Open Letter #19

The Berkeley Waterfront Plan

February 11 2003

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

Previous open letters are archived at

More politics, more milestones.

Once again I would like to thank all the paddlers, rowers and sailors who came to the Waterfront Commission meeting on January 8 to put in a good word for water access in the Marina Master Plan. Especially Richard Blum - one of the other Commissioners mentioned to me later that Richard's comments turned her around, and she's now in favor of the new access location. (I had assumed that the role of kayaks in youth programs was widely known, but this was apparently all new information to her!) If we can continue to show up in those numbers, and keep getting minds to open to the possibilities, then water access advocacy might finally be taken seriously.

And more thanks to the people who took the time to write to the Planning Commission in advance of the meeting on January 22. It's worth taking a look at the online agenda for that meeting to see the list of letter-writers: 2.htm

There's good news and bad news to report from that meeting. The good news: the Planning Commission did not find that the Marina Plan (which at that time included the proposed access for non-motorized boats from Cesar Chavez Park on the west side of the North Sailing Basin) to be inconsistent with the General Plan. Strictly speaking this was all we needed from the Planning Commission, now it goes back to the Waterfront Commission on February 19 and the City Council after that.

The bad news is that the Planning Commission was not particularly supportive of the concept of boating in the North Sailing Basin. Despite the stack of letters in their packets, they seemed to be more persuaded by the two Sierra Club people who spoke at the meeting - or more likely, they have been lobbied hard by the "no-use" side. Or for whatever reason, Planning Commissioners don't understand the value of what we do on the water.

In an attempt to compromise as much as possible and still keep some access in the plan, here is the wording I've suggested to the planning staff:

The existing document, in Section III, Principle #3, includes part C: "Preserve the areas devoted to marine operations and recreational activities and expand to new areas where feasible."

Suggest that we add a seventh item to the six items already listed under this category:

"Consider a new access point for non-motorized watercraft along the east shore of Cesar Chavez Park. Planning for this project shall be coordinated with Eastshore State Park, the Waterfront Specific Plan and the North Waterfront (Cesar Chavez Park) Plan. Such a project shall not be undertaken without detailed design and environmental review."

Along with these new words in the Marina Plan text, the dock shown on the map will probably go away, replaced with a schematic mark indicating "non-motorized boating access" but nothing specific shown. The dock was schematic anyway, so this is really no great concession.

The wording is intended to address all the concerns of the people claiming to represent the Sierra Club, and with any luck it will become part of the staff recommendation to the Waterfront Commission, and then become a Council Recommendation after the Waterfront Commission meeting on the 19th. Unfortunately, some people are trying very hard to have all new water access points removed from the plan, and would like to see the North Basis Strip boathouse in the ESP plan removed as well.

Never mind that water-borne recreation on the North Sailing Basin is consistent with the 1986 Waterfront Specific Plan, the Eastshore State Park General Plan, the workshop- driven Marina Plan draft, and even the new BCDC policy guidelines for shoreline parks. Water access is not shown in the 1979 North Waterfront Plan, and this is the official basis for certain parties to object to it now.

Digging a little deeper, I get the impression that the migrating duck habitat issue is not really what is driving this. Certainly the scientific data is flimsy at best. See for example my letter to Dept. of Fish and Game at (and thanks to Marceline Therrien for doing the legwork to uncover the way the science has been misrepresented here.)

So I think the real problem that people are having with kayaks, canoes and small sailboats is one of aesthetics. There is a "park vision" that doesn't allow for people floating on the water, or outriggers pulled up on the beach, or sails spread out on the grass, or parked cars with roof racks. Ultimately these intangible negative reactions will be much more difficult to counter than the relatively simple technical issue of whether kayaks do or don't disrupt habitat in any significant way.

(And by the way, did you know that all five species of diving ducks on the Pacific flyway are hunted? This according to the Ducks Unlimited website at

More waterfront politics: Tom Bates (new Mayor of Berkeley) has taken me off the Waterfront Commission (I was a Shirley Dean appointee). This was expected, as Tom's campaign was supported by the Sierra Club and he has been an active member of CESP. No hate-mail to Tom, please. He had to bow to political forces, and we still need to work with him on access projects. I think he will eventually come around to our side on the water access issues, but it will take time and work.

I was about to term out as Chair anyway, but unfortunately my replacement on the Commission, Larry Orman, will very likely swing a vote from pro-water access to the current Sierra Club/CESP party line. We probably still have a slim majority, especially after our great showing last month, but more voices at the meeting on February 19th certainly won't hurt.

The big lobbying target right now is the Berkeley City Council. They will vote the new Marina Plan up or down, with or without modifications, sometime next month. Email addresses follow. Send a copy to the City Clerk too, so it goes on the public record.

Here is the email list for the Berkeley City Council:

And Waterfront Commission:

And staff for Planning dept. and Parks and Rec:

For more background, read the letters from the Sierra Club and others on under "Marina Plan." These include a "spirited debate" between myself and Norman La Force. If you don't know what to say in your email to the City Council, those letters should give you some ideas. Stay calm, be polite.

Let's hope that some day we can all spend a lot more time on the water and a lot less time in meetings and public hearings. But for now, a little work on the planning process will make a big difference in the character of the Berkeley waterfront for years to come.

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