City May Use Eminent Domain for UP Property

Maps courtesy City of Alameda    The map above depict the east and west ends of Jean Sweeney Park and the adjoining former railroad property the city is considering taking over.

At its Tuesday, Sept. 4, meeting, the City Council is scheduled to consider acquiring properties from the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) using the power of eminent domain. The properties in question include 1.56 acres that made up part of the historic railroad right-of-way along today’s Tilden Way and 2.8 acres once part of the southern and western fringes of the Alameda Belt Line’s railroad yard in today’s Jean Sweeney Park.

In its report to the City Council, city staff states that the city needs the property along Tilden Way to create a continuous truck route from Clement Avenue through UP’s property to Tilden Way. In addition, city staff states in its report that acquiring the property would allow the city to improve traffic with a “queue jump lane” that would allow buses to maneuver around traffic at the stop lights on Tilden Way. 

The staff report states that the city needs to acquire 2.8 acres of the 4.52 acres that UP still owns near Jean Sweeney Park to allow better public access to the park. Staff points out that without the city’s owning these properties,  the south end of the park would remain inaccessible and the city would not be able to complete the gateway to the Cross Alameda Trail at Constitution Way at a standard that would allow the best pedestrian and bicycle access and safety.  

According to city staff, without the Tilden Way property, the Cross Alameda Trail would remain incomplete. This would inhibit access to the Fruitvale BART station for pedestrians and bicyclists. 

In both cases — along Tilden Way and at Jean Sweeney Park — the city has attempted to negotiate with UP regarding value, the amount of property it would acquire and the allowable use of the properties, but has not been able to reach agreement.  

For example, using a two-month-old appraisal, in February 2017, the city offered the railroad $870,000 for four of the five parcels at Jean Sweeney Park. The City did not offer to buy the fifth parcel because it did not need it for the park’s development. UP countered with $8.5 million — an amount almost 10 times the city’s bid — for all five parcels, including the one that the city does not need. 

City staff used a January 2017 appraisal of the Tilden Way property to offer UP $958,000 the 
following month. UP countered at $2.9 million. City staff obtained an updated appraisal showing a value of $1,685,000. On May 15, city staff made a statutory offer of that appraised amount for the parcels along Tilden Way; UP countered at $2,070,992.

In addition UP added use restrictions to both its offers. One restriction would prohibit any recreational or park uses, something inconsistent with any plans for any park. In addition UP wants to place restrictions on any residential use even though the railroad based its value of the land on a more highly valued residential use. 

To sour the pot, UP said that it would release the city from restrictions on both properties only if the city would perform environmental assessments that show the properties at Tilden Way and Jean Sweeney Park free of contamination. If contamination is found, the railroad would require the city to remediate the properties to residential levels without any deduction in price. To top it all off, UP would want an additional $10,000 for both the Tilden Way and Jean Sweeney Park parcels to release the use restrictions.

City staff obtained an updated appraisal for the four parcels at Jean Sweeney Park. The appraisal showed a value of $1,098,284 for the highest and best use of these parcels. On May 15, staff made an offer using the new appraised value. UP has not yet made a counter offer. However, staff anticipate that the railroad’s counter will include both the use restrictions and the requirement that the city acquire all five parcels.

As a result, city staff is recommending that the City Council acquire the needed properties both at Jean Sweeney Park and along Tilden Way using eminent domain. If the City Council approves staff’s recommendation, the city would take steps to file for eminent domain proceedings to acquire the properties. 

The city has paved the way for these proceedings by already defining the public projects it needs the land for: allowing better access to Jean Sweeney Park and allowing Clement Avenue to be cut through to Tilden Way. How all this plays out may be up to a judge.

This map shows the former railroad right of way that would become city property if all goes according to plan. The long-vacant parcel belongs to the Union Pacific Railroad.
Ralph Demoro    Tracks curving in from the right once carried Big Reds from today’s Fernside Boulevard on their way to the Fruitvale Bridge. The tanks on the right were part of a Signal Oil distribution center. Most of the rails in this photograph were torn up in the 1960s to create Tilden Way. However, the Union Pacific retained a right of way on the west side of Tilden that ran from the Fruitvale Bridge to Broadway near Clement Avenue.