Letter to the Coastal Conservancy

(Prompted by Peter Weshler's solicitations for support)

At our June 14 meeting, the Berkeley Waterfront Commission voted to endorse this letter and send it to the Coastal Conservancy again.

Chairperson Gary Hernandez
Coastal Conservancy Board of Directors
State Coastal Conservancy
1330 Broadway, 11th floor
Oakland CA 94612-2530

Dear Chairman Hernandez and Board Members

Within the last few weeks I received a letter, unsigned, addressed to you. It 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 to the Citizens for the Eastshore State Parků"

There are several problems with the form, content, and intent of this letter.

First of all, I am in no way authorized to speak on behalf of the Berkeley Yacht Club. If, however, I were to simply sign this letter and pass it along via the stamped envelope provided, it could easily give your agency, or any other agency examining the letter, the impression that the Berkeley Yacht Club does in fact support the requested funding for CESP.

One has to wonder how many of these letters were misdirected to how many people, and how many of them are now on file misrepresenting various organizations.

Furthermore, the letter presents no alternatives to CESP as the entity that could fill this role. It is reminiscent of Soviet-style elections: vote yes or don't vote at all. If there is no other alternative, why the lobbying effort?

But the substance of this request to support the funding of CESP is the real issue. CESP, despite their long and honorable history, is not in a position to objectively assess public input. CESP is an advocacy organization. They are not planning consultants, and they are not public input facilitators. CESP has developed some fairly detailed positions concerning what should and should not be done on various portions of the Eastshore State Park. (Goals and policies of CESP, and my comments, can be found at www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/ESP.html)

Check out their published lists of policy decisions -all the important questions have already been decided! And the short list of "unresolved issues" leaves a very limited scope for meaningful debate.

I have to assume that the Coastal Conservancy, East Bay Regional Parks, and State Parks all would prefer to see a planning process that operates within a broader design space. This is unlikely to happen with CESP at the helm.

The entire public outreach process - from the self-selection of workshop participants to the wording of the reports - will be a CESP advocacy showcase for a park created in the image of their own imaginations. Yes, many of their goals and policies are common to all park advocacy, and form the basis of the entire project. But other positions taken by CESP are not so universal.

Fundamental issues at stake here are the mix of active versus passive recreation, the degree of commercial activity, and the possible use of buffering structures to mitigate the impact of the freeway on the shoreline. CESP has already taken fairly extreme positions with respect to these choices, and not everyone considers these positions to be appropriate to the site. We need an objective entity, able to work with a much cleaner slate, to insure that diverse interests get a fair hearing.

Actually, it's not clear if public input is even a part of CESP's program. Here is what they propose to do, according to the letter:

All the information flow is from CESP down. This is not public outreach, this is special-interest advocacy, intended to dominate the public discourse. It should not be financed by public funds. The money should be spent on processes that enhance public input rather than subvert it. And public input will be subverted, unless every waterfront advocacy group receives similar funding.

I am also more than a little confused with respect to the origin of this lobbying effort on behalf of CESP. Peter Weshler, who signed the cover letter, appears to have done the legwork. He contacted me by telephone before I received the letter (and should have been aware that I don't represent Berkeley Yacht Club on the basis of our conversation, by the way). He identifies himself as a graduate student, and it is not clear if he is working for the Coastal Conservancy or CESP.

Best Regards,

Paul Kamen

Cc: Berkeley Waterfront, parks, and planning Commissions
East Bay Regional Parks
California State Parks