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Photo courtesy of teslapark.org

It’s been more than two decades since state officials first attempted to expand off-highway vehicle (OHV) access to the 3,100-acre Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area. But legislation intended to bring that effort to an end is advancing in both the state senate and assembly, with votes expected this June.

In February of this year, Senator Steve Glazer, D-SD7, introduced Senate Bill (SB) 799, while Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-AD16, simultaneously introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 1512. The language in the bills differs slightly, but both bills require the Department of Parks and Recreation to preserve the Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area, also known as Tesla Park, in exchange for a payment of $9 million to Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund.

“Rather than continuing the local controversy and ongoing litigation, my legislation provides a path to resolve the local dispute in a manner that is wise and fair – good for the state, good for the public and good for the environment,” Glazer said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB 799 on May 20, qualifying it for a vote before the full senate. That vote is expected before a June 4 legislative deadline. The path of Bauer-Kahan’s bill in the assembly mirrored that of the senate bill. A vote in the assembly is also expected by June 4. 

“We have an incredible opportunity to save this rare ecological treasure for generations to come,” Bauer-Kahan said in an email to The Independent. “Tesla Park contains an abundance of highly sensitive natural resources, including native biological diversity, a critical linkage habitat corridor, unique vegetation assemblages and wildlife habitats. Our community has fought for decades to preserve this land, and my bill AB 1512 is a win-win for the state of California, our environment and recreationists.”

The Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area is owned by Parks and Recreation. It’s part of the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) off-highway motor vehicle park in Corral Hollow Canyon. There are 1,300 acres currently open to OHV use in the park. 

Amy Granat, managing director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association – a group that supports the expansion of OHV use into Tesla Park – said SB 799 and AB 1512 seek to exclude access to the state park at a time when the governor’s message in the May Revise “clearly states the need for outdoor access to all.” 

“The intended consequences of SB 799 and AB 1512 will hurt children and families, especially from Central Valley areas who flock to this park, and the thousands of motorized recreation enthusiasts with no opportunities available in the greater Bay Area,” Granat continued.

Efforts to open Tesla Park to OHV traffic were started and abandoned in 2000 and 2004. A third attempt began in 2012. This time the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division of Parks and Recreation approved the environmental impact report (EIR) allowing the expansion to proceed. Alameda County and environmental groups sued to stop the state’s initiative. In January, a judge ruled that EIR violated the California Environmental Quality Act, and the EIR was set aside. Further, the ruling concluded that there is no statute that requires land acquired by the OHMVR be open to OHV use.  

Bauer-Kahan and Glazer spearheaded an earlier effort to force the state to sell Tesla Park to the East Bay Regional Park District, but it was thwarted by a veto from Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019. 

Dick Schneider of the Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee (ALOSC) believes that several factors – including the ALOSC’s pledge to pay the $9 million required by both bills – could result in a different outcome should one of them make it to Newsom for his signature. 

“We do not know what the governor will do if either of these two bills pass when it goes to his desk —  whether he’ll sign or whether he won’t,” Schneider said. “We hope that he will sign. We don’t know how the recall effort is going to affect his calculus. That is certainly one of the conditions that’s different from when he vetoed the bill a couple of years ago. Also, the fact that the Altamont Landfill Open Space Committee has pledged to spend the money – the $9 million – is right there. We’ve written letters to that effect, which we didn’t do in the past. We supported the bills, but we never said flat out that we have the money, and we’ll do it. That may be another reason why he’ll have another view this time around.”

If one of the bills were passed, it would advance to the opposite house for a vote. A bill approved by both houses of the legislature would need to be approved by the governor before it became  law. If both bills were passed by both houses, it is expected that one would be dropped while the remaining bill would be sent to Newsom. 

“Sierra Club has fought to protect the area, because it is a biodiversity hotspot recognized by generations of scientists and confirmed by ongoing research” said Brandon Dawson, acting director of Sierra Club California. “The area includes at least 42 threatened, endangered and special-status wildlife species; designated critical habitats; 13 special status and over 20 locally rare plant species; seven sensitive vegetation communities and a vast array of unusual vegetation assemblages. California's natural beauty is worth preserving for future generations, and Tesla Park is a prime example of that. We're hopeful that both houses of the legislature will recognize the significance of this area and vote to protect it.”