Open Letter #6

Yet another open letter to the dragon boat, outrigger, and open water rowing communities of San Francisco Bay

From: Paul Kamen, Berkeley Waterfront Commission

Re: Update on the Eastshore State Park, and what it means for paddlers, rowers, windsurfers, and small boat sailors.

August 6 2001

There's little of substance to report since the "workshops" of April and May. If you look at the official Eastshore State Park website at and click on the calendar, you'll see nothing but blank spaces for June, July, August, and September.

Despite this, the consultants promise that land use planning is underway, and workshops will resume in September. With any luck they'll be a little more interactive than the presentation-and-comment sessions held to date.

As originally scheduled, the consulting team went ahead with their initial recommendation for "unit classification" of the Eastshore State Park.

What is "unit classification?"

In the eyes of the California Department of Parks, the entire Eastshore State Park, from the Bay Bridge to Richmond, is a single "unit" that needs to be classified according to the kinds of activities that it will support. The range of options appears to have been narrowed down to "State Park" or "State Recreation Area." See for the full text of the State statute.

Both classifications allow mostly the same kinds of activities, although the two classifications carry different guidelines and priorities. For example, "boating" is given as an example of a supported activity in a state recreation area, but not in a state park.

Remember, however, that to the California Dept. of Parks, "boating" probably means a double-wide launching ramp with SUVs launching fish boats and ski boats with twin 150 HP 2-stroke engines. That's pretty far off the map for the Berkeley Waterfront, but other activities involving more appropriate non-motorized uses of the water will have a much easier time finding state support under "recreation area" than under "park" classification.

Both classifications allow for large environmentally sensitive areas to be designated as "preserves," and human access in these areas can be appropriately restricted.

In June 2001, the ESP planning consultants recommended classification as "Park." However It was reported at the July 18 CESP meeting that Rusty Areias, head of California Dept. of Parks, favors "Recreation Area." Some quick lobbying on the part of CESP seems to have delayed any decision, although the State Parks Commission is currently down by several members and does not have the required quorum to finalize this decision anyway.

What is at stake here?

We'll end up with a park that's much more friendly to paddlers, rowers, windsurfers, and sailors if the designation is "Recreation Area." This does not mean that we'll have SUVs launching boats with big 2-stroke outboards. The "Recreation Area" designation will make it more likely that State Parks would help fund facilities to support the various forms of non-motorized water-related recreation that are particularly appropriate for the North Sailing Basin.

Even without any funding, "recreation area" classification will make it much easier to designate the best locations for kayak, rowing boat, outrigger, dragon boat, and windsurfer operations to be based, with some chance of those locations actually being reserved for those uses in the final plan. Launch, storage, repair facilities and parking could also depend on this classification.

Perhaps the real issue is how we think of active outdoor recreation: Is it something that we should have available at our doorstep, or is it something that we should drive a great distance to find?

When a recreational resource exists within such a densely populated region as the East Bay, there is an environmental imperative to use at least some of this resource for relatively intense recreational uses that take advantage of the site's unique properties.

I think of air quality, transportation infrastructure, and sprawled land use. Emphasis on local recreation in the urban core, especially non-motorized recreation, helps with all of these problems. My disagreement with CESP and the Sierra Club is that they paint the entire Eastshore State Park with the same broad brush of remote wilderness open space and habitat preservation, at the expense of active recreation. It does the Bay Area environment a disservice, in my humble opinion.

Also at issue is the public service component. Non-profit clubs supporting specialized activities can be incredibly cost-effective at bringing these otherwise inaccessible activities to local youth. Park planners need to look beyond the traditional use pattern that focuses exclusively on individuals and commercial concessions, and find a way to accommodate the clubs and non-profits.

The above comments apply mainly to the North Sailing Basin and small patches of the land around it. There's consensus that limited human access is appropriate for many other areas of the park, but unfortunately we seem to be forced into using the same classification for all of ESP. Since a less-intense use can be overlayed on a more-intense classification, but not the other way around, the only classification that is fully consistent with stated goals for diversity of use is "Recreation Area."

On the other hand, the small-scale map distributed by Norman LaForce of the Sierra Club at the July 18 CESP meeting shows the entire North Sailing Basin as "preserve," which presumably would mean no support for water-related recreation.

The best solution would be multiple classifications within ESP, and although this was not presented as an option at the first workshops, it might not be entirely off the table. "Recreation Area" with appropriate facilities development funding for the north edge of the Meadow and North Basin Strip, and "Park" or "Preserve" status for most other areas of ESP might be the most appropriate use of the classification tool.

The Waterfront Commission may be discussing this in more detail, and may decide to make a recommendation on the preferred unit classification for ESP. I urge everyone who has an interest in this to attend both the CESP meetings and the Waterfront Commission meetings.

CESP (Citizens for the Eastshore State Park) meets in a downstairs conference room at 1604 Solano on the third Wednesday of the month (next meeting: August 15). They claim to be in favor of kayaks and other non-motorized water activities, but seem to be very solidly opposed to any of the shore-based facilities necessary to support these activities.

The Waterfront Commission meets in the Marina Conference Room (near the Harbormaster's office) on the second Wednesday of the month (next meeting: August 8). Note that this is a change from the old location, at Hs Lordships Restaurant. Meetings start at 7:00. The Waterfront Commission is generally more sympathetic to active use of the Berkeley shoreline and adjacent waters, but CESP seems to have a lot more influence with State Parks.

Commission meetings can be long and not very exciting, but there's always an "open mike" session at the beginning of each Waterfront Commission meeting. Public input is generally fairly sparse, so every voice makes an impression.

Meanwhile, walk the site and think of the possibilities. If you can't make one of the meetings or workshops, you can always weigh in at More info can also be found on my website,

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