Letter to Mayor Tom Bates from Chris Noll, September 9 2003

From: Chris Noll
Sent: Tuesday, September 09, 2003 11:10 PM
To: Tom Bates, mayor (mayor@ci.berkeley.ca.us)
Subject: BHS Women's Crew at Aquatic Park

Dear Tom,

I am quite concerned about some of the misrepresentations made by Norman LaForce at tonight's Council meeting, as well as in his letter to you and the Council on the 23rd of August. Many of the things Mr. LaForce alleges are either inaccurate or untrue. In particular, he has said that we do not find Aquatic Park a preferred location. We find that Aquatic Park will meet all our needs very well. He also alleges that there are better alternatives at the Oakland estuary and other locations for our program. There aren't.

Our goal is to speak the truth about these issues, and the Initial Study will be a document that will identify issues scientifically and look at alternatives. We feel this is the best way to get everybody the information they need to make an informed decision. It is also the normal process for proceeding with issues like this. I am shocked that the Sierra Club would think otherwise.

I want you and the other Council Members to know that we are just as concerned as our opponents are about the welfare of the birds and other wildlife. We want solutions that minimize the impact from us on the birds, while balancing the needs of our hard-working and dedicated youth to use this valuable public facility that was created for just this use. We are willing to compromise, as long as we don't violate the integrity of our program. We feel that our rowers will have the opportunity to experience the environment first hand, to see the birds close up, observe their behaviors, and become interested in environmental issues. These young women are the next generation environmentalists, and I can't think of a better way (as opposed to sitting in front of a TV or video game) to increase awareness about environmental issues than by participating in them directly.

The following is my response to the misrepresentations about us by the Sierra Club and Audubon Society.


  • It is close to where our rowers live, which provides quicker access, allows the girls to use public transit and bicycles, it reduces carpooling, saves parents valuable time (and sleep!), and allows more time to train, in lieu of driving time. One important added benefit that I see is that this location will increase diversity on the team, by allowing those families who can not afford either the time and expense of driving long distances to participate.
  • It provides us with approximately 1,500 meters to row (see attached aerial photo of Aquatic Park below that illustrates the rowing lanes). While 2,000 meters would be ideal, and is the standard race length, we can train very effectively on 1500 meters.
  • Aquatic Park will allow us to have adequate practice time: 2 hours is double what we can do now at Lake Merritt, and we need more time on the water to be competitive.
  • We can consolidate our training by bringing our ergs down from Berkeley High. Everything will be in one place, providing more flexibility to the coaches
  • It is affordable. There is an existing storage building which we can renovate affordably, there is great access to the water on which we can construct an affordable dock, and the rent is great! We will have significant other expenses by moving here from Lake Merritt, and this will help us balance our budget.
  • It is in BERKELEY! We are all Berkeley people, it is a Berkeley High School program, we identify strongly with Berkeley, we want to be in Berkeley, we do not want to travel many miles each day to another city to row. It is a huge commitment the young women make to row, we are hoping that their home town can support them.


Lake Merritt

We have been rowing there for many years, but it has become increasingly difficult for us to make it work. Last year we were asked by the Lake Merritt Rowing Club (the master tenant) to leave, due in part to Harry Edwards antagonism towards all non-Oakland groups, but also because there was a shortage of space and they wanted more flexibility. The Club has been very accommodating, but it is becoming increasingly apparent it isnít working for either them or us any more, for the following reasons:

  • Restricted hours: We can only practice on the water between the hours of 6:20 AM and 7:45 AM, which is reduced to around one hour so the girls can get back to their second period classes at Berkeley High. Afternoon practices are out of the question. This is not adequate for a competitive rowing program. We need at least 2 hours on the water to be effective.
  • Not enough space. We can keep only one of our boats there, and must borrow the others. We arenít rowing in our own boats, so training is difficult. No room for our ergs, either, which we keep at BHS. We need all this equipment together to be an effective rowing program.
  • There is no way to expand our program.
  • They want our space for other uses
  • It has nothing to do with Harry Edwards any more. Heís gone, and we still need to leave.
  • Finally, as was published in Sunday's Tribune, the City of Oakland is going to renovate the Boathouse completely within the next 3 years. This means starting construction in approximately a year or so, so it appears highly unlikely that we will have this place next year at all.

Jack London Aquatic Center

  • It is a new, well-planned boathouse, with good access to water, reasonable access by carpool, but not good access by public transit.
  • It is not affordable. It costs $20,000 per bay per year. The Menís crew is doing it, but only because they had no other choice. It is a staggering financial burden on them.
  • There is no space currently available. It is fully occupied by Oakland Strokes, Menís Crew, Cal lightweights, and Oakland programs

East Bay Regional Park District

  • Contrary to Mr. LaForce's assertions, I have spoken with EBRPD people: John Escobar, the new Asst. General Manager. The former contact we had was Jerry Kent, but he retired last month. I did not get the impression that he was "ecstatic" about our coming to one of their parks, as Mr. LaForce asserts.
  • They have only one remotely viable option: the Tidewater area of MLK Park in San Leandro.
  • The Oakland Strokes has a 3-year option with EBRPD to fundraise and build an approximately $1.5m facility at this location. This is good for them, but they are a program about four times the size of ours, with master rowers (think donors), and we donít have anywhere that kind of fundraising capabilities. I can't imagine that we would be welcome to share their boathouse, if we could afford it (kind of like Cal asking Stanford to share their locker room - I donít think so). Even so, the Strokes are having a very difficult time raising funds right now, and may not be able to meet the 3-year commitment. It is unclear whether the Park District would even consider allowing another boat house on the same property, even if we could afford it.

