Letter to the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors

November 8 2001

Dear EBRPD Board Member

This is a follow-up to the comments I made at the Board meeting on November 6, 2001. I appreciate the opportunity to address the EBRPD Board directly on Eastshore State Park matters. While the planning consultants have done a good job, the public has been somewhat insulated from the agencies responsible for setting policy.

First I must acknowledge the ongoing good work of Save the Bay, CESP, the Sierra Club, and other organizations that have preserved the East Bay shoreline and made this discussion possible.

However, I now find myself in the somewhat uncomfortable position of opposing some of these groups on certain issues relating to land and water use policies in the new park. Are we in danger of overshooting our goals? Now that these lands are safely in public hands, does this park really need to be "saved" from the user groups that we are dedicated to serve?

Specific example: The North Sailing Basin is the protected body of water between Cesar Chavez Park (North part of Berkeley Marina) and the North Basin Strip (pumpkin patch). This body of water offers a fantastic opportunity for many kinds of entry-level boating. Because of its size, water depth, and positioning in the heart of the densely populate East Bay, there is no substitute venue for many of the activities that would thrive there.

Entry level boating implies several things:

  • Protected water
  • Paddle, oar, or sail-propelled boats
  • On-site boat storage and maintenance
  • Co-op or commercial ownership
  • Hand launching (or hand-pushing to an electric hoist)

The traditional State Park model for boating is to provide launch facilities for privately-owned boats. It is interesting to observe that the only icon the consultants could find to represent boating facilities on their maps was a picture of an outboard powered ski boat being launched down a steep ramp (and presumably the SUV towing the boat is just off the picture). This kind of boating is an environmental disaster, and has nothing to do with what is proposed for the Eastshore State Park. The appropriate icon would be much closer to the mark if it depicted 25 teenagers carrying a dragon boat down the ramp for after-school practice.

The problem with positions taken by CESP and the Sierra Club is that they oppose any structural development in support of boating by people who do not already own boats. Entry-level boating requires facilities: A boat storage yard, a ramp or hoist, some maintenance and repair capabilities, and a small office or clubhouse.

Cooperative or commercial boating facilities are the only kinds of boating with a meaningful public service component. Most paddling, rowing, and sailing clubs offer public outreach and open house rides as an integral part of their operation. Some organizations put a great deal of energy into youth programs and training. These programs are typical targets for State grants - although under the non-profit club model, with heavy reliance on volunteer labor, a very high degree of public service can often be achieved with almost no public subsidy beyond the small piece of real estate they occupy.

Under the CESP/Sierra Club recommendations, none of this can happen. They call for limiting access to the North Sailing Basin, even by kayaks. They are adamantly opposed to any kind of structure on the Meadow, where these facilities would work best. The only people who will have access to boating in the Eastshore State Park under the CESP/Sierra Club recommendations will be people who own their own boats, and the youth of the East Bay will be left out.

There may be some legitimate environmental concerns with respect to diving duck habitat in the winter. However, the North Sailing Basin is only one of many protected duck rafting areas, and similar duck populations appear to coexist easily with the relatively intense watercraft use in the nearby South Sailing Basin.

Assuming that these concerns for winter duck habitat are justified, seasonal operating restrictions to avoid any possibility of habitat disruption have been proposed. These proposals seem to have no effect on the CESP/Sierra Club position against facilities to support appropriate waterborne uses of the North Sailing Basin.

The most serious challenge facing EBRPD, assuming it becomes the managing agency for the Eastshore State Park, will be setting up "concessions" that tap the full potential of volunteer-based non-profit organizations.

Historically, private non-profit clubs have been able to dramatically outperform commercial operations in terms of public service and low cost. The Cal Sailing Club, an independent sailing co-op in the Berkeley Marina, is one of the best examples: compare their $50 all-inclusive unlimited-sailing-for-three-months membership with the $12/hour minimum boat rental fee at East Bay Regional Parks.) Good examples of public-serving commercial operations can be found as well, although outreach activities generally need to be subsidized by the market-rate side of the business or by other sources.

Organized multi-user paddlecraft activities, such as outrigger canoeing or dragon boat racing, are unbeatable for getting the most participants out on the water with the least resources. These two recreational activities have experienced phenomenal growth in the last five years, and the North Sailing Basin is an ideal place to host these activities as demand continues to build.

I also have to express my disagreement with statements made to the effect that there is no room in the park for a diverse list of uses (referring specifically to comments by Bob Arnold at the Board meeting). Kayaks, rowboats, windsurfers, and dragon boats do not compromise the views, the habitat, or the open space character of the shoreline in any significant way. I am at a loss to understand why he is horrified by the prospect of a bunch of kids in a big canoe paddling hard across his view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

There is a sublime pleasure in simply floating on water and directing one's own course, whether in a rental rowboat, a kayak, or as part of a dragon boat team. The Eastshore State Park, if it Is to be a success as an urban waterfront, will help insure that everyone in the East Bay has easy access to this experience.

There's more of all of this on my website, . Please check out the site plans and commentary at www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org.

And finally, allow me repeat my invitation to each of you to come out in one of the Cal Sailing Club's 22 ft keelboats for a sailing tour of the North Sailing Basin and the Albany Bulb. For two hours I can guarantee that we will be safe from most of the hazards of our daily routines.

Best regards,

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