Tesla Park: A Win for Wildlife

By Ilana DeBare

There are too few victories for wildlife these days, but East Bay conservationists and their legislative allies just managed to save 3,100 acres of unique habitat in the hills of southeastern Alameda County.

State lawmakers and Governor Newsom agreed last week to turn the property known as Tesla Park into a permanent state park rather than an off-road vehicle recreation area.

Blue oaks in the summer at Tesla Park / Photo courtesy of Friends of Tesla Park
Corral Hollow Creek in Tesla Park / Friends of Tesla Park

The decision is a win for wildlife on the site, which supports three nesting pairs of Golden Eagles, numerous other raptors and songbirds, tule elk, and several threatened species including the California red legged frog, Foothill yellow-legged frog, California tiger salamander, and Western spadefoot toad.

This was a two-decade-long struggle. Over 30 community groups—including Golden Gate Bird Alliance and Ohlone Audubon—came together to protect the area. Consistent and dogged leadership was provided by Friends of Tesla Park. Golden Gate Bird Alliance supported the campaign through the years by submitting detailed comments on environmental impact reports and other planning documents, and garnering support from San Francisco and Berkeley legislators. 

Located near Livermore, Tesla Park is named not after the electric car but after a coal mining town that stood there until the mines shut down in 1911. (Both the mining town and the car were named after electrical inventor Nikola Tesla.)

In 1998, the state used about $9 million from the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund to buy the Tesla property, with the intention of adding it to the nearby Carnegie off-road recreation area. But nearby residents loved the area’s natural beauty and habitat and formed Friends of Tesla Park to fight for its preservation.

This could have been Tesla’s fate: The nearby Carnegie off-road vehicle area
Instead, habitat such as Mitchell Ravine will be preserved. / Friends of Tesla Park

With this week’s legislative deal, the land will be transferred to California State Parks, along with $1 million to plan its future use. Meanwhile, the state will  reimburse the Off-Highway fund $29.8 million for the original land cost and expenses incurred during the expansion plan. That sum also includes $11 million for developing an off-road park in another location.

The state legislators representing the Tesla Park area—Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and State Senator Steve Glazer—were staunch advocates of its preservation, as was the East Bay Regional Park District.  In Golden Gate Bird Alliance’s membership area, Assemblymember Phil Ting of San Francisco and State Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley also pushed for preservation.

The solution highlighted the advantages of a state budget surplus, which provides room to craft financial “win-win” solutions. But it also highlighted the importance of determined, longstanding community activism in protecting natural lands.

“Tesla Park, a jewel in the crown of mountains ringing the Tri-Valley, has been saved,” said Nancy Rodrigue, a Livermore resident and member of the Friends of Tesla Park steering committee. “It’s an amazing feat that Tesla Park will now forever be protected with no motorized recreation. The future holds Tesla as a protected native landscape for hikers, history buffs, nature lovers, research and education.”

Horned lizard in Tesla Park / Friends of Tesla Park
Tricolored Backbird
Tricolored Blackbirds are among the species found at Tesla Park / Friends of Tesla Park
Some other species found at Tesla Park