open space at Crab Cove and not hiding the fact that voters in two counties already approved the park expansion on McKay Avenue in a 2008 park district ballot measure.

    Comment by Irene — April 10, 2014 @ 8:16 am

  10. I’m sure John Knox White would disagree that he “misheard” unless you were present or the one giving out the information, I’m going to go with the account of the person who was actually present.

    As to Andrew Thomas misunderstanding, I’m not sure which part you think he “misunderstood.” The fact that this ballot initiative opens up the taxpayers of Alameda (the same taxpayers you and others are asking to sign off on the ballot petition) to an adverse judgment. Or the part where the volunteer signature gatherers indicated that it was “not an overriding concern.”

    I’ll point out, again, that the land does not need to be rezoned back to ANYTHING in order for the EBRPD to build what they want to build. Right now, if the EBRPD ponied up the amount of money the GSA wanted and the GSA accepted it they could break ground on their parking lot tomorrow. This whole rezoning thing is a smoke screen.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 10, 2014 @ 8:46 am

  11. Irene, you’re just plain wrong, but I’m glad you can tell me what I heard and misheard in a conversations that you weren’t anywhere near.

    I got three different answers as to how the city will cover the $3 million price tag for the land, one was that the Parks Department has the budget, then it was that the park District has all of the money, and then a second person (Ms. Gibson) said that Alamedans can just each pay the money (aka taxes) to cover the cost.

    To be clear, the Parks District does not have the money for the land, they have some of the money (about half). The City, not the Parks District, will be on the hook. Unless your argument is that the Parks District will cover any and all additional cost beyond the ~1.5 million they say they have, a fact that they should get out there into this discussion, then a vote to approve the open space ballot initiative is a vote to take money from Alameda’s General Fund or Parks budget.

    The one caveat is if the Fed’s eminent domain case fails, but then the initiative is unnecessary, because the feds won’t be able to sell the land to anyone but the parks district.

    You’re response is a problem, it obfuscates the impacts of the ballot measure, which without a doubt will pass, and is neither honest, open or transparent.

    Comment by John Knox White — April 10, 2014 @ 8:51 am

  12. It is a shame to see people who had integrity in my eyes, such as Irene resorting to ad hominem attacks against character instead of debating the issues. Irene, you are better than that.

    Comment by notadave — April 10, 2014 @ 9:18 am

  13. #9 – My takeaway is that before you have an email exchange with Andrew Thomas, know that it might appear on a local blog.

    Comment by Barb — April 10, 2014 @ 10:07 am

  14. 11. John Know White – You have done your best to distance yourself from seeking any solution to this land disposal debacle. Especially now that there is no longer any pretext for McKay Avenue being in the housing element, the board which you sit on – the Planning Board – can zone the property back to what it was – government/office. This would a) end the lawsuit with the park district, and b) not expose the city to any liability, since the zoning to residential happened after the auction.

    Your $3 million dollar liability figure is an exaggeration. The park district has half the money. And based on what the attorney general said in the letter to the GSA, it’s a fair bet that the state parks department would make up the difference, if it came to that, since they would be the actual owners.

    Now that all of the pleas to reverse the residential zoning decision by the city have been ignored for over a year, and citizens are taking matters into their own hands, you are right there arm in arm with the GSA pretending that you are looking out for the interests of the city. Instead of working on a solution to add this land to Crown Beach, as you indicate you are in favor of, you go out of your way to disparage volunteers with clipboards trying to do what you as a public official have obstinately refused to do. Shame on you for all of your contempt for average citizens trying to do something good for our city.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — April 10, 2014 @ 10:13 am

  15. Why does the residential zoning need to be reversed? If EBRPD owned the land it could be zoned for casino usage and they still could build their parking lot. The fact that proponents of this ballot measure continue to ignore this fact and act as though the zoning is some sort of pivotal element for EBRPD to build a parking lot is strange. The only thing that zoning to something other than residential does is make sure that you can’t build houses on it. Nothing in the current zoning or the old zoning precludes EBRPD building exactly what they want on the parcel.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 10, 2014 @ 10:19 am

  16. #9 – My takeaway is that before you have an email exchange with Andrew Thomas, know that it might appear on a local blog.

