Alameda: City can purchase 40 acres for less than $1 million

By Peter Hegarty
Staff writer
San Jose Mercury News
Posted: 07/10/2009 05:11:02 PM PDT

ALAMEDA — The dogged determination of a community activist who spent years studying the history of a former railroad property finally paid off Tuesday, when city officials said her work helped clear the way for them to purchase the site's 40 acres for the bargain price of just under $1 million. It happened after Jean Sweeney discovered the 1924 contract between the city of Alameda and the Alameda Belt Line — a contract that contained a clause that allows the city to buy back the property for the original $30,000 price, plus the cost of any investments or improvement the railroad has made.

While the Alameda Belt Line fought the issue in court, their attorneys conceded defeat Tuesday, when they announced they would not appeal the city's earlier victory to the state Supreme Court.

"A tremendous victory," Mayor Beverly Johnson called it.

The property includes 22 acres of a former railroad yard near Nason Street and Constitution Way, along with about a half-mile strip about 200 feet wide that runs east and connects the yard near Sherman Street. Other smaller parcels across the city are part of the property.

The Alameda Belt Line stopped operating the railroad in 1988, announcing that it planned to sell the property to a developer for $18 million.

"I went for a walk on it and I just thought, 'This is great place for open space,' " said Sweeney, who also has campaigned around the redevelopment of the former Alameda Naval Air Station

When city officials told her they could do very little to prevent the sale, Sweeney helped draft and successfully campaigned for a voter initiative to change the neighborhood's zoning from industrial to open space. She also spent countless hours researching public records, including in Sacramento and at the Alameda County law library.

Among the items Sweeney discovered was the original 1924 contract, which contained the clause that was the cornerstone of the city's legal argument. The announcement Tuesday from the Alameda Belt Line attorneys that they would no longer fight the case means the city now can purchase the property for $996,207.

The city plans to use its open space fund to make the purchase.

"I would like to see it remain as open space," Sweeney said. "The city will have to carry out an environmental evaluation first and see how much clean up is involved. But it will eventually be a place for everyone in Alameda to enjoy."

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