CESP's reaction to creek daylighting Proposals, and a continuting dialogue

Here is the text of a letter from Citizens for the Eastshore State Park (CESP) to the Berkeley Waterfront Commisison and The Community Environmental Advisory Commission. It is followed by my letter in response, and then my half of an email dialogue with Norman LaForce of CESP and the Sierra Club, during which I attempt to find out. with only limited success, exactly why CESP and the Sierra Club are so strongly opposed to salt marsh restoration in the Eastshore State Park.

Unfortunately Norman has not given permisison for me to copy his side of the dialogue.

Citizens for the Eastshore State Park
P.O. Box 6087, Albany, CA 94706
(510) 526-2629

October 21, 2001

Berkeley Waterfront Commission
201 University Ave., Berkeley 94710

Community Environmental Advisory Commission
2120 Milvia, Berkeley 94704

Re: Berkeley Meadow


At our October 17 meeting Nabil Al-Hadithy and Paul Kamen outlined a tentative plan to "daylight" Strawberry and Schoolhouse Creeks and re-route them to mechanisms in the Berkeley Meadow. We understand that this will be on the agenda for the November 14 meeting of the Waterfront Commission, and is also being considered by the Environmental Commission.

The plan would be to filter out larger particles and then route the filtered water through a series of engineered ponds and channels in the Berkeley Meadow, where wetland fauna and flora would digest organic pollutants, and also filter particles from the creeks. It also involves a series of ponds built in the Bay north of the Meadow to provide additional areas for settleing and bio-filtration. Pual Kamen explained that a modification would involve keeping the same filter system, adding a boat-launching ramp and not changing the Virginia Street frontage.

This proposal is intended to help Berkeley comply with Phase II of the federal NPDES Permit. Nabil explained to us that there were problems to be resolved, such as the proposed pump and earth movement, and that "natural" areas in the Meadow would be protected by fencing.

Although some of the 26 people at our meeting favored having a study before taking a a position, a majority of those voting (including representatives from Berkeley in addition to members of our Board of Directors) approved a motion to strongly oppose any use of the Meadow, or other parts of the Eastshore State Park now owned by California, to solve Berkeley's storm water pollution problems.

We therefore urge you to reject any proposal which would use the Meadow to solve Berkeley's water pollution problems.


By Dwight Steele, Chairman

Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2001 15:41:27 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Kamen
Subject: Proposal for Berkeley Meadow

To: Communiity Environmental Advisory Commission, Waterfront Commission

From: Paul Kamen, Chair, Waterfront Commission

Re: Letter from Dwight Steele of CESP about the Berkeley Meadow, salt marshes, and creek water quality

Dear Commissioners,

It has come to my attention that Dwight Steele, Chair of Citizens for the Eastshore State Park, has written a letter to the Waterfront and Environmental Commissions which is essentially a rejection of a proposal to filter creek water through salt marshes on the Meadow. This proposal was put forward by Nabil Al-Hadithy at the October 17 CESP meeting, which I also attended.

A number of misrepresentations need to be corrected.

First, the letter begins by describing this as a joint proposal by myself and Nabil. Although I had communicated with Nabil and support many elements of his proposal, I had never seen his proposal until it was presented at the meeting, and in fact did not even know that he was going to be there making a presentation to CESP.

My own alternate proposal is inspired by Nabil's idea, as well as by other proposals to reroute the Strawberry Creek outflow into the developing salt marsh east of the Brickyard. Some of these proposals go back as far as 1984. This rerouting of Strawberry Creek even appeared on the map that Norman LaForce brought to a lunch meeting several months ago. At the time I believed that this was a concept that had at least tacit support from the Sierra Club.

As well it should. Directing creek outflows into the most likely places for salt marsh development should be a win for everyone: diverse habitat, better water quality, and restored natural hydrology of the shoreline.

My alternate proposal differs from the one described by Dwight in several important ways: In my version, only existing tidal flats are used as water quality wetlands, and there would be no excavating of the Meadow except for the narrow creek beds. Please take a look at my sketches at www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/EastshoreStatePark/Daylight.html, and decide for yourselves if Dwight Steele's letter is an accurate representation of what I have proposed.

Even Nabil's plan as presented is characterized with great prejudice. Perhaps there is a fine line between "a series of engineered ponds and channels" and the vibrant and complex habitat that is a salt marsh. I submit that Nabil's vision - and the reality of the project if it were to be completed - would be described by any casual observer as a restored natural habitat, and not as an example of hydraulic engineering.

I am completely baffled by Dwight's assertion that a boat ramp is part of my plan for the creeks. It's well known that I'm a strong advocate of human-powered boating activities in the North Sailing Basin, and favor the development of facilities to support these activities on the northwest corner of the Meadow. But this is entirely unrelated to creek water and salt marshes.

Even more disturbing were the statements by several CESP Board members that it was inappropriate for Berkeley to use State lands to "solve its water quality problems." Norman LaForce, co-chair of CESP, has suggested that the City of Berkeley should go out and buy its own lands if it wants to create a salt marsh at the creek outflows.

