Letter to the Mayor and City Council

January 7 2003

Dear Mayor and Councilmembers,

Four years ago we initiated a public planning process to develop a new Master Plan for the Berkeley Marina and surrounding waterfront. At a series of three public workshops that began in 1998, one of the recurring themes expressed by the public was that the plan should provide improved access for water-related activities, especially in the form of new access points for non-motorized and hand-launched small craft such as kayaks, windsurfers, and very small sailboats.

The North Sailing Basin was identified as one of the most appropriate areas for some of these activities, and for all the years that this plan has evolved, there have been one or more new access points to the North Sailing Basin included in the plan.

However, it now appears that Staff is recommending that this element of the plan be scaled back, citing conflicts with the Eastshore State Park planning process. This is somewhat hard to reconcile, in view of several circumstances:

1) The public planning process for the City's waterfront has always indicated clear support for improved access to non-motorized water-borne activities.

2) The 1986 Waterfront Plan, which is still in effect, reads as follows:

"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, provided environmental standards such as protection of the Bay from leachate can be met and provided this use is consistent with the City's Master Plan for North Waterfront Parků"

(I've put some additional excerpts from the plan on the web at www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/EastshoreStatePark/1986plan.html).

3) The recently approved Eastshore State Park General Plan calls for a small boat facility on the east side of the North Sailing Basin, serving the same body of water. So this use is fully consistent with uses already planned by the State for the Eastshore State Park.

There has always been concern that small craft operation may affect winter habitat of migrating birds, and these concerns are legitimate. This has been examined in some detail by the ESP planning team, and as a result the approved ESP General Plan calls for an objective evaluation to be made by the California Department of Fish and Game. The result may be a partial or full restriction of boating operations in the North Sailing Basin during sensitive months, and these restrictions, if required, would certainly apply to a City facility as well. So the small craft water access element of the plan cannot reasonably be opposed on the basis of habitat disturbance.

Moreover, the facility pictured in the published Marina Master Plan is clearly schematic in nature. That is, it makes no attempt to show specific details of a water access facility. Before an actual site plan could be developed there would necessarily be a detailed design process in conjunction with State Parks and other interested organizations. All that the Marina Plan attempts to do is to express the public interest in access, and assign a reasonable location that is consistent with plans already adopted by both Berkeley and the State.

I suggest we follow the very reasonable form of the 1986 Waterfront Plan, where it stipulates "...provided this use is consistent with the City's Master Plan for North Waterfront Park." The new Berkeley Marina Master Plan should similarly stipulate "...provided this use is consistent with the State Parks Plan for the Eastshore State Park." This will insure that concerns relating to inadequate coordination between the two jurisdictions will be fully addressed.

Why is a new access point for non-motorized watercraft so important?

Aside from the simple fact that floating on water is a sublime pleasure that gives the waterfront much of its attraction and identity, water-related recreation has an important role to play in the context of the current fiscal crisis. Prospects for keeping the Marina Fund healthy are probably better than those for various uptown budgets, and water-related recreation programs may be the only City recreation programs that we can afford to expand over the next few years.

Similarly, most new water access facilities are funded at least in part by grants from the California Dept. of Boating and Waterways, using marine gas tax money earmarked for recreational boating. As long as this revenue stream remains isolated from the State's financial crisis, then there are good prospects for new facilities funding even in the face of economic disaster in other sectors.

So at both the State and local level, there is strong incentive to place a high priority on water-related recreation. The water surface does not need to be fenced, graded, landscaped or purchased, and small boats are much cheaper than playing fields and skate board parks.

And finally, we should pursue water-borne recreational opportunities because they perpetuate a strong environmental constituency. Kayakers, rowers, windsurfers and sailors are the people with the greatest personal interest in a healthy Bay and Shoreline. These activities are breeding grounds for dedicated environmentalists, and for the future stewards of our natural marine environment.

Please retain the water access element of the Marina Master Plan, with appropriate stipulations concerning coordination with the Eastshore State Park.

Thank you.

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
pk@well.com 510-540-7968