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City purchases Belt Line property

Submitted by on 1, March 31, 2010 – 4:50 am14 Comments

Courtesy of Alameda Open Space website.

City officials announced Tuesday that they have closed escrow on the Alameda Belt Line property. The price for the 39.4 acre railroad property was $966,207 – the original $30,000 sale price plus improvements and extensions.

“We’ve fought long and hard to acquire this property, and I’m thrilled that we’re one step closer to our goal of making it available to all Alamedans,” Mayor Beverly Johnson was quoted as saying in a city-issued press release.

City officials have not yet determined what they intend to do with the property. They said the City Council will make a formal determination on that after regulatory proceedings before the Federal Surface Transportation Board, which has jurisdiction over the transfer of railroad property, are done.

Alameda residents voted in 2002 to turn the land into a park. In an update on the website for the ballot measure dated March 26, open space advocates wrote:

Union Pacific has just delivered a grant deed for the Beltline property to the city in return for the money that has been in escrow since last October. Before the rails can be removed from Clement Street and a few other places, the city must disestablish the railroad and go through a few other hurtles (sp) but we are close to taking up the rails. (City Attorney) Terry Highsmith said that we are getting a lot more land than we ever thought we were getting and that there are tenants on most of the parcels. Stay tuned.

In previous postings, they also wrote that they believe portions of the land, which is scattered across the city, could be sold to help finance improvements and that Sweeney and another resident, Dorothy Freeman, were working on a design for a park there.

In June 2009, the California Court of Appeals determined that a 1924 agreement the city made to sell its railroad to Alameda Belt Line – which included a buyback provision – remained in force. The court determined that the rail yard in question was an extension of the railroad and subject to the terms of the contract.

The property includes a 22-acre rail yard that occupies a 300-foot swath from Sherman Street to Independence Way and the rail line, which runs the length of the Island. The money for the property was to come from the city’s open space fund.

The Belt Line’s owners, who stopped operating the line in 1998, had planned to sell the land to a developer for $18 million. But local resident Jean Sweeney found the 1924 agreement the city used to make its case for the land.

Sweeney, who put the measure on the ballot to turn the land into a park, told The Island in an earlier interview that the city will investigate the land for any environmental contamination in an effort to determine whether the Belt Line folks need to do cleanup there.


  • alameda says:

    Great … will the many disused rails be finally removed from all the streets? They are a real hazard to bicyclists.

  • eselqueso says:

    Hurray! I think Sweeney Park has a really nice ring to it.

  • David M says:

    Alameda cannot afford more parks. We are broke right now. Sell the land to make up for the Alameda’s deficit, especially the school deficit. Keeping the land would be financially irresponsible.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Thank you to Jean and Jim Sweeney for all they did. It took a tremendous amount of effort to circulate an initiative not once, but twice. Then conduct an election campaign. Jean doing the legwork, Jim backing her up. With no help from the City, and downright opposition from some of our officials. Now that SWEENEY PARK is a fait accompli on the books, it apparently is fine with elected officials to take credit for the Sweeney’s decades long effort. The Sweeney’s deserve everyone’s thanks and appreciation for the rest of civilized eternity on the island.

    The Alamda Unified School District may not have any money, but the land now belongs to the City and not AUSD. To take the benefit of what Jean did and sell it to offset the deficits of a bureaucratic mess like AUSD, would tell everyone in Alameda to never do a nice thing for the City because parents will just want the money for the school district. If that is the case, let AUSD sell its own lands for operating funds.

    Maybe we can get the East Bay Regional Park Measure W funds that have already been approved by the voters to fund the improvements to make this the wonderful park that Jean envisioned when she began this quest. There are not many people who are motivated by a simple altruistic desire to improve the area where they live. To actually achieve success, is a very rare accomplishment indeed. I cannot think of anyone, since Chuck Corica, who has accomplished this much single handedly for the City of Alameda. Shame on those who want to take the benefits of her efforts for other purposes or claim credit for whatever reason.

  • Richard Bangert says:

    Many thanks to Jean and Jim Sweeney for their untiring efforts. Dedication crossed paths with history and saw opportunity waiting. It is a rare occurrence that one or two people can lead to the securing of such a significant public asset. And it wasn’t just finding the old contract that is important; it is also launching an initiative campaign to set aside the rail yard as parkland. Visitors to the new park should always be reminded of the difference that dedicated individuals can make toward the betterment of their community.

    Measure E sets aside the 22-acre former rail yard as Parks and Open Space. That leaves roughly 18 more acres of Beltline property that also becomes city property. One request to The Island or to the Open Space website: It would be worthwhile to see a full map of the entire Beltline property if one is available for posting.

