Senator Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, and Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon have sent a letter to the California State Parks Department urging it to work with local stakeholders to consider selling land currently set aside for the Tesla property expansion of the Carnegie Off-Highway Vehicle recreation area near Livermore.
The Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission (OHMVR) has engaged in a lengthy process to expand the Carnegie recreation area. The 3,000-acre Tesla property, purchased in 1998 for $9 million, is facing five lawsuits challenging the property’s final environmental impact report.
In the letter to Lisa Mangat, the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, the two East Bay legislators point out that the sale of the property could recoup some of the growing costs in what has been a protracted and expensive process to expand the recreation area.
Glazer said, “This would be an opportunity to get money back at the earliest possible date and enable the off-Highway Commission to find more suitable and affordable land for these recreational pursuits."
The letter stated, "We know the commissioners had the best intentions when they began this process more than 20 years ago. There was some awareness of the historical use of these lands for mining and some knowledge of the sensitive environmental areas. But there may be good reasons to consider recapturing these project costs through the sale of the property, if a consensus can be reached to do so. The EIR reveals the challenge of creating a project plan that works around the many site constraints. There are off-highway use reforms under way that exhibit a greater appreciation for land and wildlife preservation." The reforms mentioned are referenced in SB 249, which would make changes in the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Act of 2003.
Baker stated, “Costs associated with the Tesla expansion will continue to grow as we wait for projects to come together and as legal expenses and delays mount. We encourage the department to work with all interested parties, including off-road enthusiasts and environmental groups, to see if a consensus can be reached. Selling the property is one option that should be carefully considered.”
The legislators say in their letter that it is not known how many potential sources are interested in purchasing the property. However, one group that has funds to buy and preserve east Alameda County lands such as Tesla is the Altamont Landfill Settlement Open Space Committee.
Last year, the committee sent a letter to California Department of Parks and Recreation to make the department aware that there are funds available to purchase property in the area. The letter stated, "The proposed Expansion Area for the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area is within the East Alameda County Open Space Acquisition Area under the Altamont Landfill Settlement Agreement. Currently, there is approximately $12 million available in the Open Space Fund to acquire open space land in East Alameda County."
The letter noted, that if the proposed Expansion Area were to become available for acquisition, then the Open Space Committee would consider a grant application for use of the Open Space Fund to acquire a permanent easement over the properties or to acquire them in fee title.
Friends of Tesla Park issued a statement strongly supporting Senator Glazer’s and Assemblymember Baker’s proposal to save Tesla Park. "Use of the Altamont Landfill Open Space fund is a wonderful opportunity to buy Tesla from State Parks. Friends of Tesla Park with community organizations, agencies and officials throughout the East Bay have been actively working for years to protect Tesla Park because of its extraordinary and irreplaceable natural and cultural resources.
"We hope that the Senate, Assembly and Governor will join Senators Allen and Glazer, Assemblymember Baker, Alameda County, City of Livermore and all the other agencies, organizations and individuals in protecting Tesla Park from destruction," the statement concluded.
Senator Ben Allen introduced SB 249, which provides for reform of the OHMVR program statewide. Friends of Tesla Park note that, as introduced, the bill includes several provisions that will be helpful to Tesla preservation. If the CEQA challenge were successful and the Carnegie SVRA General Plan and EIR were required to be revised and recertified, reform provisions in SB 249 could be useful in ensuring greater protection for Tesla’s important natural and cultural resources.
Friends of Tesla Park, one of the groups that sued the state, noted that the five lawsuits will stay in place. "We have no idea if State Parks would agree to the recommendation of Glazer and Baker. For now, we will continue preparing for the hearing that will take place between November and January. We are preparing the required Administrative Record that must be submitted by August to the court in Sacramento. It is possible that an extension may delay this by two months. In any case, we are going full steam ahead with the lawsuit. If the OHMV Division/State approves the sale of Tesla, it could take a long time to work out the details without compromising any of the Tesla Land. The purchase is the alternative we prefer."