    Actually your takeaway should be, everything that is emailed to the City of Alameda is public record. That exchange was delivered as part of a larger public records request.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 10, 2014 @ 10:22 am

  17. Its beginning to look like the friends of the parks “egos” are starting to get in the way of the facts and transparency.

    Comment by John P. — April 10, 2014 @ 10:34 am

  18. 15. “If EBRPD owned the land….” The difference of opinion is that some people want EBRPD to own the land, and some people don’t. Those who do are working on a solution. Those who don’t are trying to disparage the effort by mischaracterizing the expansion as just a parking lot.

    “Nothing in the current zoning or the old zoning precludes EBRPD building exactly what they want on the parcel.” Except for the fact that the GSA has a pending contract with Tim Lewis Communities. If you were interested in shoreline parks, you would be advocating for ways to get EBRPD to the table. Reversing the zoning would be one way to accomplish that.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — April 10, 2014 @ 10:45 am

  19. I’ve tried to limit my comments on this because I’m not prepared to do the homework to earn a qualified opinion. I do think Tim Lewis proposal was crap and prefer the Park system get the land. I know this must have been covered, so forgive my asking, but if GSA is trying eminent domain wouldn’t they also sue if the zoning was now changed after Lewis bid has been accepted? I’m hoping that Ms. Harris opinion carries weight and GSA loses the domain case, end of story.

    As for petition, opening with a pitch about how the successful passage of the initiative could lead to a law suit is certainly no way to get signatures, but Irene, in 9. you didn’t really address that aspect which is the gist of Lauren’s blog. The opportunity to write mention of law suit into opposing arguments is fine, but that is only AFTER it gets on the ballot by signature.

    notdave, what is definition of “ad hominem attack”? Irene may be guilty of points listed in last line of 11. by JKW, but I’m not seeing the attack, possibly mis-attributions claimed in 10 and 11. As somebody willing to employ timely aspersions in the name of “callin’ em’ like I see ’em”, maybe your definition is too subtle for me.

    Comment by MI — April 10, 2014 @ 10:52 am

  20. So essentially this is as described by Andrew Thomas: inverse condemnation. A government entity (the citizens of Alameda via the ballot box) “taking” property for a use which severely devalues the property to the point where it could be considered a condemnation and therefore exposing the government entity (also the citizens of Alameda) to legal liability to make the property owner (GSA) whole if it is found to be an inverse condemnation.

    The Friends of Crown Beach want to severely reduce the market value of the land by downzoning it to a level it wasn’t even at at the beginning of this whole drama. And because why? Because the EBRPD doesn’t feel as though they should pay market rate and we’re not even talking about the rate it would be if zoned as residential because when the GSA was first going through this exercise of auctioning the property it was still at that industrial/commercial with government overlay and EBRPD still wasn’t offering enough for the GSA.

    Everyone realizes that even if and when this ballot initiative is successful the GSA doesn’t HAVE to sell it to anyone. They can opt to be petulant, build a huge fence around it to mock the EBRPD, and let it go to seed.

    As to it being a parking lot, nearly half of the parcel is dedicated to building two parking lots. It’s a parking lot and a service yard with a “meadow” attached.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 10, 2014 @ 11:04 am

  21. “EBRPD doesn’t feel as though they should pay market rate” More misinformation. The park district’s offer was not based on feelings. It was based on the law governing their special district. They pay appraised market value for land. It was appraised. They offered the appraised value for government/office zoning. They can’t bid taxpayer dollars based on speculation that the market value of the land may actually be higher if and when it gets up-zoned to residential. Keep the zoning at government/office and see if TLC thinks the market value is $3 million.

    “build a huge fence around it to mock the EBRPD, and let it go to seed.” They already have a fence around it. They would not only be mocking the park district, but mocking the voters. And it’s already gone to seed.

    The park district’s service yard doesn’t count in the calculation, since it is simply going to be moved. New lot to the north, old lot becomes meadow. And a significant part of the additional parking lot space comes from converting the end of McKay Avenue to a parking lot. But thanks for providing the link to the park district’s conceptual drawing. When people see the drawing, they prefer the meadow and more parking over “boxes,” less on-street parking for park visitors and no meadow.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — April 10, 2014 @ 11:50 am

  22. So again, the point of this balloting exercise is inverse condemnation of the GSA’s property so that EBRPD can be the sole and only buyer. Then perhaps that should be disclosed to petition signers.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 10, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

  23. Well, this sure is fun to watch. I thought RB, Irene, Bill Smith, & JKW were all friends. Did you all know JKW has a degree in Psychology? He sure is putting that to good use.

