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May 30, 2006 > Alley Talk

Alley Talk

The Hammer Falls, Another Restart

This is when I became involved. In 1989, my family and I moved into the original quadrant of Niles. What a fantastic community: people, park, school, library, post office, stores, fire station and lots of potential. Just like Ron did in 2005 on the Niles e-group, we wondered what was going-on with the Alleys, so we got involved. In 1991 a group of like-minded neighbors realized that there was a Merchants Association, but no neighborhood group; so we formed one - The Niles Community Association. There was a lot of political activism by a lot of people at that time, which resulted in many good accomplishments including: the sidewalk and street improvement project, design guidelines, concept plans and most importantly the ultimate formation of the Niles Main Street Organization. The one thing that was never resolved was the Alley issue. After three years of hard work (1990 to 1993) the word "Alley" was never spoken again. This was the birth of the "A-word" - we just whisper it now.

What I find wonderfully amazing or pathetic, depending on your point of view, are the complaint letters; they could have been written at any time between 1956 to 2006 - this one was penned in 1990.

19 December 1990
From: Mr. Walton
To: City of Fremont, Mayor Bill Ball

"I'm writing to apprise you of a very urgent need, the improvement of the Alleys in the...Niles District. Traffic through the Alleys is very heavy as many of the businesses must be serviced from the alley since the streets will not accommodate the normal traffic...we have residential and commercial trash bin pick-ups in the Alleys, three days each week. The dust, dirt and mud generated in these alleys is very inconvenient and does not contribute to a suitable living environment, particularly for those families living around the Alleys...We the residents in Niles hope the time has come to improve these Alleys and to eliminate this terrible condition that has existed so long."

An abandon car in the Alley was a reoccurring problem. Imagine that you need to get a car towed because it is blocking the alley and access to your property.  You call a towing company. They come, look, and then tell you the bad news - their company policy prohibits them from towing abandon cars in the Alley. The driver says, "Yes, I understand you problem, but know one knows who owns the Alleys and if we tow it, we could be sued. Sorry." Pure frustration!

In 1992, a local resident did some research and wrote this letter to the City.

20 April 1992
From: Mr. Edwards
To: Public Works Department, G. Bliss

"Last week I went to the Alameda County Public Works Agency in Hayward. I obtained a copy of the original recorded map of the town of Niles. Mr. Rory MacNeil and Ms. Erica La Fleur of the Real Estate Division assisted me. They informed me that this was the only recorded map for the indicated area of Niles, and that it had not been updated. Mr MacNeil states that the map indicates that the Alleys are public thoroughfares (just like Front, Second and Third Streets) to be maintained by the appropriate public entity, in this case the City of Fremont. He further stated that if a public entity had not "accepted" the Alleys at some point during the past 100 years, such refusal would have been recorded on the map. There is no indication of a refusal to accept the Alleys, therefore ownership and maintenance of the Alleys rests with the City."

Finally, documentation and a sound argument to combat the City's bombastic policy - "We never accepted them." So, what is a city policy anyway? Who makes them up and for what purpose?

After this letter, the City set out to evaluate if they actually have owned the alleys since 1956 - interesting. They could have done this 36 years ago, but they had never been faced with evidence contradicting their position. For the first time the City Attorney gets involved.

11 May 1992
From: City Attorney's Office, P. Garcia
To: Public Works Department, G. Bliss

"I have completed my research on the acceptance of the public streets. In our conversation with Rory MacNeil (Real Estate Division, County of Alameda) said he believed the City accepted the dedication on incorporation. I believe a good argument exists that the City of Fremont has not accepted the alleys for maintenance..."

So, Alameda County believes the City of Fremont accepted the Alleys on incorporation! It is also clear that the City Attorney's mission at this point was to develop a strategy to combat and down-play the position of Alameda County. Between May 1992 and the Closed Door Council meeting In July 1993, there were many City Council meetings that were well attended by the public. The Staff reports for these meetings outline methods for funding the Alley Improvement project (started in 1983) and methods of accepting ownership. The Staff reports never discuss the possibility that the City took ownership the instant Fremont incorporated. The City Council requested Staff to perform a title search for the properties abutting the alleys. North American Title assisted the City Staff with this research.

