Open Letter #20

The Berkeley Waterfront Plan

July 3 2003

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

Previous open letters are archived at

Two critical dates approach for the future of the Berkeley Waterfront:

Tuesday July 8, 7 pm, Berkeley City Council Chambers: Berkeley City Council, probable approval of the Marina Master Plan.

Wednesday, July 9: 2:30-4:30 pm, CalTrans offices, 111 Grand Ave., Oakland (but check for changes): Bay Bridge East Span Seismic Safety Project, Biological Mitigation Program, Inter-agency Review Group.


First, the Marina Master Plan and the west side of the North Sailing Basin:

The Berkeley Marina Master Plan is finally going to the City Council for probable approval on Tuesday July 8. This is the result of more than four years of planning, three public workshops, and probably $500,000 in consulting fees and staff time. After all that, new water access for kayaks, canoes and small sailboats Is still in the plan, but just barely, having been degraded to "conduct a study."

Earlier versions of the Marian Master Plan, following the results of several previous public planning efforts, have all called for significant new access for wind and muscle-propelled boats.

The 1979 North Waterfront (Cesar Chavez) Park Plan did not address the issue of water access, instead focusing entirely on land-bound uses.

But the 1986 Waterfront Specific Plan, which is still in effect, contains the following wording:

"Encourage sheltered water sports such as small boat launching and mooring (sailing, rowing,paddle, and sail-boating), with rentals to private organizations for necessary support facilities along the eastern shore of North Waterfront Park"

This priority was re-affirmed and strengthened during the Marina Master Plan public hearings of 1998-1999, and has been reflected in various drafts of the Plan which showed two new water access points near the south-west corner of the North Sailing Basin.

The Eastshore State Park General Plan, also the result of a long public process, continues to assess the North Sailing Basin as the most appropriate area in the park for water-borne recreation. The ESP General Plan now shows a boating facility serving this body of water from the ESP land on the east side of the basin.

But in the early months of 2003, under pressure from the Sierra Club, the water access improvements have been degraded to "collaborate with management of the Eastshore State Park on a study" This is well understood, in the context of current financial constraints, to be equivalent to killing off this part of the plan. Virtually every other element of the Marina Master Plan contains direct recommendations to implement policies, build improvements, or support various land and water uses. This feature alone is reduced to "a study" to be conducted in conjunction with an agency that does not yet exist in any viable form, and may not be supported by sufficient funding for many years.

Is there any merit to the Sierra Club's objection to paddling and sailing on the North Sailing Basin?

None has been demonstrated to date. Both the Eastshore State Park Resource Inventory and the Water Transit Authority EIR failed to identify the North Sailing Basin as having any particular importance to migrating waterfowl, especially compared to much larger habitat areas in the North and South Bay. Furthermore, the evidence of disruption by kayaks and other small wind and human-powered watercraft cited by the Sierra Club seems to apply to nesting situations, which is not the case here.

Not only that, but actual bird population counts in the most applicable habitat areas studied seem to have been rising steadily. See especially the recent Alcatraz study by the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and the 1992 survey report by Korschgen and Dahlgren.

These are two of the most frequently cited references intended to support the claim that non-motorized boating is damaging to habitat. In the first study, the "disrupted" population of Brandt's cormorants was at an all-time high in 2002, the last year for which data is available. The second study surveys a large number of sites, but at the one most applicable to non-motorized disturbance of non-nesting habitat (Brent reservoir near London), the reservoir "enjoyed its highest bird count ever in 1977 despite the doom saying."

So it appears that even the evidence cited by those opposed to water-borne recreation, if examined in any detail, does not support the conclusion that it is significantly damaging to habitat. "Disruption" per se is easy to validate, but data that demonstrates long-term negative effects on bird population, at least for situations similar to the North Sailing Basin, seems to be extremely elusive.

In the absence of hard data for the site in question, the negative effect of wind and muscle-powered boating on the birds using this body of water has to be seen as conjectural. It is driven by park advocacy politics and an overly restrictive sense of aesthetics that is not necessarily representative of the wider base of waterfront users.

We should certainly err on the side of caution when environmental issues are stake. But the Marina Master Plan as now written has it backwards: It calls for increased human activity in the South Sailing Basin, which is shoaling rapidly and well on its way to becoming a salt marsh, while closing access to the deeper and better protected North Sailing Basin, the best body of water on our shoreline for small boats and entry level water-related recreation.

Taking the long view, there are important environmental reasons to encourage non-motorized water-borne recreation. Kayakers, rowers, and small boat sailors are the core breeding ground for the most dedicated stewards of the Bay and the shoreline. The North Sailing Basin is unique in its suitability for introducing the youth of Berkeley to the importance of the marine ecosystem and to the sense of place provided by directly experiencing the waters of San Francisco Bay.

We have this resource right at our doorstep; it is poor environmental policy to limit access for new users, and poor transportation policy to send current users traveling elsewhere to find comparable recreational opportunities.