Birds and fish don't care whether the water is cleansed on state lands or on City lands. Regardless of how the water quality laws are applied, the water flowing into the Bay will be cleaner if it goes through a living salt marsh first. To reject these proposals out of hand, without any technical evaluation, seems like an uncharacteristic disregard for the environment and the quality of shoreline habitat on the part of CESP.

I ask both Commissions to recommend that these proposals be given serious consideration.

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
pk@well.com 510-540-7968

Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2001 22:47:21 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Kamen
To: Norman La Force
Subject: Re: Berkeley Watefront Commission Meetings

The only item this month that relates directly to ESP is under action items:

"Suggestion to investigate the Feasibility of Alternative Creek Alignment through Eastshore State Park. Discussion concerning a suggestion that the Eastshore Sate Park consultant team consider a feasibility study to investigate realigning creek outfalls through the Meadow to filter creek water."

The packet includes about seven pages of background material supplied by Nabil, and my letter responding to Dwight's letter on behalf of CESP. I'm sure the Marina staff will be happy to run off a set of copies for you if you stop by the office.

I hope that you and the rest of the CESP Board can keep in mind the distinction between my proposals and Nabil's. Personally I think that all water quality standards should be met at the point where the creeks first enter the park, and not where they leave it. But I'm not conversant with the details of the Phase II NPDES Permit requirements, and this might not be a completely realistic position to take.

Whatever quality of water enters the park, my understanding of the applicable science is that passing through a salt marsh will improve it, and this has to have a positive effect on the waters and tidelands that accept the water from these creeks. Even with no water quality implications, aren't expanded salt marshes a good thing?

The Arcata example that Nabil cites might not be applicable to Berkeley. At least I hope it isn't. I've only taken a quick look at their website http://hometown.aol.com/erikschiff/municip.htm but it appears that the marshes there process all of the town's sewage, not just creeks and storm runoff with incidental contamination. Sewage treatment in the Meadow would be a *very* tough sell for Eastshore State Park!

Also, neither of my proposals use any significant portion of the Meadow for water quality purposes. It's only the tidal flats that are already closest to becoming salt marshes that are modified to have this function. (If anything, this works somewhat against my goal for accessible human-powered boating in the North Basin; I'm showing otherwise navigable water converted to marsh, especially in my "lower impact" version which expands the Schoolhouse Creek tidal flat.)

Nabil and I still have not met to see if we can both support the same version of either of our plans. That might eventually happen, but until then, I have to step back just a little from what he is advocating. I do think that there is enough merit in his plan to justify a serious look, though, and I hope that CESP and Sierra Club will come to the same conclusion.

See you at the meeting.

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
pk@well.com 510-540-7968

Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 07:04:59 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Kamen
To: Norman La Force
Subject: Re: Berkeley Watefront Commission Meetings

Okay, but without explaining the basis of the Sierra Club's opposition, isn't this like saying that the Sierra Club opposes clean water and diverse habitat? I'm not trying to be confrontational here - I'm just not seeing the logic of the Sierra Club's position.

Could you copy me with the letter to the Council?


Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
pk@well.com 510-540-7968

Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 09:27:01 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Kamen
To: Enter your name here
Subject: Re: Berkeley Watefront Commission Meetings

Yes, I heard you at CESP. But you were addressing Nabil's plan, not mine.

I still don't have any cogent explanation of why the Sierra Club is opposed to a creek re-routing plan that extends salt marshes, improves creek water quality, and (in the case of one of my proposed scenarios) doesn't even touch the Meadow.

I would especially like an explanation that I can put on my website, so that all sides of this issue are represented.

Paul Kamen

Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 22:16:59 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Kamen
To: Norman LaForce
Subject: Re: Berkeley Watefront Commission Meetings

Blue is the sea
Green is the land
And black are the deeds of man

That's how my father-in-law used to describe the color coding on the inflight maps to the passengers on the DC-10 he piloted until his retirement in 1980. I've adopted it as one of my own favorite quotes.

Which is to say that I'm with you 100% in favoring natural features over "man made creations" as you describe them. But where are the natural features of the Berkeley Waterfront? The whole configuration of the shoreline is an artifact of industrial convenience and real estate speculation. The Brickyard peninsula was built to be a railroad spur.

I agree that we have lost too much of our coastal areas in the Bay. You say that "we have a chance to bring something back that will be unique and restorative of the habitat and wildlife," and that "we will be able to enjoy it more without major negative impacts on wildlife and habitat." I agree. What could be more consistent with these goals than restoring the hydrology to more closely resemble the way it was two centuries ago? What is more natural than an open creek passing through a salt marsh before flowing into the bay?

You ask,"Why muck it up with more human stuff?"

Well, the problem is that it's not just mucked up, it's badly desecrated by human reconfiguration as it is. I think most people would agree that the creek and marsh proposals have at least the potential to undo some of the damage.

On to more specific points:

You offer one reasonable argument against the creek plans: they will be far too expensive to implement. This may well be the case, but it's a big leap from this possibility to the strong opposition expressed by CESP. It certainly doesn't justify their opposition to even a preliminary feasibility study.

