Funding for CESP: They've done good work, but they have an agenda!

Citezens for the Eastshore State Park has been a major lobbying force for the creation of a shoreline park along the Berkeley waterfront. This park will include the strip of waterfront land immediately adjacent to the frontage road betweeen University Avenue and the racetrack. They deserve a great deal of credit for blocking the proposals to over-develop this strip of waterfront in the mid-'80s, and are largeley responsible for the land finally passing into public ownership in the late '90s.

CESP also has a very specific idea of what the character of this park should be, as demonstrated by the Goals and Policies and Compilation of Past Decisions reproduced here on this website.

In the last few weeks, an undated letter from Peter Weshler, a graduate student, was recieved by a number of people representing different organizations and interests along the waterfront. I received one of these letters as a representative of Berkeley Yacht Club, although I can't speak for the yacht club in any official capacity.

Peter included an unsigned letter on CESP letterhaed, addressed to Chairperson Gary Herrnandes of the Coastal Conservancy Board of Directors. Mine begins "On behalf of the Berkeley Yacht Club, I am writing to urge that the Coastal Conservancy authorize $25,000 of funding for public outreach..."

Aside from this "vote yes or not at all" tactic, the problem is that CESP is an advocacy organizaition, not an objective facilitator of community input. CESP is in no position to conduct an objective public planning workshop. They are on record, and have been for years, with a very detailed list of do's and dont's for the park as they have always envisioned it.

Their goals and policies are based on certain value judgments and preferences which may not be representative of the waterfront community or the Berkeley population at large. But with CESP in charge, it seems likely that these workshops will devolve into a forum for what CESP has always done best - advocacy of their vision of the park.

While I share most of the values expressed in CESP's goals and policies, I take issue with many of their proposed policies. See The Eastshore State Park and the Five Naked Emperors, also on this website. It is possible that an objective public input process would pose a serious threat to some of the policies that CESP supports.

Public workshops are not scientific surveys of public opinion. Nor are they democratic expressions of community preferences. Workshop attendees are highly self-selected, demographically skewed, and not always educated on the issues.

However, workshops serve a very valuable purpose: They provide a forum for new ideas and innovative solutions to be presented to planners. policy-makers, and other members of the public. A workshop's success should be measured by the viability and the brilliance of the new ideas generated, and not by the degree of consensus reached.

The entity that facilitates public input for the Eastshore Park must be ready to work with a clean slate. CESP, despite its long and honorable history as the principal advocate for this park, is probably the worst possible choice for this particular role.