Public Weighs East End Parks

Courtesy Google Streetview     The narrow passageway between these two homes on Fernside Boulevard is actually public land.

Unknown to many Alamedans, except for those lucky few who live adjacent to them, there are six small — and in many cases, hidden — waterfront parks along Fernside Boulevard and Eastshore Drive. They were designed to give all Alamedans a little bit of waterfront access and viewing.  

At one time there were seven of these waterfront parks; the seventh at the end of Encinal Avenue at Eastshore. It appears that at some point in the last 25 years, that park was sold by the city to the owners of one of the two waterfront homes that border that former park. Of concern to many is that like this now-lost waterfront park, the city is considering selling or leasing some of the remaining public waterfront parkland to the private homeowners who live on the waterfront on either side of the public parklands. 

Of the six remaining waterfront parks, only two are generally known to East End residents; the one at Eastshore and Central Avenue, and the one at Eastshore and Liberty Avenue. Another three along Fernside have been severely encroached upon by the six adjacent neighbors who intentionally installed tall wood and metal fences over most the public parkland to enclose it into their own backyards. All that remains of these parks are nearly invisible 10-foot-wide alleys that extend from Fernside Boulevard to a large piece of unsightly chain link fencing that blocks the alley from the shores of San Leandro Bay.

The rest of the waterfront park land was designated as 54, 55 and 58 feet in width respectively along the waterfront, curves in to a point 30 feet in from the waterfront and has been encroached on by the adjacent landowners. 

The sixth waterfront access point was originally designated as a 10-foot corridor of land from Eastshore Drive at Meyers Avenue to the water’s edge, with no additional parkland at the water’s edge. This waterfront access “alley” was long ago fenced off by a neighbor to prevent public access. A large tree at the water’s edge blocks access from the alley to the water. 

The status and the future peril of these mostly hidden parks was brought to light beginning in 2015 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offered the City of Alameda — and the city offered homeowners along Fernside and Marina Drive (but not Eastshore) — the opportunity to purchase the federally owned deep-water channel lot behind their homes for the nominal sum of $11,000 each. The 94 homeowners who already owned waterfront homes along the Alameda-Oakland estuary quickly took advantage. 

The Alameda City Attorney’s Office became aware of the three waterfront parklets along Fernside, as the federal deep-water rights now belonged to the City of Alameda. The City Attorney also studied the historic plots along this stretch of Fernside. She realized that the adjacent six neighbors had built their fences over this public land. The homeowners were now claiming the right to purchase the tideland behind the public parkland they had encroached on. 

The City Attorney consulted with the City Manager’s Office and the City Council regarding the parkland and the water-rights issues. Meanwhile, the six neighbors living on either side of the three parks where the public land had been encroached on organized and began to lobby city officials that they be allowed to keep this public waterfront land that had been fenced off; in most cases by previous homeowners. 

As the city studied the issue, it quickly became clear that these six homeowners had never purchased the public lands within their fence lines; they had never owned it and, most importantly, had never paid property taxes on it. This in itself shows the encroachments were likely illegal. City officials couldn’t explain how this encroachment had been allowed to occur, or why it hadn’t been noticed it before. 

The most likely scenario appears that it was a simple case of longstanding benign neglect by city officials, and the six homeowners simply taking advantage of the inattention. 

Some of the six homeowners have since circulated various unsubstantiated rumors to justify their keeping of this land: they attract “criminal activity;” they were never intended to be public waterfront parks; or that they were simply “rights of way” designed to allow fire trucks to access the water for pumping in the event of a large fire. No factual or historical evidence has been provided to support these claims.   

In 2017, city officials decided to designate the $1 million raised by selling the valuable federal water rights to the 94 waterfront homeowners to reclaiming and improving some or all of these six waterfront “parklets.” They hired a consultant to study the various options and costs.

The consultants released their report and recommendations in September. The consultants agreed with the six homeowners that Alameda should give or lease these public lands back to the homeowners who had taken it (or had purchased the homes, knowing that they didn’t buy, own or have to pay property tax on up to half of their fenced-in waterfront yards. This conclusion prompted an outcry from many Alamedans who value public parks and waterfront lands, including those desiring public waterfront access for the launching of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. 

In recent weeks the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department convened an official walking tour of the six parklets, and the Alamedans who came out were shown all the encroached upon public waterfront land along Fernside and Eastshore.

In addition to the earlier mentioned encroachments, neighbors were also shown where almost 40 percent of the open waterfront park at Eastshore and Liberty Avenue was unlawfully fenced off by one adjacent neighbor, who planted tall hedges across the park to create a large private front and side yard for their home, all on public parkland.  

Behind the front yard, the homeowner also fenced off another large piece of the park from the public, and planted a private orchard of more than a dozen fruit trees, all for their own private use. Many on the tour were stunned that this much public parkland had been taken from them, and that it had taken this many years for city officials to recognize this occupation of public lands. 

Part two of this story covering the tour and meetings on these parks will appear next week. 

Jeff Wasserman lives on Eastshore Drive.