Opportunities on the Berkeley Waterfront

An open letter to the dragon boat, outrigger, and open-water rowing communities of San Francisco Bay

February 8, 2001

The planning process is now underway for the Eastshore State Park. This will be a new waterfront park on lands west of the freeway and mostly north of University Avenue in Berkeley. This letter is to alert you of the dates of the first "stakeholder" meetings, and to explain why I believe that this park represents an opportunity to create one or more superb new access points to the Bay.

First the dates: Tuesday February 13 and Tuesday February 20, 7:00 PM. These initial stakeholder meetings will be conducted by Wallace Roberts & Todd (http://www.wrtdesign.com/), the planning consultant for the project. WRT has been hired by the East Bay Regional Park District, acting on behalf of the State Parks. A copy of the announcement of these meetings can be found at


Note that space is limited and an RSVP is required. The direction that the planning process takes will be significantly influenced by representation at these early meetings, and also by a strong showing at the first round of public workshops.

What is really at stake here?

The "North Sailing Basin," also known as Ocean View Cove, will be surrounded by park on three sides. Protected by over 800 meters of hilly Cesar Chavez Park along the windward shoreline, this could be an ideal dragon boat venue. It also offers quick access to the open water of central San Francisco Bay, appropriate for outrigger canoes and other open-water small craft. The cove itself is sufficiently protected for entry-level rowing and public access/outreach programs.

Best of all, there may be a considerable amount of money ready to flow into park development. Although State Parks hasn't really tipped their hand yet with respect to the kind of park they hope to create, there have been hints that they favor an "urban park" that supports significant active use along with the expected natural habitat and open space preservation. But the nature of these active uses will be up to us. It could be ball fields and skate board parks, or it could be the dream boathouse for one or more paddling or rowing clubs.

Meanwhile, the waterfront land at the foot of Gilman Street, outside the park boundary, is slated for major hotel and commercial development. The hotel zoning appears to have been a necessary part of the land acquisition process for the Eastshore State Park, as it allowed the down-zoning to withstand an inverse condemnation challenge. So a hotel is almost inevitable near the foot of Gilman, but the City will probably extract some major concessions along the way.

The concession that I'd like to see extracted is the inclusion of a boathouse and launch facility for outriggers and/or recreational low-tech rowboats as a condition for the commercial development project. This is another possible route for funding of a first-class facility, in this case from the private sector. Again, strong presence at the workshops is what will swing these projects in that direction. One of the major players in creating of this park has been a private organization called Citizens for the Eastshore State Park, or CESP. Although the members of CESP deserve enormous credit for their past efforts in getting these lands into public ownership, CESP now advocates a park design that almost completely precludes any access to the water for active recreation. There's much more about this on my website, at www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/ESP.html. The planning timeline can be found at


And there's a chart of the area in question at


Take a quick look at the chart. The big almost-square area with the words "Berkeley Yacht Hbr" over it is called "the meadow" and will become part of the Eastshore State Park. An ideal boathouse site would be near the northwest corner of the meadow, almost across the street from the Radisson Hotel. This would provide a launch site in the most protected part of the cove, and it's close to the existing Radisson hotel and the long hilly spectator area of Cesar Chavez Park. It would be hard to find a better venue for large-scale dragon boat events.

But the meadow is sacred turf to CESP, and allowing a facility there will require a major concession on their part. On the other hand, the latest draft of the new "Marina Plan and Waterfront Overview" generated by the City of Berkeley shows a possible boathouse very close to this location. So anything is possible.

The strip of land between the freeway and the cove, north of the meadow, is also part of the park (except for the extreme north end). This is where pumpkins and Christmas trees are sold now. Some people don't want anything blocking the view of the water from the freeway, others think that blocking the view of the freeway from the water would be a good thing. More about this on my website.

The trapezoidal-shaped land north of Gilman and south of the racetrack oval is outside the park. That's where the hotel development will go, along with a major retail center intended to compete with 4th street. There's also talk of a ferry dock at the foot of Gilman, and moving the Amtrak station from U. Ave. to Gilman to be near the ferry. So this could become very high-priced commercial real estate a decade from now, and a great spot for a boathouse and club/training facility.

The lead time for all this is pretty long, but the money's in the pipeline and the results could be spectacular. Want to get involved? Here's what you can do:

1) See if there's any interest in this among your club or team members. If there is, sketch out your dream facility, and spec out as much of the detail as you can this far in advance. State Parks just might be in a position to throw some serious money at this. Note that a public service component is an important element for state funding, but this is almost always compatible with the goals of paddling and rowing clubs.

2) Walk the site and see if you can come up with more ideas. Better yet, if you and some other paddlers would like to come out for a sailing tour of the site, I can probably get some of the other Waterfront Commissioners, and maybe even a park planner or two, on the boat also.

3) If you are in a position to represent an organization, attend the stakeholders meetings . Call Sigalle Rosner at 1-888-988-7275 to reserve a spot at the table.

4) Attend the public workshops! They begin early this spring, see the timeline referenced above.

More background material, in the form of a fictional depiction of what could happen at the public workshops, appears in the February issue of the local sailing magazine "Latitude 38," p. 150.

Please forward this email, and post to the various lists.

Thank you,

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