ALAMEDA -- The City Council has come out in support of rezoning a property near the Crab Cove Visitor Center at Robert Crown Memorial State Beach from residential to open space, a move that follows 6,000 people signing a petition to place an initiative before voters that would support the change.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the initiative, which means it will not appear on the November ballot.
But the council also approved a separate measure that would allow it to reverse the decision, either temporarily or permanently, in the event someone sues the city over the zoning change within 120 days of it taking effect. The idea behind the fallback measure is to provide the council with options on how to pay for any legal costs or judgment that could result from a lawsuit.
Both items are expected to be up for final approval by the council on July 15.
The East Bay Regional Park District wanted to acquire the approximately four-acre property off McKay Avenue as a way to expand Crab Cove, but was outbid by developer Tim Lewis Communities in a June 2011 auction hosted by the U.S. General Services Administration.
The developer, which has proposed building homes on the site, bid about $3 million, but the sale has not been completed.
The park district is currently suing the city over the council over its earlier decision to change the site's zoning from "administrative professional governmental" in order to meet affordable housing and other residential needs.
Councilman Tony Daysog said he supported adopting the initiative because residents "are on the side of open space."
"That's the will of the people," he said.
He also tweaked the companion measure so that the council could use General Fund money and other ways to meet any legal costs, instead of being restricted to just raising taxes or selling off the property.
Daysog noted, however, that the measure is only aimed at giving the council options in the event of a lawsuit.
Councilman Stewart Chen cast the lone vote against the companion measure, saying he did not believe the public had enough time to review it.
During the meeting speakers urged the council to adopt the ordinance and drop the fallback measure, saying if it appeared on the ballot it would intimidate voters from supporting the open space initiative.
"This is not a situation where you need a companion measure because you are not likely to get sued," resident Jane Sullwold said.
The federal government, which still owns the property, is exempt from local zoning laws, and the developer Tim Lewis Communities will not want to undermine relations with city officials because it needs support for bigger projects along the northern waterfront, including at the former Del Monte warehouse, Sullwold said.
But City Attorney Janet Kern said a potential owner of the property along McKay Avenue, which leads into Crab Cove, could argue that the zoning change has caused them economic hardship.
"It's possible that someone could, potentially, bring a lawsuit and there is certainly going to be defense costs if that happens," Kern said.
Mayor Marie Gilmore said the measure laying out ways to pay for costs arising from a legal challenge was about "making sure we protect the city's General Fund, which is used for, among other things, parks, public safety, libraries."
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him at Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.