After several years of advocacy efforts, Tri-Valley legislators Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) and State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) are one step closer to a victory in the fight to preserve thousands of acres of wilderness outside Livermore.
An agreement was reached Monday between Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Legislature and California Department of Parks and Recreation to protect the Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area (Tesla Park) from off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on the land.
If approved by the Legislature next week, the agreement will end plans to expand the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) into the 3,100-acre Tesla parcel -- located just southeast of Livermore -- which scientists have described as a biologically unique habitat and Native Americans have long considered to be a sensitive historical site, according to Glazer's office.
The land will become a new state park closed to motorized recreation upon approval. The state will reimburse the off-highway vehicle fund $18.3 million for the estimated current value of the land, plus $2.4 million that the fund used for planning the current park's expansion, officials said.
Another $11.5 million will be set aside for planning and construction of an alternative off-road park, while $1 million will go toward transitioning the Tesla property into a non-OHV park, officials said.
"This is a win-win for all involved," Glazer said in a statement on Labor Day. "Our community and region gets to preserve this natural and cultural treasure while the off-road enthusiasts will keep their current park and receive funding to develop another park on land that's more suitable to that kind of recreation."
Bauer-Kahan shared similar sentiments and praised the environmentalist groups and residents who supported the efforts to preserve the land.
"We are incredibly thankful that the governor has seen Tesla Park's value and included it in the ongoing protection of critical natural resources," Bauer-Kahan said.
"It has been my great honor to fight alongside Senator Glazer, the Sierra Club, Friends of Tesla Park and countless organizations and individuals to ensure this land will be protected and enjoyed by all of California's citizens," she added.
The fight to protect the land began in the late 1990s when State Parks' Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division purchased Tesla Park without an appropriate acquisition environmental impact report (EIR) or public review being conducted, according to Glazer's office.
Since then, Sierra Club California and its partners have vehemently opposed opening the area to OHV recreational use. The use for motor vehicles was challenged in court, and earlier this year, the judge ruled that the EIR was inadequate and that State Parks needed to redo it. In the ruling, the judge opined that preservation would be the best option for this land.
"We applaud the decision by the California Legislature and Administration to preserve the important ecological value and biodiversity of Tesla Park by banning off-highway vehicle recreational use," said Brandon Dawson, director of the Sierra Club California.
"Sierra Club California and our local allies have advocated for decades to protect Tesla Park. This agreement represents a major victory for environmentalists across the state," he added.
Dawson also expressed gratitude to the two Tri-Valley legislators for moving the initiative forward.
"I want to thank Senator Steve Glazer and Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan for their persistence to protect this valued land. This would not be possible without their championing of the area."
This landmark agreement comes nearly two years after Newsom vetoed the original Assembly Bill 1086 co-authored by Bauer-Kahan and Glazer, which attempted to address the longstanding battle by giving the state the option of selling a piece of the SVRA to either a local government or nonprofit entity for conservation purposes.
Both houses of the State Legislature approved the measure. The bill passed on the State Assembly floor 56-21 and then in the State Senate 30-10. However, it was struck down upon reaching Newsom's desk.
At the time, he said in a veto message that "there is no evidence that the department has failed to conduct sufficient study of this property or is mismanaging this state resource. The park was purchased for the benefit of all Californians and should remain a state park."
This new agreement with Newsom was announced just over a week before the gubernatorial recall election.