The Mission Peak Regional Preserve staging area at Stanford Avenue is photographed on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 in Fremont, California. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
FREMONT — The battle between Fremont and the East Bay Regional Park District for the lease of the city’s land on popular Mission Peak has finally come to an end.
During a Tuesday night meeting, the Fremont City Council approved a 20-year lease extension with the district for management of the city’s 900-acre parks — two years after negotiations began.
Mission Peak is a busy park in Fremont where hundreds of people visit its 3,023 acres each week to hike and enjoy the mountain views.
The city-owned land in the park, which includes the popular trailhead and trailhead at Stanford Avenue, has been managed by the park district since 1978, when a lease was first agreed between the agencies.
This lease was renewed for 27 years in 1993 and has run monthly since it expired in July 2020.
City officials have been directed by City Council to finalize a new long-term lease with the Park District in December 2020. However, in November 2021, the council rejected the developed proposal due to community concerns about traffic, crime, curfew violations and park parking in the area.
On-site parking was a particularly contentious issue. The parking lot at the Stanford Avenue staging area has only 43 spaces and is extremely crowded on weekends. Drivers also have to drive through a residential area to get into the parking lot, causing problems for local residents.
In November 2022, city officials returned to the council with a revised agreement, but were again ordered to return to the park district for further negotiations.
The council had three concerns about the proposed lease, the first being that the district could change the park’s operating hours without public feedback. Second, the lease did not include a mechanism for the city to review the district’s performance.
The council’s final objection was that the lease did not contain a provision preventing the district from building a new parking lot at Mission Peak’s Stanford Staging Area Trail access point — which some residents fear would cause major traffic congestion.
The agencies have had a hostile relationship for the past two years, with a feud sparked early in the pandemic after the city forced the county to close access to the Stanford Avenue entrance on the reservation, in what the city said was an attempt , to limit this spread of COVID-19.
Negotiations for the lease extension appear to have added fuel to the fire, with the district refusing to make any further changes to the lease.
“We have been informed by the East Bay Regional Park District that they are unwilling to negotiate further,” City Manager Karena Shackelford said during Tuesday’s council meeting, where she recommended that the council adopt the agreement.
“The draft lease represents good human resources work on both sides and is also representative of a negotiated compromise on both sides,” Shackelford said.
In a report, city officials assured the City Council that the park district had no intention of changing the park’s hours of operation and that the process to do so, if deemed necessary, would include opportunities for public participation.
Regarding concerns about the possibility of building a new parking lot, city officials said Fremont had the authority to approve or deny such construction.
Despite the park district’s unwillingness to revise its lease, Councilman Rick Jones said the City could not operate Mission Peak without the district’s help.
“If I was in the process of buying a house and someone had me hooked for two and a half years, I’d probably consider walking away, but that’s something I don’t think we want to see. We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the staff, we don’t have the financial capability to run this park,” Jones said.
“You’ll never please everyone. You can only do what is best for the best. This is a convenience we enjoy and East Bay Regional has done an excellent job of maintaining it.”
The municipal council approved the lease extension with six yes votes. Councilor Jenny Kassan voted against the agreement.
“The only thing that changed was that the East Bay Regional Park District said it refused to negotiate further,” Kassan said in a phone interview after the meeting.
“It baffles me that the council could be so easily lured into voting for a lease they had rejected just a few weeks earlier.”