    I found this definition: ,which clears up nothing

    If the Sierra Club wanted to control the disposition of this land, maybe it should have just bought it. The opening bid wasn’t that high-how much did TLC spend for it, anyway?

    The biggest problem I see, is that concise & legally tight letter the Federal government wrote. The GSA seems to be doing business as usual, the way it’s always been done. Why should Alameda be any different? The land hasn’t belonged to the City in a very long time [if ever] & it is hard to legally get around that annoying fact.

    Comment by vigi — April 10, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

  24. Who really has been to crab cove or crown beach. I have never lived here 9 years and have yet to go. I will probably never go there. Except for he dog park, I have only been to Washington Square State Park twice.

    The funny things is the US Gov. is not under local ordnance. I found this out when they built the new Fed Building with had a lot of opposition and that is where I learned they are not under local. restraints. They could build a bunch of houses or even a high rise a it really doesn’t matter what the land is zoned for. If they are selling off land they should go for the best price…as a taxpayer that is what I would want. I don’t want my local taxes raised anymore just to buy it.

    If you want better parks, schools, hospitals, ect…get rid of prop 13 or property taxes altogether and increase income tax, close loops, have a local sales or income tax. People want things, but they don’t want to pay for them.

    Comment by Joseph — April 10, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

  25. An appropriate coda to a me-tune post.

    Comment by Jack R — April 10, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

  26. Lauren,

    Thank you for requesting public records and posting the e-mail exchange between Andrew Thomas and myself. More Alamedans, including myself, are now better informed of the complexities regarding the GSA disposition of the 4 acre parcel across McKay Avenue from the Crab Cove Visitor Center.

    I agree with you that it is important for the public to know before they vote on the initiative that there is a risk that the City could lose money if the initiative passes. I have mentioned this risk to dozens of voters I have approached about signing the initiative to rezone the disputed GSA property from housing to open space, The risk of a one-time cost to the City has not been the determining factor for any voter I have spoken with – whether they supported Crab Cove expansion onto the site or the few expressed a preference for housing there.

    I also apologize that in my e-mails to Andrew Thomas I failed to make it crystal clear that I was describing deliberations with some other supporters of the initiative rather than representing the official position of the Sierra Club. For matters relating to Crab Cove, Norman LaForce, Chair of the Sierra Club’s East Bay Public Lands Committee, is the Sierra Club spokesperson. Norman was the driving force behind the 2008 Measure WW Parks bond that included about $1.5 million dollars for the East Bay Regional Park District to use to acquire the disputed property.

    Spring is here – enjoy Alameda’s wonderful parks!


    Comment by 2wheelsmith — April 10, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

  27. Attorney and Alameda resident Robert Sullwold on his blog the Alameda Merry Go Round has provided factual background for and analysis of the dispute that has engulfed the GSA’s effort to dispose of nearly 4 acres near Crab Cove. He makes a convincing case that there is little chance the GSA could force the City to pay for the loss in value should the initiative to expand Crab Cove pass and rezone the 4 acres from residential to parks and open space.

    Visit his blog at and go to his posting titled “Merry-Go-Round to feds: Drop dead!” and dated April 13, 2014.

    Bill Smith

    Comment by Bill Smith — April 13, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

  28. @27 Correction: Read the best explanation yet here:

    Comment by vigi — April 14, 2014 @ 9:46 am

  29. How about this idea: Richard Bangert for Mayor 2014!

    Comment by laura — July 17, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

  30. What I find is funny is everyone wants more green space but it is all brown…and we have droughts every few years so this isn’t something new. We are surrounded by water yet we have no water…irony. The parks and rec need water alternatives…such as drilling wells and installing pumps…it would be fairly cheap in the long run. The electricity to pump the water to water Bayport park and College of Alameda would probably cost $50 per month…for the months you need water.

    Comment by Joseph — July 17, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

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