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April 18, 2006 > Alley Talk

Alley Talk

'Alley' is still whispered, Part III

Where are the Alleys anyway?

There are two Alleys which run the entire length of the original town in Niles; they are parallel to Niles Boulevard (originally Front Street), Second and Third Streets. Their function is to provide useful access to the rear properties. There were no automobiles in those days, and the dust thrown by horse-drawn wagons was something to avoid. It was always best to bring the wagons around the back side of the buildings. The existence of the Alleys creates the fabric, or architectural vocabulary of the town: picket fences, western facades and the conspicuous absence of suburban two-car garages.

Why are the Alleys so important?

In 1992, I remember someone asking this question. "Why don't we just close them and let the adjacent property owners take possession of the land? That should solve all the City's problems". Sometimes questions don't dignify a response, this was one of those times. Looking at the other side of the coin; What if the Alleys had been usable since the day of incorporation? Niles had everything going for it, as proclaimed by the Niles Chamber of Commerce: Good Climate, Natural Beauty, Rail and Highway Transportation, Industry and Agriculture.

On the positive side, how would things be different, if since 1956:

  • How many businesses would have thrived on easy deliveries from the Alleys into the stores?

  • How many commercial property owners would have expanded their buildings as the business community thrived?

  • How many new shoppers and businesses would have been attracted to this thriving environment?

  • How many residences would still have picket fences?

  • How many garages would be accessed from the Alleys instead of from the main streets?

  • How much more bountiful would the residential gardens be if there was less driveway pavement? Many 150' long x 12' wide driveways were installed because of the poor conditions of the alleys.

  • In the year 2006, how many old-town districts - like Pleasanton, Healdsburg, Livermore and Palo Alto - would be saying, "If we could only be as successful as Niles."

It is not hard to Imagine. The Alleys have, through the course of its history, defined the character of Niles. Over the last 50 years the impact could have been positive. Instead Niles has remained perplexingly depressed. Could the condition of the Alleys have anything to do with it?

Requesting Public Documents

As seen in the 2005 flurry of Alley conversations held on the Niles e-group, all it takes is one person to say the word; the flood gates open, and the community's ambitions, visions and mistrusts come boiling up to the surface. It has, in fact, been an issue since the day of incorporation.

The debate has lasted a generation, some history has been forgotten, and some was probably never known. So to try to put it all together again, I set out to see what the City had in its files. The Freedom of Information Act requires a City to provide copies of Public Documents when specifically requested. The key to all of this is to have some knowledge of the alley history. I focused my questions on three prior historic episodes.

1. The Myth Starts - Fremont's refusal to accept the Alleys in Niles from the County at the time of Incorporation: 1955 - 1956

18 August 2005
From: P. Welschmeyer
To: City Manager, F. Diaz

"Please provide the documents indicating that the City of Fremont specifically refused acceptance of the Alleys in Niles from the County of Alameda as part of the jurisdictional land transfer between the County and the incorporating new city - Fremont."

2. Vanishing Federal Funds - City of Fremont public works project PWC 391 - Niles Alleys: 1982 - 1987

18 August 2005
From: P. Welschmeyer
To: City Manager, F. Diaz

"In the 1980's, the City of Fremont established funding methods and commissioned civil engineering road improvement plans for the Alleys in Niles. For some reason this project was never completed. Please provide the following documents: (1) City budgets indicating funding for the project; (2) Staff correspondence files regarding the financial / public communications and engineering work accomplished on the project; (3) Engineering drawings for the Alleys prepared by the City of Fremont (PWC 391 - Niles Alleys), dated 1984; (4) City Council meeting minutes / Staff Reports discussing cancellation of the project; (5) Documents indicating the diversion of funds appropriated for the Alley improvements and where the funds were actually used."

3. The Hammer Falls - "Closed Door" City Council meeting - policy changes regarding the use of the Alleys in Niles: 1993 - 1997

18 August 2005
From: P. Welschmeyer
To: City Manager, F. Diaz

"Prior to a specific "Closed Door" City Council meeting (1993-1997), The City of Fremont's policies regarding improvements to properties abutting the Alleys in Niles was one of support and encouragement. Improvements to properties which utilized the alleys in their development plans were successfully completed prior to this "Closed Door" City Council meeting. As an example, the Niles Congregational Church, Day Care building addition located at the corner of Third and H Street.

After this specific "Closed Door" City Council meeting, the City's policies changed to specific denial of any public ownership of the Alleys and has adopted a policy that the property owners must legally prove they have the right to use the Alleys which abut their properties.

Please provide the documents which directed the City Staff to make these policy changes. Also, please provide the appropriate governmental documents that indicate the City has the authority to make such "Closed Door" policy decisions without proper public input and public voting by the City Council."

The City Replies

The first response letters from the city requested a 30 day time period to collect the information. However, the specific response to the closed door meeting was very interesting:

23 August 2005
From: City Attorney's Office, l. Seto
To: P. Welschmeyer

"In reviewing City Council agendas from this period with the City Clerk's Office, please be advised that the City Council did hold a Closed Session meeting on July 6, 1993 to discuss potential or anticipated litigation regarding the validity and enforceability of the dedications of the Niles Alleys and the rights of abutting property owners.

The City Council's July 6, 1993 meeting regarding this subject was held pursuant to State Government Code 54950, which specifically permits closed meetings where there is a need for confidentiality, such as potential or anticipated litigation. Therefore, any documents provided to the City Council at such meeting are confidential, and not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act."

Now we are getting somewhere: What liability or legal action is the City protecting itself from? Is there actually a law suit currently in progress? Was their legal position regarding non-ownership of the Alleys eroding?

I then wrote:

23 August 2005
From: P. Welschmeyer
To: City Attorney's Office, l. Seto

"Since the City has information to hide, please provide the following documents: (1.) Written ordinance/zoning regulations or governing policies re- grading development requirements for properties abutting the Alleys in Niles prior to and after the 6 July 1993 "Closed Door" City Council meeting; (2.) List of City Council members during the year, 1993 and those members present at the "Closed Door" meeting of 6 July 1993.
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