In economic terms, water-borne recreation also offers important opportunities. Projects funded by California Dept. of Boating and Waterways (using marine fuel tax money) have the potential to introduce significant recreational programs to the marina that do not rely on city resources. The Marina Fund is isolated from the City's general fund, and is relatively solvent. And, unlike playing fields, the water surface does not need to be purchased, graded, landscaped, maintained, lighted or fenced. The City is ignoring a recreational windfall if it removes water-borne recreation in the North Sailing Basin from the Marina Master Plan.

To summarize the planning history for water access to the North Sailing Basin:

  1. The 1979 North Waterfront (Cesar Chavez Park) Plan makes no mention of boating facilities one way or the other.
  2. The 1986 Waterfront Specific Plan (still in effect) specifically calls for facilities for sailing, rowing, paddling and small craft rentals along the east shore of Ceasar Chavez Park, promoting recreational water access to the North Sailing Basin.
  3. The 1998 -1999 public hearings for the Marina Plan call for facilities for non-motorized boating at the site in question, and these were incorporated into early drafts of the Marina Master Plan.
  4. The recently adopted 2002 Eastshore State Park General Plan calls for non-motorized boating on the North Sailing Basin, but accessed from the Eastshore State Park side of this body of water.
  5. The 2002 BCDC policy calls for prioritizing new facilities for non-motorized boating where feasible.
  6. In early 2003 the Waterfront Commission drops water access to the North Sailing Basin from the Marina Plan, downgrading this element to "a study."

The important point here is that every public planning process since 1979 has identified water access for small non-motorized boats as a high priority.

It was entirely inappropriate to remove this element from the Marina Plan without a new public process to justify this policy reversal. In short, it was lobbying from a small and probably non-representative segment of the Sierra Club which has subverted the public process, and removed the possibility of new water access from the part of our waterfront that is most suitable for this use.

If there are any further changes to the Marina Master Plan, they should be in the direction of stronger support for non-motorized boating. It is never too late to write to the Berkeley City Councilmembers of your choice to express your concerns on the Marina Master Plan.


Meanwhile, on the east side of the North Sailing Basin, the Eastshore State Park General Plan as adopted by State Parks last fall shows a boating facility to support non- motorized watercraft. This is a long lead-time project, but all the rules have suddenly changed by CalTrans and the Bay Bridge project.

It seems that the new Bay Bridge will destroy about ten acres of eelgrass, and the North Sailing Basin has been selected as the best place to recreate this habitat for environmental mitigation.

Ten acres of eelgrass should be able to coexist nicely with non-motorized boating in a body of water that is 70- 100 acres in size (depending on how we measure the boundaries). However, the proposed location, after careful analysis of bottom composition and wave energy, appears to be right in front of the proposed site for boating access.

Clearly some major adjustments will have to be made to the Eastshore State Park Plan if the CalTrans plan is followed. The danger is that the factions within the Sierra Club that would rather minimize water-borne recreation on the waterfront will use the eelgrass mitigation project as an excuse to drop water access entirely from the Eastshore State Park.

This would be a major loss of access. On the other hand, the CalTrans Bay Bridge project is the deepest pocket in town right now, and there is no reason to believe that CalTrans does not want to cooperate with recreational interests and preserve the uses called for in the ESP Plan. Our goal should be to persuade CalTrans to include an access point in their mitigation plans.

What we need to do is make sure that the CalTrans bridge project is aware of the small craft lobby, if we can call ourselves that. In budgetary terms they are the 800 pound gorilla on the waterfront, and it is important that we work with them.

Their next meeting is on Wednesday July 9. I will be out of town, but we need to be represented there. Please email for details if you think you can attend.


Another strategy we can pursue is to develop more boating activity in the Marina using existing facilities. It has been a year since the first dragon boat came to Berkeley, using space made available by the Berkeley Marina for free on an inside tie at N-dock. The site is popular with several CDBA teams, and we will be involving a Berkeley High team in the fall. Eventually this can grow into a major canoe/kayak/outrigger/rowing club with a strong public access component, and I encourage other interested paddlers and rowers who might be interested in bringing in additional boat types.


I am back on the Waterfront Commission as Gordon Wozniak's appointee. There is no July meeting, but the next Waterfront Commission is on August 13. Assuming that the Marina Master Plan passes the Council as written, we will need continuing pressure to insure that the City does in fact go ahead with "the study" that will eventually result in better access to the Berkeley waterfront.

Let's hope we can all spend more time paddling and sailing and less time typing and sitting in meetings in the near future.


Links and contacts of interest:

Point Reyes Bird Observatory newsletter (reporting cormorant disturbance near Alcatraz, see bottom of page 3):

The 1992 Korschgen and Dahlgren survey paper:

CalTrans Bay Bridge off-site mitigation. See the reports on "off-site mitigation" dated May 14. One of them includes a facsimile of the attendance sheet, with useful contact numbers and email addresses:

Eastshore State Park website:

The Berkeley Waterfront website:

Berkeley dragon boat teams:

Email to the Berkeley City Council:


Paul Kamen
Berkeley Waterfront Commission 510-540-7968