Google Fiber Hut in San Antonio’s Haskin Park

haskin-park-photo

Haskin Park is a small, neighborhood park in San Antonio, Texas. My grandson likes to play in it. The City has authorized Google to build Google Fiber huts in various such parks, including Haskin Park. Google Fiber Huts are 10×30 foot structures . . . that house the telecommunications and fiber interface equipment necessary for Google to provide high-speed internet. Each hut supports about 20,000 homes.

I don’t question that Google Fiber is a good thing, and I have no reason to believe the huts aren’t a necessary adjunct. But that’s not an excuse to cut corners.

haskin-park-map

Haskin Park was created by the plat that laid out the neighborhood surrounding it. plat-v-3700-p-268

As such, the city owns only an easement for the park, not the fee interest in the land. That is made clear by the case of Humble Oil & Refining v. Blankenburg, which concerned the right to lease minerals under the Townsite of Charlotte. One litigant claimed through the original developer who filed the plat laying out the townsite, and the other claimed through the town itself. humble-oil-v-blankenburg

The court found that the townsite plat created only an easement. Thus, the town itself did not own the minerals, which remained with the original developer. Thus, Humble Oil & Refining, which claimed through the developer, prevailed.

John Whitsett, a concerned citizen, filed a Public Information Request for a copy of the deed by which the City holds title. No deed was forthcoming, but Mr. Whitsett did receive documents containing the following assertion:

“It is our position that the City of San Antonio has sufficient real property rights to authorize the placement of the hut under the conditions being considered and we specifically reject your premise that the City would need a deed from Mr. Lee (Quincy Lee was the developer laying ouy the neighborhood) in order to conduct this activity. I am sorry if you feel that this use will be an annoyance to you and your neighbors. “

If the City had a deed to Haskin Park, it would have produced it. If it thought it somehow otherwise had fee title, it would probably have explained that. Thus, we have an apparent admission that the City holds only an easement, presumably the park easement created by the above plat. By saying the City has the right to allow the Google Fiber hut, it is impliedly saying that a park easement allows the City to let private businesses conduct non-park-related activities in public parks.

That is a sweeping assertion. One wonders whether, in the City’s view, owning the fee of a parcel would convey any rights not covered by a park easement. We ought at least to be clear what the City is asserting and to consider how it might be applied in future cases.

 

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