Taking the Water out of the Waterfront:
CESP Proposes Changes to the 1986 Waterfront Plan

Citizens for the Eastshore State Park has made a discovery: There's a waterfront plan in effect that is very much at odds with their "vision" for the Eastshore State Park and surrounding areas of the waterfront.

The "Berkeley Waterfront Master Plan Amendment/Specific Plan," as it's properly titled, was created in 1986 as an amendment to the 1977 Master Plan. Its history and status are described on the Berkeley City web page at


The plan itself is not available in electronic form, but the goals and policies can be viewed at


This plan was the result of a long process of public hearings, workshops, and planning efforts by many elements of the waterfront community. Now enter CESP, taking a red pencil to the plan, asking that many key elements simply be struck out without so much as an agenda item at a commission meeting. (You can't blame them for trying.)

Here are some samples of their proposed deletions from the 1986 Waterfront Plan:

Policy W-3: Create a social environment where Berkeley, East Bay residents, and visitors can mingle in harmony and mutually enjoy their natural heritage.
What was wrong with this? Does it suggest a little too clearly that people might be as important as wildlife on an urban waterfront?

Policy W-7 Generate jobs…
Policy W-8 Generate revenues…
Policy W-10 Create business and employment opportunities…
Policy W-12 Create opportunities for advancement of Berkeley's affirmative action policies.
Policy W-13 Provide for goods and services that complement or reinforce other land uses in the waterfront area.

In short, CESP would delete all consideration of social and economic benefit from the waterfront plan. Maybe there are arguments for doing this, but they are not stated by CESP. And in any event, that was not the result of the public process that generated this plan 15 years ago.

Recreational and Commercial - Small-scale retail uses are desirable that offer recreational products and services, such as windsurfing and sailing equipment and lessons, bicycle and boat rentals, fishing supplies, and chandleries. A variety of restaurants is desired, especially inexpensive, family-oriented ones. These activities should meet the needs of people of all ages, income levels, disabilities, and ethnic backgrounds. Recreational-commercial activities can provide opportunities to meet the targeted job goals of the City, as well as create an interesting environment. Other kinds of small-scale retail and commercial uses, especially water-related, which serve people of all ages, income levels, abilities, and ethnic backgrounds. However, commercial theme parks and high intensity specially commercial centers such as Pier 39 in San Francisco are not considered appropriate or desirable.

This entire paragraph is deleted as being inapplicable to the Eastshore State Park and all other waterfront park areas. So, even though some language is added elsewhere that supports non-motorized forms of aquatic recreation, there is no allowance for any of the facilities necessary to support these activities. The absence of equipment storage, for example, insures that users will always have to come by car - yet CESP's plan calls for "minimal" parking.

Some of the best features of the Marina - cooperative sailing clubs, on-site sailboard and kayak storage, a bait shop, waterfront cafes… all would be virtually impossible under CESP's direction. Any reasonable plan would expand these kinds of access-enhancing activities. Low-end rowboat rental, for example, could become a superb route to Cesar Chavez park, keeping cars out of the Marina and easing the heavy parking load at Cesar Chavez. This requires a boat-house, a commercial operator, and significant parking. But there's no way it can happen under CESP's proposed plan.

How can we explain this apparent blindness to water-relevance?

The CESP Board appears to be a self-selected group of people with a vision for the waterfront that has nothing to do with the water. They seem to have no interest in active water-related activities, and for the older members, the most important views appear to be those from their car windows. We can look at the water, but we can't have the basic improvements necessary to support rowing, paddling, or sailing on it. And even when we walk along the water's edge, we'll have to hear the tires and smell the exhaust of those who experience the waterfront from their car seats.

The legacy that CESP will leave is this: waterfront users for generations to come will have to endure the sights and sounds of one of the world's most heavily used freeways.

It's probably not fair to find fault with CESP for ignoring the economic realities of the waterfront. The Berkeley Marina will operate at a deficit of between $200,000 and $300,000 per year for the next twenty years, but economic analysis is not their area of expertise. It's also forgivable - although perhaps somewhat less so - that they ignore the social and cultural context of West Berkeley. The thrust of CESP is open space preservation, not social or cultural enhancement.

But where CESP has its collective head deeply in the sand is in the kind of open space that they are attempting to protect, and how they intend to protect it. They ignore the water, ignore the freeway, and treat this narrow strip of landfill as a remote wilderness nature preserve. This is an urban waterfront with superb opportunities for active water-related uses. It needs protection from the impact of the freeway far more than it needs protection from appropriate commercial enterprises. And there is a very wide range of social and economic factors than can make this waterfront self-supporting and socially and culturally productive.

Even if we forget the economics and forget the various social factors, this waterfront will be a better place with appropriate development between the freeway and the water's edge.

But no, instead we'll have a "freeway park" based on CESP's application of open space monoculture. This is CESP's "vision" for the Berkeley waterfront. There won't be a sail or oar in sight, and I can hear the cars and trucks as I type...