Open Letter #16

Update on the Eastshore State Park
November 29 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

First the important date: Friday, December 6, 2002. 9:30 AM in the "Islands Ballroom" of the Radisson Hotel in the Berkeley Marina.

This is the when we finally get to hear from the "owners" of the Eastshore State Park, the California State Park and Recreation Commission. And, the Commission will get to hear from us. The purpose of the meeting is to hear public comments and then accept, modify, or reject the Preliminary General Plan for the Eastshore State Park.

There's good news and bad news for paddlers, rowers and sailors: The good news is that at least a minimal level of new facilities and improvements to support non-motorized boating remain in the plan. The bad news is that these facilities are increasingly threatened by political forces that seem to oppose almost any form of active recreation in or around the new park.

The most important water access element of the General Plan is the proposed boathouse on the North Basin Strip. If the current General Plan is followed, this could become a facility on the scale of the Jack London Square Aquatic Center. In one scenario, Cal Adventures, the recreational arm U.C. Berkeley, would be the master tenant of this facility. They already run a successful sailing, kayaking and windsurfing program in the South Sailing Basin, and they are good at obtaining and managing large grants from Cal Boating and other sources. Sub-tenants such as Cal Sailing Club, a rowing club, a dragon boat team and/or youth program, and one or more kayaking clubs would operate autonomously within this facility, sharing meeting rooms and launch facilities but maintaining their own boat storage and maintenance areas.

More good news which might have a significant positive impact on the prospects for the boathouse is the recent purchase by East Bay Regional Park District of about 11 acres of land along the North Basin shoreline from Gilman Street south to the State Park boundary. This is the race track trailer parking and hay storage area south of the stables. It will almost certainly be used for playing fields, and will set the stage for various forms of active recreation. Our job is to make sure that water-borne recreation is included.

If it is, there is potential for a very powerful synergy between playing fields and boats: Kids who come down to the waterfront for a game or a practice will get their first close look at kayaks, canoes and small sailboats in motion. This could create a wide pipeline carrying many new participants into wind and muscle-propelled watercraft - and ultimately create a broader base of support for all of the advocacy organizations concerned with the future of the Bay and its wildlife. Ironically, some of these organizations seem to be the ones most opposed to these forms of recreation.

How is the boathouse being threatened? New wording in the General Plan puts the burden of proof squarely on the boating facility:

Page III-76, Section c. North Basin

"Minimize disturbance to the large rafts of wintering ducks and other water birds in the North Basin. Prior to constructing proposed water access improvements on the North Basin Strip, consult with appropriate resource agencies to conduct necessary environmental studies to establish management guidelines for boating activities. The guidelines may include measures such as partial or full closures of the North Basin to boating during the rafting season (generally October through April), restrictions on the types or numbers of watercraft and appropriate activities that will be permitted based on wildlife needs..."

The problem is that funding might not be available for a facility that can't operate all year. And we don't know who the "appropriate resource agencies" might be, and how politicized their decision might become.

In most situations where a habitat might be threatened by boating activity, it is considered sufficient to ban the jetskis and water-skiers and other high-powered powerboats, especially those with 2-stroke engines. Sometimes an area is specified as "no wake," and sometimes powered vessels of all kinds are banned. Consider Berkeley Aquatic Park, for example, where a body of water far more constricted than the North Sailing Basin is protected by banning powerboats during the bird migration season. Paddle and oar-propelled boats use Aquatic Park year round, with no known ill effects on the bird habitat.

Also consider the South Sailing Basin, wintertime host to rafts of migrating birds similar to those in the North Sailing Basin, despite the presence of several year-round boating programs.

From these nearby examples it would appear that muscle and wind propelled boating is not a problem.

What we need to ask of the State Parks Commission is that the impact of paddles, oars and sails be considered in an even-handed way, and in the context of the large areas to the north and south (Emeryville Crescent, Albany mudflats, Brooks Island and surrounding waters) that will remain fully protected.

If an objective and scientific analysis shows that the North Sailing Basin is in fact a unique habitat, and that paddles, oars and sails would do significant harm to this habitat, then seasonal and/or geographic restrictions on boating operations are perfectly reasonable. These restrictions might take the form of marking off the south half of the North Sailing Basin during the bird migration seasons as a no-entry zone, similar to the approach used in Lake Merritt. But the viability of the boathouse project should not depend on the proven absence of relatively small negative impacts when similar impacts do not prevent similar uses elsewhere, and especially not when there are practical ways to eliminate these impacts.

That is why it might be very important to be present on Friday morning, December 6, at the Berkeley Marina Radisson. Equally important, send a note to the State Parks Commission:

Robin E. Ettinger
California Department of Parks & Recreation
Northern Service Center
1 Capitol Mall, Suite 500
Sacramento, CA 95814

All we need to do is show that there is popular support for non-motorized boating, and that there are people who believe that the value of water-borne access in an urban setting justifies a more balanced approach to habitat protection.

One organization that appears to be fighting the (mostly) good fight is Albany Let it Be Their main focus is to retain off-leash dogs on the Albany Bulb and Beach, and ad-hoc art on at least some areas of the Albany Bulb. Although they have opposed the very best ever sailboard location on the SE tip of the Bulb, their plan now allows for launch facilities either immediately to the north or south of the Albany Beach, very close to a planned parking area.

For a number of reasons, I think that Let It Be's agenda is going to prevail. Unless State Parks has some big surprises, we will never see the vehicular access to the Bulb that we need for the best windsurfer access. But the sites near the beach really aren't that bad. So, even if we don't agree with Let It Be's position on cars and parking on the Bulb, we will probably end up with much better access in the long run if we support Let It Be in their uphill struggle for dogs and art in a State Park.

There's significant progress to report in another area: Two dragon boat teams are now operating out of the Berkeley Marina, with a boat owned by the California Dragon Boat Association berthed at N-dock.

Saturday is the "serious" weekly race practice, and Sunday is the recreational "cruise" practice. Sunday especially is a perfect opportunity to check out one of these beasts for the first time, and to bring friends or crew prospects. There have been empty seats and extra paddles every week. 9:30 at N-dock, Sunday morning, Berkeley Marina. Details at

Along these same lines, there is plenty of room on the N-dock inside tie for a variety of paddle craft, and berthing would probably be free as long as they are cooperatively owned by an organization with a strong public service component. It would be wonderful to have an outrigger or kayak or open water rowing club form around the nucleus of this first dragon boat.

Such an organization might (or might not) migrate to the boathouse in the Eastshore State Park when and if if becomes a reality. At least the funding source, marine fuel tax, is relatively secure and isolated from the State's economic cycles, so a five year lead time is not a bad guess.

The day before the meeting, Thursday December 5, the State Parks Commissioners are planning a site tour. There is no call for public comment during the tour, but it does suggest an opportunity to be seen, an opportunity which some advocacy groups plan to take advantage of.

There's a +7 ft. tide at noon that day so the Commissioners will miss the usual mudflat views. But the tide will also make it easy to paddle in close around the waterfront trying to make eye contact. The tour starts at 1:00 PM at the Emeryville Crescent and works north from there.

The current Preliminary General Plan for the Eastshore State Park can be found at

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