16 October 1992
From: City of Fremont, S. Markert
To: Fremont Public Works Department, T. Blalock

"...I met with B. O'Connell, Chief Title Officer of North American Title Company to discuss the title questions...(He) feels the offer of dedication of the streets and alleyways (some explicit, some implied) are still valid and may be accepted, if that is the City's wish...When the legal questions have been researched and the cost of improving the alleys and the liability associated with accepting the property rights has been estimated, Council will then have the data needed to consider whether they want to proceed with acquiring title or to hold off."

22 October 1992
From: North American Title, J. O'Connel
To: City of Fremont, S. Markert

"At your request I have undertaken a review of the alley ways in Niles that the City is being asked to maintain. The alley ways were created on six different maps filed between 1888 and 1927... Most deeds for the properties would carry the underlining fee to the alley...based on this...I can see no value to the title reports since the City (of Fremont) could possibly accept the offer of dedication."

This preliminary title search found that in a few instances both the Streets and Alleys were dedicated but not accepted by the County of Alameda. This was before the incorporation of Fremont. The point is - both Streets and Alleys were not accepted. But, today the City does maintain the Streets. How is it, that they do not maintain the alleys? Fremont's Public Works Department asked the same question.

10 February 1993
From: Public Works Department, G. Bliss
To: City Attorney's Office, P. Garcia

"Not all of the six subdivision maps made offers of dedication for the alleys...Thus, about half of the areas with Alleys did not have Alleys offered in their original maps. In these cases, new offers of dedication would seem to be required from the current property owners if the City is to avoid more complicated legal alternatives...Also, the County rejected the offers of dedication even for the streets. It would seem the County later accepted the streets since the City accepted them from the County. Research would have to be done to see when, and under what circumstances the streets were accepted. Were the Alleys also mentioned and/or considered?"

The last time ALLEY was spoken

11 May 1993 was the last time ALLEY was spoken. It was during the City Council meeting before the Closed Door meeting of 6 July 1993. All of this does get complicated, only because the City of Fremont does not recognize that when Mission San Jose, Centerville, Irvington, Warm Springs and Niles voted "Yes" for incorporation, it did not mean, "Yes let's incorporate - but not including the Alleys."

11 May 1993
From: Staff Report Agenda Item 7.1
To: City Council

"There are several legal theories available which could justify the City of Fremont commence the acceptance process without any further action by the property owners...There are additional legal theories which potentially provide support for finding that all of the Alleys have been dedicated. Furthermore, there is potential legal support for a finding of acceptance of the dedication through public use... The relative merits of these theories are matters which are more appropriately handled in a Closed Session. The City Attorney's Office believe utilization of any of the alternative legal theories will probably involve litigation... The easiest process for acquisition of the right-of-way would be for each owner to affirm that the original offer of dedication is still open and will be unchallenged, or to make a new offer of dedication."

For all of these years the City has indicated that they can not accept the Alleys for maintenance until the are paved. This is the fundamental issue being discussed in all of this! In this Staff Report of 11 May 1993, it stated:

"The City's Street Right-of-way and Improvement Ordinance has been in effect since 1960 and clearly requires streets to be fully improved before the City can accept them for maintenance."

Well, the City incorporated in 1956, 4 years before the existence of this 1960 ordinance; So, it is impossible for the alleys to have been excluded by the City in 1956 for lack of adequate improvements?

On 6 July 1993 the City Council held its Closed Door Meeting, " 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." as described by the City Attorney in a letter to me in 2005.

We will never know what was said in that meeting, but it is very important to remember who the City Council was 1993. Where have they gone and what were the issues they struggled with? They include: B.Ball, G. Morrison, J. Dutra, J. Zlatnik and B. Wasserman, Fremont's current Mayor.

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