The club constructed the cross on Albany Hill in 1971 on a parcel of land that was then private property. The land was eventually sold to a developer and the Lions were given an easement to maintain the cross. In 1973, the developer transferred the land to the city, which accepted the land despite the easement and cross. The property eventually became Albany Hill Park.
Lions administrators said the club has maintained and regularly illuminated the cross for more than 50 years to mark traditional Christian religious holidays including Christmas and Easter as well as other events such as the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. When lit at night, the cross can be seen from other parts of the Bay.
But the presence of the religious symbol on what is now public property has been a contentious issue.
In 2015, the cross came under attack from the group East Bay Atheists. In 2016, Albany officials had PG&E shut down power to the cross for 106 days on grounds that it posed safety issues and fire hazards. The Lions Club said that amounted to a
harassment campaign to force the cross off the hill.
In 2018, a federal judge ruled the cross had no place in the 11-acre public park and that the city could remedy the situation by either selling the property to a private party or condemning the parcel through eminent domain.
While much of Albany Hill is protected open space, some of the land is still subject to residential development plans. Park supporters fear the popular nature preserve and hiking area containing the cross could be destroyed if easement access is granted to the adjacent neighborhood. A petition to save the park was launched on the Change.org website.
On the other side of the debate, a group calling itself Albany Hill 4 All launched its own counter petition calling on the Albany City Council to support removal of the cross as a reflection of the community’s cultural diversity and desire to be welcoming to all religions.
The Lions Club in March offered to purchase the small lot from the city. It is unclear what will happen now that the offer has been rejected.