McKay Property’s Aim is to Benefit Homeless

File photo    Alameda’s Neptune Beach as it appeared from the sky in 1920 contains the site of today’s McKay Avenue. At the left of the amusement park, the helix-shaped roller coaster known as the Scenic Railway takes up the spot that would one day become McKay. Much of Crab Cove and the end of McKay are built on made land created by the Strehlow family that owned and operated Neptune Beach. The entrance to the park was at Webster Street and Central Avenue, hidden behind trees in the photo.

Part one of two

McKay Avenue, which leads to the Crab Cove Visitor Center, is again the focus of a property dispute. This time, however, the dispute revolves around a misunderstanding. Neptune Beach’s roller coasters once carried thrill-seeking riders down the stretch of land that later became McKay. The resort closed in 1939 and workers removed the roller coasters. The Merchant Marines stepped in and created the U.S. Maritime Service Officer School, which operated from 1943 until 1954. The seafaring Merchant Marines cut a street on the roller coasters’ footprint and named it for one of their heroes, Boston shipbuilder Donald McKay. 

After the officer’s school closed, the federal government moved in and used the buildings on McKay’s west side for offices. Parkland sprang up on avenue’s east side. In 1966, Crab Cove, became part of the state park system. In 1980, a building that had served as the officer school’s infirmary reopened as a visitors’ center. 

When the federal government announced it was moving out in 2013, the property on the west side of McKay Avenue offered Alamedans two challenges. The first came the following year, when the federal government split the parcel it owned in two and attempted to use eminent domain as a tool to seize McKay Avenue and sell the land on McKay’s southern end to developer Tim Lewis. The second came late last year when the federal government announced it was putting the property out for bid. 

Selling the land to Lewis presented a problem. The California Department of Parks and Recreation, not the federal government, owned McKay Avenue. In addition, the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) had already bid on the property. The district wanted to incorporate the land into Crown Memorial Beach. Then-California Attorney General (and now United States Senator) Kamala Harris got involved. In addition pressure from their constituents led members of the City Council to stop Lewis by rezoning the land from residential to open space. 

The federal property on McKay’s west side originally consisted of six buildings; one was razed as part of the Crab Cove expansion that is proceeding as planned. The remaining five buildings presented the second challenge when the federal government announced it would sell the property under the McKinney Vento Act. 

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act into law.  The federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) announced that the remaining buildings on the McKay Avenue property were suitable for the homeless under the act’s supportive housing program. GSA opened the land for bid. Last December Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) learned that it had submitted the winning bid. APC has successfully completed an application to the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington D. C., which is administering the conveyance process.  

According to APC Executive Director Doug Biggs, the collaborative will likely complete the conditions for conveyance at the end of this month. APC has already fulfilled one of the conveyances key conditions, the completion of an environmental assessment. 

Neither the city nor EBRPD had a hand in the decision to sell this property to benefit the homeless. On June 6, the park district’s executive director Robert H. Doyle wrote a letter to the City Council.  “EBRPD is aware of (APC’s) proposal to develop a senior residential homeless facility on the northern end of McKay Avenue,” Doyle wrote. 

“The park district has not expressed any interest in acquiring this developed property as it is not suitable for park expansion.” Doyle stated in his letter that EBRPD will review the APC’s proposal to ensure that that it does not adversely affect Crown Memorial State Beach and the Crab Cove Visitor Center.