Jeff Wasserman lives in Alameda.
A self-serving group of wealthy Alameda homeowners dominated the April 25 City Council meeting. They sought to exclude other Alamedans access to long-held public waterfront land on the shores of the Oakland Estuary.
When C. C. Adams and Mark T. Cole planned Waterside Terrace on Alameda’s East End in 1912, they provided access to the water for all residents with three small semicircular parks east of Fernside Boulevard. The city approved the subdivision map with these parks — one near High Street, a second just across Fernside Boulevard from Monte Vista and a third across Fernside from Fairview.
This waterfront access consisted of a 10-foot-wide path from Fernside to the water, with a 35-foot-wide semi-circle at the water’s edge to allow a couple of benches to be installed for other Alamedans to come and enjoy the waterfront view, or use for fishing.
Deeds to the six houses on either side of these public access points specifically addressed that the waterfront land behind these houses did not extend the full width of the house lot, and that the 12 feet closest to the water on one side of these six homes was public land, for public use.
In 2015 the Army Corps of Engineers offered the city the ability to purchase the parks, and then transfer them to the waterfront homeowners. Alameda studied the issue in 2016, and after fact-finding and community meetings, decided to let these homeowners purchase this valuable waterfront property for a very reasonable $10,000 each.
This was a windfall for these homeowners, as it clearly increased the value of their $1 million-plus homes by $50,000 or more. Still, it was a reasonable compromise that met the needs of the federal government, the city and the 100 homeowners with property along the estuary.
During this land transfer process the city was reminded of these three designated waterfront access areas, and had to figure out what to do with them in the context of the new waterfront land transfer. Early in the process, the city, especially City Councilmember Frank Matarrese, took the position that these designated waterfront access points remain public property, for public use, and that some of $1 million in transfer fees raised by Alameda from the federal land transfer be used to improve these waterfront access points for public use and enjoyment.
The six Fernside homeowners whose homes abutted these public access points feared public use and saw an opportunity to seize this public waterfront land for their own use and enrichment. They started petitioning their Fernside neighbors and the City Council. They asked to be able to purchase the waterfront public access areas as well, since they were poorly marked and underused.
This would clearly be a huge financial windfall for these six homeowners, as they could significantly increase the size of their home lots and their valuable waterfront access, at far below market value, akin to the $10,000 they paid for the waterfront lots behind their homes.
Other Fernside neighbors with homes on the water were convinced to support these six neighbors through a classic scare campaign by which the neighbors envisioned all of the nefarious activity that their Alameda neighbors might engage in these small waterfront access points. Trash, graffiti, drinking; oh, the horrors! Their crown jewel argument was that one time, one man was once seen masturbating in one of the three public access points. Not a murder, not a robbery, but one lame dude pleasuring himself one time where he shouldn’t have been.
At the April 25 meeting, these six neighbors and their friends demanded that the three public access lands be sold to them, or at very least, that they be allowed to keep the 35-foot-wide waterfront parklets from being built, and gates and fences built at the entrance of the 10-foot wide-right of way so they could lock them up every evening (and, of course, then forget to unlock them the following morning).
They were organized, they were rich and connected, and they elicited commitments from City Council members to look at the issue in a light favorable to the six wealthy homeowners. No one at the meeting spoke on behalf of the public’s interest.
So, Alameda, this is your chance. If you don’t care that these six wealthy homeowners get to restrict your access and use of these publicly designated waterfront klets never get built, do nothing.
If, however, you care to preserve your right to use this public waterfront land into the future, and to enjoy waterfront access through the Fernside neighborhood, please call, write or email your Alameda Councilmembers and let them know that keeping this waterfront land public is important to you.
Once this valuable land is seized by these private homeowners, it can never be made public again. If even a half-dozen Alamedans let the City Council know that continued access and use of these public lands is important to you, it could well turn the tide on this issue back to the public’s favor.
Contact members of the City Council and stand up for our parks. (See the box on page 2 for contact information.)
And finally, we have two public access waterfront parklets on East Shore Drive, where both Central Avenue and Liberty Street insect with Fernside Drive. Our Alameda neighbors are welcome to come visit and enjoy them.
Jeff Wasserman lives in Alameda.