Open Letter #14
Update on the Eastshore State Park
An Open letter to the Paddling, Rowing, Windsurfing and Sailing Communities
Previous open letters are archived at www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/EastshoreStatePark/OpenLetters/.
(These letters represent my personal opinion and are not necessarily the position of the Berkeley Waterfront Commission. The Commission's official recommendations for the Eastshore State Park can be found at www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/EastshoreStatePark/Resolution-020313.html.)
Two meetings to report on, and a few more upcoming dates to announce:
Despite the large hall, there was surprisingly light attendance at the April 30 public hearing. The combined Berkeley Waterfront Commission, Parks and Rec Commission, and City Council heard from all 59 speakers - which must have been just about everyone present in the Berkeley Community Theatre that night. We ran out of time to discuss the issues or take action, so the meeting has been continued to Tuesday May 7, 5-7 pm at the Council Chambers in the Old City Hall (on MLK between Addison and Alston).
No additional public comment is on the agenda. Very little of the comments last week supported any kind of water-borne activity, and now that the official window for providing public input is closed there is very little opportunity to correct that last impression.
The next day, Wednesday May 8, is a Waterfront Commission meeting at Hs. Lordships restaurant in the Marina. Eastshore State Park is back on an otherwise fairly light agenda, and public commentary is welcome. Then the Council will have one last chance to act on the issue on May14.
Meanwhile, the Eastshore State Park planning team tipped a few more cards on Saturday morning.
This was at a "round table" meeting called by outgoing State Assembly representative Dion Aroner, and also attended by Loni Hancock and Tom Bates (who announced later that day that he will run for Mayor of Berkeley this fall).
This was another by-invitation-only stakeholders meeting, called on very short notice. The stated goal was to build some consensus in a less formal environment, but it's not clear if that was actually the result.
Don Neuwirth, representing the planning team, described probable differences between the "Concept Plan" of March 8 and the "Draft General Plan" that will be completed in mid-June. To summarize:
1) No boating facility of any kind on the Berkeley Meadow. This eliminates the proposed water access that has been shown for the NW corner of the Meadow on the Concept Plan.
2) No new parking on the meadow, relying instead on using the existing gravel parking area on the City's property along the east side of Marina Blvd. (the road that runs along the west side of the Meadow). The new plan will, however, retain a narrow perimeter of paths and landscaping around the edges of the Meadow, and will still include the proposed "softening" of the rip-rap shoreline along the Meadow's northern edge described in the Concept Plan.
This probably means that if there really are any harrier nests in the NW corner of the Meadow, they will be paved or landscaped out of existence anyway. The plan will still call for "softening" of the north edge of the Meadow (where it's all rock) and "hardening" of the shoreline along the North Basin Strip (where it's already becoming much more beach-like.)
For the visuals, see my low-tide photos of the two areas at
(scroll down about 2/3 of the way to the bottom of the page).
This is a spectacularly backwards allocation of uses, but probably inevitable given the politics - and the fact that every square inch of the Meadow is once again sacred turf. What makes this even more ironic is the fact that a small boat launch facility could easily be placed in the corner of the Meadow so that its footprint falls only on land that is already paved, i.e. the existing Virginia Street extension.
3) The boating facility on the North Basin Strip is still in the plan, but it will probably not be allowed to operate from October through May in deference to the migrating ducks. This leaves only four months of operation: June, July, August and September.
This is a good deal less than I had anticipated when I had suggested that seasonal operating restrictions might be appropriate. The actual extent and timing of these seasonal operating restrictions will, in theory, be worked out in accordance with some kind of scientific evaluation of the likely effects of kayaking and other paddle and sailing activities on the duck habitat. In practice, I fear that the politics are inseparable from the analysis.
It is always worth noting that in most places where bird habitat is an issue, it seems to be sufficient to ban powerboats and jetskis. Berkeley Aquatic Park is a nearby example, where we have what is perceived to be a critical bird habitat. Waterskiing is only allowed for five months of the year, but rowing, paddling and sailing are unrestricted. It seems to me that there's much more breathing room in the much wider North Sailing Basin, so if anything, muscle-powered boating should have even less impact on birds there than it does in Aquatic Park.
One possible outcome is that the operating restrictions will only apply to structured programs, and that individual launches will be unaffected. Another ray of hope is that dragon boat racing was specifically mentioned as an appropriate summer activity that could operate from the proposed boathouse on the North Basin Strip.
4) Three to five playing fields on the Albany Plateau. The fields will be unlighted.
Doug Fielding, a very effective sports field advocate, is pushing hard for more. Sierra et al want none. I tend to line up with Doug. As paddlers, rowers and sailors we may not have any direct interest in waterfront playing fields, but this is a situation where one active use makes other non-conflicting active uses more likely. So it is probably in our interest to support Doug's efforts to use a few more of the 260 acres of land in this park for playing fields (a soccer field needs about two acres).
5) No playing fields on the North Basin Strip or the Brickyard.
Playing fields on part of the North Basin Strip could actually work out very well. There would very likely be a cross-over value between field sports and water-related activities at the boat launch facility, if the two are happening in close proximity to each other. So far, the various interest groups at the table have had trouble recognizing the potential for this kind of positive synergy.
6) Albany neck and bulb will be planned as per the Albany Waterfront Plan.
This means an end to off-leash dogs on the Bulb and Beach, and relatively strict controls on the free-form art on the Bulb. It also means no vehicular access to any part of the neck or bulb, which rules out water access from the bulb for windsurfers and kayaks.
It was pointed out that the Albany plan was finished in '95, long before the homeless population was mostly evicted in '99 and before people began to use the Bulb the way they do today. A good case was made for the Albany plan being hopelessly obsolete as an expression of public policy.
Summary: The planning team seems to be moving in a direction that takes it further away from water access and active water-related recreation.
It's an election year, and all sides are trying to wrap themselves in the Sierra Club flag. Maybe there's a strategy here that will work, if we can tap into a backlash. Nothing that implies any kind of anti-environmentalism, but rather a more thoughtful and long-term environmentalist view that relies more on stewardship, responsible access and youth.
The way to make this happen is to make our opinions known "early and often" to both sides of the Berkeley Mayoral campaign, as well as to all players on the State and regional level. These include the East Bay Regional Park District, the Coastal Conservancy, the California Parks Commission and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
If we can get them vying to be "more access-friendly than thou" instead of "greener than thou," then we'll have a chance of saving the waterfront for people who like to float on the water instead of just look at it. Which, in the long run, is the best way to save the waterfront for everyone - including the ducks.
Contact information and links to the Berkeley City Council can be found at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/citycouncil/#elected.
The planning consultants can be reached at www.EastshoreStatePark.org.