Port of Oakland

  • Over the last five years, we have made many contacts by many people on both sides, both menís and womenís crew, with an especially intense period this last spring (Jan-April) when the men really needed to find an alternative to JLAC. They really wanted to get out from under the burden of their lease.
  • Nothing has panned out.
  • There are always various prospects and possibilities with the Port, since they have much property, but when you really get down to defining reasonable alternatives, there are few, if any, at any moment.
  • I was personally involved in two building possibilities, but both fell through. A number of other people from both Men's and Women's Crews have similar stories from the years of trying to find something.
  • The menís crew is at JLAC, after vigorously trying to find other possibilities. It is practically bankrupting them, so if they had any reasonable alternative, believe me, they would have gone for it in a heartbeat.
  • There is no current prospects now, although we are continuing to work on the issue through a joint menís and womenís site search committee. We are engaged in an ongoing dialog with staff at the Port, but there are no hot (or even warm) prospective opportunities. Even if we had a hot prospect, it would take one to three years at least to make it into a reality. That is what is so great about Aquatic Park: it is ready to go with very little work!


  • We met at the Golden Gate Audubon Society offices on March 25th: 6 people from Crew, around 7 or 8 from their 2 organizations. The meeting did not go well. Arthur Feinstein and Norman LaForce essentially threw down the gauntlet and stated that they would do everything in their power to keep us from rowing at Aquatic Park. There was ranting and there was raving. They said that our activities would risk extinction for the species we would disturb, and that the birds would die from exhaustion because of our activities. There was no rational discussion of the scientific merits. There was no discussion of compromise, or any middle ground. Our offers at mitigation, such as limited hours, wake less launches, etc. were scorned. The only possibility was for us to look elsewhere.
  • They offered to help us find alternative locations. For the Port, they stated that because they had sued the Port so many times, they had a lot of influence there now, and that the Port would love to help them out with this. We told them to let us know what they came up with. They claimed to be cozy with the EBRPD, and would surely find us something there. We said to show us.
  • Subsequent to this meeting, about 2 months later, I received one phone call from Norman LaForce. He mentioned the EBRPD park development (see above) that we already knew about. He also made some general noises about the Port, but he offered no specifics, no names, no actual Port properties, nothing that could be followed up on. I was fairly disgusted with this show of bad faith, and told him we would take care of the search ourselves, since they had nothing substantive to offer us. At no point did I say we were no longer interested in Aquatic Park. I have no idea where he came up with that one. In any case, we strongly prefer to explore alternative possibilities ourselves, and if Norman thinks he can ďgrease the wheelsĒ for us, we prefer to do without such "assistance". We do not trust them to act with integrity in this matter. It is true I have not returned his phone call from September 3rd. I'm still trying to think of a civil response.
  • I do not see where there is any common ground between us. They will accept no compromise that lets us row at Aquatic park, and we see no alternative but to row there, or give up on our program. While in general I believe it is always useful to keep a dialog open between parties in conflict, in this case, I do not believe a true dialog is possible with such an uncompromising group. Nevertheless, one of our Board members who has a stronger constitution than I for this is having a discussion with Mr. LaForce. We will see what transpires.

In conclusion, I hope I have managed to bring some clarity and honesty to this discussion.

  • We support strengthening bird habitat throughout the Bay Area, and doing whatever we can to lessen our impact on the wildlife at Aquatic Park.
  • Where there are impacts from our activities, we are willing to follow mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate the impact.
  • We would be delighted participate with EGRET and other groups in habitat restoration programs, shoreline clean-ups, and other restoration programs.
  • We have tried already to limit our use to the minimum effective amount of time on the water, have proposed wakeless launches to reduce shoreline disturbances, and other efforts to help.

I canít stress enough how important this program to the 40 to 50 young women who participate in it. The young women who spoke to you tonight truly represented the team, caring, committed, articulate, hard-working, and determined. Please keep an open mind and try to find a balance between the needs of the youth community and the environment. I do not think this will be an easy decision. Because the Sierra Club and Audubon Society have such a hardened position, I am not hopeful there will be a win-win solution. We can only compromise so far, until we don't have a program. Please help us find away to keep the faith for these fantastic young women.


Chris Noll
Board Member,
Berkeley High School Women's Crew
(510) 649-8295
(510) 649-3008 fax