Workshop #2: Thinking inside an ever smaller Box

Comments following the second planning workshop for the Eastshore State Park

by Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
September 24, 2001

The planning team headed by Don Neuwirth and WRT is to be congratulated for an excellent "Alternative B" proposal. This is the "more intense use" option of the two plans presented for the Eastshore State Park, and it demonstrates how well a wide array of diverse uses can be incorporated into the park land and water areas without significantly compromising open space and habitat protection. Alternative B reflects the strong public support for active recreational uses in general, and also incorporates most of the specific activities promoted by various advocacy groups.

Three elements of this plan are particularly important in terms of the relationship between the park user and the Bay: Recognition of the possible role of non-profit organizations; "naturalization" of the rocky edge detail along the north shore of the Meadow; and designation of a small area at the northwest corner of the Meadow for facilities supporting water-borne uses.

A few inevitable quibbles: As presented in this plan, only the highest "intensity of use category" for water areas includes dragon boat racing, organized youth sailing instruction, and public rowboat rental. These appear to be precluded from the North Sailing Basin, which is given a lower use intensity categogry. But the North Sailing Basin is the only body of water in the park with suitable protection from the strong summer westerly wind and waves, and the only place where these activities are viable. The North Sailing Basin needs the "level 3" use intensity designation, otherwise these activities are effectively precluded from the Eastshore State Park.

The Berkeley Waterfront Commission has recommended that when conflicts exist between water-borne uses and bird populations, these conflicts should be resolved by seasonal operating restrictions, and not by precluding these activities entirely. CESP and Audubon members have shown support for this policy. Presumably it would take the form of restrictions on organized boating activities in part or all of the North Sailing Basin during winter duck rafting season (assuming that it can be shown that non-motorized boating really does have a measurable negative impact on the use of this habitat by threatened species). Seasonal restrictions to protect bird populations have been successfully implemented for many years in the much narrower Aquatic Park, although it's worth noting that those restrictions apply only to powered boating, and not to sailing, paddling, and rowing.

Also, the planning consultants seem to favor the location along the North Basin Strip for facilities supporting water-borne activities, rather than the northwest corner of the Meadow. While the east side of the Sailing Basin is probably better for rental rowboats, all other activities are much more appropriately placed on the west side. The wind protection is better, the water is significantly deeper close to shore, and the facilities would be closer to related services in the Berkeley Marina. More importantly, the rafts of diving ducks seem to prefer the east side of this body of water, so it only makes sense to locate most of the boating facilities on the west side.

And one last quibble: My name was mentioned in the initial presentation as someone who had identified submerged hazards that needed to be cleared from the North Sailing Basin. Not true - the bathymetric survey I conducted shows that there is sufficient water depth for small boat operation in the North Sailing Basin, and did not address the issue of submerged obstructions. My only comment about the two known obstructions (one floating, one partially submerged) was that there is no need to remove them. Submerged obstructions, natural and artificial, are common features of most boating venues, and all the submerged obstruction requires is a marker, if that. It's only to people in fast powerboats that this kind of obstruction could be a hazard to life and limb.

So much for the plan itself, which is very promising in its "Alternative B" version except for the details noted. The problem is with the design of the public workshop.

The real purpose of a planning workshop is to generate new and creative ideas that reconcile apparently conflicting interests. Workshops are not scientific surveys of public opinion, nor are they democratic expressions of the public will. But workshop #2 allowed no room at all for expression of creative thought.

Example: At my table, charged with area 4 (North of Central Ave.), we started with a remarkable consensus for the mix of uses, facilities, and improvements we wanted to see in the plan: Retain all existing off-leash areas; improve launch facilities for windsurfers and kayaks; no playing fields; protect the marsh and the tidal flats. We could have written this down in a few minutes and gone on to more interesting or contentious issues, but instead we spent most of the hour trying to figure out how to fit the vision we all seemed to share into the procedures we were required to follow. Why was off-leash defined as a low intensity use for Point Isabel, but only included as a high intensity use for Battery Point? We wanted both areas to have the same character. We all wanted improved sailboard and kayak facilities and appropriate parking at Point Isabel, but we had to grapple with the fact that even though Point Isabel ended up with more facilities development, it also ended up being designated as a lower level of use intensity to fit those constraints. The result might be okay, but this took a long time to figure out.

Where the group's expertise could have been brought to bear was in solving some problems relating to the placement of overnight water-access camping and the design goals of sailboard and kayak launch site improvements. Would water-access camping work on a reconfigured section of the jetty off Battery Point, instead of on a floating dock? What kind of edge detail is best for windsurfer and kayaks at Point Isabel? Is there a solution to the problem of dog poop in the sailboard rigging area? Even though we worked right through the power outage without missing a beat, there wasn't nearly enough time to get to anything interesting, controversial, or useful. The marking pens were never used.

Other areas of the park suffered under similar methodology constraints. On the Meadow, there was no time to discuss alternate positioning of the boundary between habitat preserve and active uses. On the Brickyard, interesting variations on the Strawberry Creek outflow were too far out of the box to be discussed.

Proposed solution: At the scheduled local presentations, begin the session with an hour or two of map-based user input. Limiting the scope to the applicable location will improve the focus and help keep the event to a manageable size.

I also must add my voice to the many who have been dissappointed by participants' inability to self-select the study areas to work on. As a result of this design, many of us were effectivly denied the chance to provide workshop input on the area we have the most concern about. The policy also resulted in many participants attempting to make land use recommendations for parts of the waterfront that they had never even set foot on, and I think the quality of the workshop output suffered as a result.

The plan is good, but it needs inspiration. There's a vast amount of talent and creativity in the 400 people who attended the workshop - let's take advantage of some of it, and turn a good plan into a great park.