The creek and marsh proposals should probably be divided into at least three largely independent kinds of projects, and it would make sense to consider them separately:

1) Salt marsh restoration on tidal flats. This can happen without touching the Meadow and without touching the existing creeks. It would accelerate a natural process that would take the better part of a century, maybe longer, if the creek mouths are left alone. Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland is a better example for what I have in mind than the Arcata water quality wetlands cited by Nabil. Do you think the Arrowhead marsh restoration is a bad thing? Do you think the money spent on it would have been better spent elsewhere?

2) Daylighting creeks. In my proposals, the only excavation required is for the narrow creek beds. We don't know yet how widespread the toxic areas of the Meadow really are, but I think we're going to have to do the studies to find out anyway, whether or not there is creek and marsh restoration under consideration. As I've noted, the paths of the creeks could probably be routed around the bad spots. And even in the worst case, new capping would only be required along the relatively narrow creek beds, not over wide areas of the Meadow. On the Brickyard side, my understanding is that the fill is clean building debris, and capping is probably not an issue at all.

3) Redirecting creeks. This may or may not involve daylighting, and may or may not involve marsh restoration. Redirecting creeks is mainly a question of digging narrow trenches and installing new concrete culverts, if no daylighting is involved. It does not imply a massive capping operation.

I've left out the possible category 4, development of salt marshes on the Meadow itself. This is the main feature of Nabil's proposal, but I suspect that once the dust settles, you may be right in that it turns out to be prohibitively expensive, for the reasons you cite. But there are still lots of unanswered questions - as Nabil freely acknowledges - and I think the concept deserves a closer look. The "discussions with knowledgeable people" that you refer to, without any specifics given, are hardly a substitute for an independent feasibility study when a public planning process is involved. (And BTW I don't think this study should in any way delay the park planning process. Under any likely scenario for the Meadow, a creek and marsh plan would be an easy retro-fit into the plan.)

Yes, let's be "up front," as you suggest. You see me as having a "grandiose scheme" that would "transform the waterfront into a very busy commercial center with ferries chugging all over the place."

I don't know what this has to do with the creek and marsh proposals, but the fact is that the Berkeley Marina is already a very busy center for commercial activity and specialized recreational pursuits. We have a thousand boat berths, the largest banquet room in the City, a 375 room hotel, a handful of non-profits and marine-related businesses, and an active commercial fishing fleet. Do you really think that an hourly ferry departure during commute hours is going to make that much difference?

Also, if you look at my ferry proposal, you'll see that the favored location for a new ferry dock is next to the municipal fishing pier, pretty much where it was 150 years ago in relation to the active waterfront. The ferry route would not touch the park. There is a lot of excess weekday parking capacity there, it's the terminus of a major AC Transit trunk route, and it's only 5.6 miles to San Francisco - allowing a clean and fuel-efficient slow ferry to get there in only 20 minutes at a leisurely 17 knots. How this translates to "ferries chugging all over the place" is beyond me. You will just barely be able to spot a ferry on the horizon from anywhere in the Eastshore State Park.

When you summon up a vision of "large numbers of people traveling by car through a man made sculpted waterfront Park," I assume you are referring to the 150-300 additional cars that would transit the width of the park on University Avenue every morning on their way to the ferry (and by doing so, avoid driving right along a large part of the *length* of the park on the freeway), Maybe we need to look at the number of cars going to the three restaurants, the hotel, the sailing clubs, the boat berths, and the various Marina parks and businesses before claiming that a ferry service will cause a qualitative change in the character of the waterfront.

Can I put your responses on my website along with this one? I'd like all points of view to be fully represented.

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
pk@well.com 510-540-7968

Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2001 23:47:24 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Kamen
To: Norman LaForce

Subject: Re: Berkeley Watefront Commission Meetings

Well, I can see why you don't want your side of this dialogue to be public.

If I understand you correctly, you are certain that any form of daylighting, marsh restoration, or creek rerouting is far too expensive to be practical. Fair enough, that might actually be the case.

But then, you insist that "the cost of a study would be enormous." How can you have it both ways? If these proposals are so clearly impractical, then wouldn't a feasibility study be quick and cheap? It doesn't take much to come up with a negative result, if all the arguments against it are really as compelling as you claim they are.

Also, you have not responded to the proposal to re-route creeks and restore marshes without any new daylighting at all. In this scenario, nothing would be left uncovered that isn't uncovered already. Only a small amount of possibly toxic material would have to be disposed of to make room for the new culvert. And what if outflows are left exactly where they are? Does the Sierra Club have a position on marsh restoration at the existing creek outflows, without touching any of the landfill?

I would have thought that CESP and the Sierra Club would be extremely interested in salt marsh restoration on existing tidal flats. My mistake, I guess.

But to leave this subject with everyone's position in full view, I really would appreciate some kind of public statement from you or from the Sierra Club that explains why you are so strongly opposed. If you prefer not to have it on my website, I'll be happy to link out.

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
pk@well.com 510-540-7968