  • David Hart says:

    Actually, Barbara, it is not a fait accompli. There’s the simple issue of funding the improvements (from weed choked lot with environmental issues to the park you’re dreaming of). Given the city’s strapped condition, that means either:

    A) a parcel tax
    B) a UTGO bonds issue, funded by property taxes w/ no senior exemption

  • Former Island Resident says:

    So will the Naval Air Station or this ABL parcel be developed first?

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    David Hart:

    It is a fait accompli on the books as I said. It was zoned open space by the vote of the majority of the people. That means no developer will ever buy it. I walk through there regularly now, and would be happy to help supervised volunteers start cleaning it up if that is what it takes for others to enjoy it. Although my dogs will certainly miss the jack rabbits when that happens. It really isn’t ours to hog or sell to bail out some other municipal entity that already spent its funding. It belongs to the people now.

    If we don’t get Measure W funds because they go to the Boys & Girls Club, this year, maybe next year or the following the voters will actually get what they voted for. Now that it belongs to the City, it will have to be accorded its proper place in the planning and construction process. It won’t need a parcel tax or other special funding, because it is an appropriate item to be dealt with in the City’s longterm capital improvements budget. It may take time, but our City management is proving to be quite capable at running our City and fulfillling its needs.

    In the meantime it is an irreplaceable asset for the City and its residents for generations to come. And we owe it all to Jean and Jim Sweeney and no one else.

  • David Hart says:

    It won’t need a parcel tax or other special funding, because it is an appropriate item to be dealt with in the City’s longterm capital improvements budget


    I politely suggest you take a look at said budget. Then you will understand.

  • Richard Bangert says:

    Funding for developing the park could come from sales of the other 18 acres of Beltline property that is not part of the rail yard that Measure E preserved as park and open space. However, if that process is deemed to be too unpredictable due to the odd sized parcels involved, there is one other option. East Bay Regional Park District’s Measure WW funds contains “$26.2 million held in reserve for unanticipated future needs and opportunities.” This is not local grant money that has been the subject of local controversy. It’s part of the other money that was earmarked in the ballot measure for specific existing projects, which also set aside this reserve fund.

    I would say that the Beltline rail yard falls into the category of an opportunity that the park district does not often see, except in cases of philanthropy. I would call it a good deal for everyone if the park district reimbursed us our $1 million and invested $5 million or whatever it takes to properly develop the park. Under that scenario the city would never be faced with budget issues for local park upkeep. Just a thought.

  • dave says:

    An excellent thought, RB, just making the point to a person who is riled up about taxes that her dream park will cost money, money that comes from taxpayers, whether city parcel taxes or ERPD assessments.

  • Martin says:

    Think of the taxes that could be collected from marijuana dispensaries. Might as well profit from something that is happening under our noses anyway.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Don’t know who all the readers here seem to think is riled up about a dream park not costing but please don’t misinterpret comments that I make.

    Having been on the City Council and watched budgets, bond money, parcel taxes come and go for over 35 years in this City, it is a blessing to have someone work so hard for a project. And I mean Jean Sweeney. To hear others say just to sell if for their instant need is a bit gratuitous and ill-conceived.

    The money may not be there today, but neither was the park there yesterday. These things take time and they will happen when the money is available. What is not going to happen, is that some developer is going to make a few million on some of the last remaining open space, and leave us to pay for municipal costs they leave unfunded.

    I grew up next to Buena Vista at the end of Morton through Stanton. It was a parking lot for the cannery when it was in full operation and abandoned. It was made of broken asphalt and covered with broken glass. It had five trees surrounding one edge. As kids we loved it. We thought it was a great place to play. Now that I have moved away, the entire area has been reclaimed as a real dedicated park suitable for greater uses and improvements. It has taken decades and I am too old to play there any more. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate 1) The fact that it is still open space, and 2) the efforts of all who made it possible.

    I differ from the younger population who apparently are used to having all needs satisfied immediately, and everything put to use immediately or selling or throwing it away. I belong to the old school that anything worth having is worth waiting for. And I think time has proven that the public will find a way to fund the park eventually. The budgets this year and next are just that. We have lived through the boon years when government had too much money. And now it doesn’t have enough. There is pendulum to these things. If one observes long enough, one may actually see it and learn from it.

  • EastBay2010 says:

    Why did the City acquire property that they have no plans for? I don’t get it. Is there a business plan associated with this acquisition that we are not privy to?

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