By Robert E. Doyle, General Manager, East Bay Regional Park District
The East Bay Regional Park District has been managing and protecting land for 82 years, preserving a rich heritage of natural and cultural resources and providing open space, parks, trails, safe and healthful recreation and environmental education in an extraordinary regional network of open space and parklands in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
With 25 million user visits each year in our 65 parks and 1,250 miles of trails, we strive to be the best and the safest and we work hard to open new facilities and trails, and to balance our budget every year.
We also have an obligation to be good neighbors to those lucky enough to have well-managed, permanently protected lands near them. But, as we are a regional system of public parks, they belong to everyone in the East Bay not just those who live next door. Every tax payer in the East Bay helped pay for them.
On Vargas Plateau in the 1990s, developers tried to rezone the area for a development. This was thwarted by environmentalists and residents who did not want this scenic area developed. Hillside protection ordinances were passed in Fremont and Alameda County. The Park District worked with several willing sellers to purchase 1,200 acres of land for a future park between 2003 and 2010. We had to find the money to purchase the land, ultimately garnering $1.65 million in state and federal grants. In all, the project cost $8.6 million and took 20 years.
There have been two lawsuits filed to stop this park from being opened. Recently, a judge ordered the Park District to close the entire park. The Park District negotiated in good faith to settle the first lawsuit and reach an agreement on certain improvements on Vargas Road. We believed we had completed all required items in the settlement agreement before opening the park only to be sued again with a claim that we breached the agreement.
The court’s preliminary injunction closing the Park seems to provide a remedy far more damaging to the general public than seems appropriate for any private injury. The Park District has appealed this order, and we are working with the City of Fremont, who did the road work, to resolve the matter. We also continue to seek a fair resolution of the litigation as long as the public interest is met.
Our system of regional parks is and should continue to be open and accessible to all East Bay residents. There have been calls to open the park to local pedestrians and cyclists while it remains closed to the general public. Not only is this contrary to the court order, this is contrary to public policy as we serve the entire public not just neighbors. The Regional Parks belong to all the people and our guiding policy is “access for all.”
We will continue to work hard to resolve this matter so the park can be reopened for all park users.