In a significant clarification of environmental law, a state appeals court has said, the taking eight acres land through eminent domain as part of the Berkeley link in the San Francisco Bay trail can be done first and the environmental impact study may follow.
The First District Court of Appeals Friday upheld plans by the East Bay Parks District to condemn eight acres of Golden Gate Fields race track property between Berkeley and Albany to provide another link in the more than 270 miles of running, biking and hiking trail ringing the bay.
The ruling clarifies the law on timing of environmental review, holding the legislature has not precluded an agency from beginning eminent domain proceedings before California Environmental Quality Act compliance. The ruling may fly in the face of three other decisions that suggest CEQA comes before eminent domain.
Justice Terrence Bruiniers wrote, under the current version of the law “the trial court may allow a portion of the work to proceed while the agency is complying with CEQA.”
He also notes that an environmental impact report is not required to condemn property for open space or park purposes alone.
The trial court had ruled the condemnation move could proceed, and an environmental review to comply with CEQA may follow. The trial judge rejected the District’s claim that it was exempt from CEQA and the appeals court agreed.
The land and trail would run on the bay side of the horse racing track, separated from the traffic, and “will provide the safest, most scenic trail experience,” according to the district’s study of the project.
Golden Gate Fields Land Holdings objected to the plan in 2011 saying the district is not exempt from CEQA and had to consider the environmental effects of trail construction and other improvements. The race course owners argued the best and least expensive way to plan the segment of the Bay Trail would be to work with owners on the anticipated redevelopment of the property.
In 2012, the thoroughbred track lost out in its bid to have the University of California build a laboratory on the site.
Despite the owner’s objections, the district approved the necessity findings for condemnation and acquisition of the land to complete the Eastshore Park.
Justices Barbara Jones and Henry Needham joined Bruiniers in the opinion.
Case: Golden Gate Land Holdings v. East Bay Regional Park, No. A135593