Open Letter #15

Update on the Eastshore State Park
August 13 2002

An Open letter to the Paddling, Rowing, Windsurfing and Sailing Communities

Previous open letters are archived at

(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

After a lull in the action during June and July, the planning process for the Eastshore State Park is drawing to a close. The Preliminary General Plan is now complete, and we only have one more workshop at which to add comments and suggestions to the public record.

Much to the credit of the planning team, the result of the process is a Plan that includes a reasonable emphasis on active recreational uses.

That is, the Plan is "balanced" in a land-lubberly sense: If you don't have any real appreciation for the special value of water- borne recreation and the unique role that water access plays In defining a waterfront, then the Plan seems to strike a pretty good balance between the various interest groups and political forces that pulled the Plan in different directions. It includes new playing fields, retains the Pt. Isabel off-leash dog areas, and "hardens" the waters edge in some places while "naturalizing" it in others. As expected, the plan includes large areas of protected habitat preserve.

The Plan also includes a boathouse and launch facility of some sort in the North Sailing Basin. This facility will be for non- motorized watercraft only. If there are additional seasonal operating restrictions due to diving duck habitat, they will most likely be set by the California Department of Fish and Game.

This is good news. The Sierra Club has been claiming that seven months of non-operation - even for non-motorized small craft - would be necessary to protect the rafts of diving ducks. This might bring the viability of the boathouse into question. But Fish and Game is much less likely to go with such a severe restriction, and at worst we might have to observe an access channel or partial closer of the North Sailing Basin during the most sensitive months. There is reason to be optimistic, and to expect these restrictions, if any, to be established on the basis of science rather than politics.

What the water-borne community will not get is the preferred location for smooth-water launch, on the northwest corner of the Meadow. The Meadow is treated as 100% sacred turf, so the facility that had been shown on earlier drafts is now gone from the Plan. Also, the ideal sailboard access point on the south side of the Albany Bulb is not in the Plan. Instead there might be a launch site part-way out on the Albany Neck, but vehicular access is still an unresolved issue.

On the other hand, if the proposed boathouse is done right, it could become a very active center for various forms of paddling, rowing, and small boat sailing. The organizational and programmatic structure is key: Non-profit clubs should be encouraged over commercial operations, and storage of cooperatively owned equipment has to be accommodated so that the facilities serve a broader user base than the people who already own their own equipment. At the present level of detail, the programmatic design is not really addressed in the Plan.

One controversial feature of the boathouse proposed in the Plan is a 40-bed hostel, along the lines of suggestions made by the Water Trail advocates. Presumably there will be some mechanism for reserving some of these beds for people arriving by kayak or other muscle or wind propelled vessel. While there is resistance to anything resembling a hotel in the park, the overriding advantage is that it provides a legitimate 24-hour presence and has a huge positive effect on security. This is essential if this area of the park is to be usable after hours, whether by kayakers and hostel guests or by any other users.

Despite large areas of conservation and preservation, the Sierra Club and other park advocates are not happy with the recreational components of the Plan. There will be continuing pressure to remove some of these elements as the park is developed, so It is important that we continue to lobby for facilities and policies that support non-motorized water-borne recreation. The Sierra Club endorsement is very important in the upcoming Berkeley Mayoral and Council elections, and the Sierra Club seems to exercising a disproportionate amount of power.

Last week the Board of Directors of the East Bay Regional Park District approved the Preliminary General Plan, but with some important additional resolutions:

1) They believe it should be classified as a park, and not as a recreation area. This is a point of honor for a lot of the park advocates who have been working explicitly for a "park" rather than a "recreation area" for many years. However, the mix of uses clearly points to classification as a recreation area (with habitat preserves designated within it). This is probably just a symbolic issue, but there is also a possibility that designation of the "park unit" as "park" v. "recreation area" will have a significant effect on use priorities in the future. The problem, of course, is that Eastshore State Park is really far to big and varied for any single designation to apply everywhere. The "Eastshore State Park Recreation Area" might be the name and designation we end up with.

2) The State should run the park. East Bay Regional Park District can be expected to remove itself from the loop entirely. This is probably good for recreational priorities in general, but bad for the off-leash dog advocates. State Park dog policies are far more restrictive than those of EBRPD.

3) There was no consensus on playing fields, with the Board evenly split over the fields proposed for the Albany Plateau. Even though we might believe that water-related sports are both more appropriate and more economical than playing fields on the waterfront, the presences of fields will probably have a powerful and positive synergistic effect; playing fields will bring kids to the water where they will see water-related activites, and this will ultimately help track more young people into these activities. The EBRPD Board was ambivalent, but we should support playing fields on the waterfront.

4) Point Isabel (including North Point Isabel) should be the only off-leash dog areas.

The big struggles will continue to be over off-leash dogs and ad-hoc art on the Albany Bulb. This is one area where the Plan gets it seriously wrong, and so does the EBRPD Board. "Let it Be," the new organization advocating a hands-off status quo approach to the Bulb, has the right approach: Keep the art, allow off-leash, and "save the rebar."

In other East Bay waterfront news, we now have a dragon boat in the Berkeley Marina. It's on loan from California Dragon Boat Association, and with luck this will be the beginning of a permanent dragon boat and outrigger program operating out of Berkeley (and possibly migrating to the North Sailing Basin when the facilities there come on line). Let me know if you want to get involved.

There are also interesting things happening with the Water Transit Authority and the possibility of a Berkeley Ferry.

Please try to attend one of the upcoming meetings - I'll see you there.

Detailed comments on the Preliminary General Plan for the Eastshore State Park can be found at m-General-Plan.html

Next public workshop: Thursday August 15, 7 pm, Hs. Lordships Restaurant, Berkeley Marina.

Local Briefing to Berkeley City Council and Commissions: Wednesday August 21, 7 pm, Hs. Lordships Restaurant, Berkeley Marina.

Last date for submitting written comments to the State Parks Commission: August 28.

Scheduled completion of the Plan: October 2002.

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission 510-540-7968

Contact information and links to the Berkeley City Council can be found at

The planning consultants can be reached at

The current "Preferred Park Concept Plan" can be found here or follow the link from my page at