The Marina Plan: Status, Function and Content

By Paul Kamen, June 7 1999

This is a review of the status of the 1999 Marina Plan, including observations regarding the plan's most probable function and recommendations for the plan's content.

The 1999 Marina Plan will probably not serve as a blueprint for implementation, due to both the lack of consensus on development issues and the lack of economic viability.

The Marina Plan will, however, serve several important functions over the duration of the current planning cycle:

  • As a reference document, it will provide authoritative economic data and projections.
  • As a policy document, it will set standards for new projects, establishing acceptance criteria and some very general performance goals.
  • As a land use proposal, it will establish locations for possible future facilities and amenities in the form of "place holders" to be implemented when and if funding becomes available.
  • The plan will also identify key infrastructure upgrades and ongoing maintenance projects that are necessary to the continued operation of the Berkeley Marina.

So for the most part, the Marina Plan will only be taken down from the shelf in response to new proposals. "Is it consistent with the Marina Plan?" is the question that will be asked, and the Marina Plan should be constructed with this in mind.

Economic Analysis:

Although one member of the City Council (Diane Wooley) has publicly expressed the belief that it is inappropriate to include economic analysis as part of the Marina Plan, this is not the official position of the Council and there has been no directive, implied or explicit, to remove economic analysis from the plan.

In view of this sentiment, the Marina Plan should defer to the expressed desire of public planning workshop participants to have detailed economic data available as a context for planning decisions. This desire was both well-reasoned and consistently expressed by the public participants. There is no justification for removing the economic analysis from the plan, or for reducing its importance.

Simplicity of presentation is critical, but the waterfront financial situation is complex and several different levels of summarization may be required. But one element that cannot be legitimately suppressed in the name of "simplicity," is the clear indication of the assumptions used for economic analysis. To date, virtually every presentation has prompted a question along the lines of "what interest rate are you using?"

If this document is to have a useful shelf life, it's critical that interest rates and other variables be stated up front, in big type, in bold, underlined, italics.

Another missing element has been probability assessment. Economic forecasts are highly probabilistic, yet they have been presented as deterministic. For example: hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and boat yards all have very different probabilities of meeting projected revenue numbers. Some are very high risk and some are low risk. When comparing very large and very uncertain revenue estimates to very large and very uncertain expense estimates, especially as they project out over a long time period, the deterministic test for economic viability becomes increasingly inappropriate.

The resources to perform a truly rigorous economic analysis, with standard deviations and/or confidence bands included in the results, do not seem to be available. Still, some commentary to the effect of relative risk levels associated with various projects is very much in order. Other financial risks due to maintenance overruns, uncertainties in public funding sources, and unpredictable market conditions need to be recognized, if not quantified.

Without some rudimentary degree of risk analysis, future users of the plan who have not considered these probabilistic elements could be led seriously astray.

Development Policy:

The City Council, as of May 11 1999, is very clear in its intention to block any significant new commercial development in the marina. Although this plan will probably outlast the current council by many years, the guideline suggested by the Council needs to be incorporated now. Perhaps this could be stated as a "no increased commercial footprint" policy, although that's not exactly what the Council resolution says.

Beyond that, we are left with new path designs, landscaping, and some improvements to vehicular circulation. The Marina Plan incorporates the reasoning behind these designs, but the final wording needs to recognize that they may be applied in a more general way, rather than in accordance with the specific details shown.

Recreational Priorities:

Establishing recreational priorities is one of the primary elements of the Marina Plan. The basic concept to come out of the public workshops is the importance of access to truly water-related activities, as opposed to shore-based activities that just happen to be near the water. Low-cost access to sailing, rowing, sailboard launch sites, tidal zone exploration, and use of the limited beach resource all deserve prominence in the Marina Plan. Some guidelines balancing the value of these high intensity "urban waterfront" uses against the value of "wilderness" habitat protection is in order.

The Marina Plan should also address the role of the boat berthers in general terms. Traditionally, boat berthing is the core recreational service provided by the Marina. Are the berthers to be treated strictly as a revenue source (as per the Williams and Kuebelbeck recommendations) or do they add value? And how do policy decisions affecting boat berthing (berth size, fee structure, live-aboard policy, amenities for berthers) affect this added value?

The role of non-profit organizations and co-operatives also needs to be mentioned in the context of low-cost water related recreational services. Some good examples already exist (Cal Sailing Club, Berkeley Yacht Club), and the Marina Plan should include some wording setting a general policy that establishes guidelines for the creation of new organizations along the same lines.

Ongoing policies towards commercial ventures that provide recreational services (although generally at much higher cost to the end user than from a non- profit) should also be considered. Sometimes a commercial operation serves the public better than a non-profit, sometimes not. Guidelines to help determine which is more appropriate would be very valuable.

These are programmatic and organizational issues, not the kinds of things that can be drawn on a site plan. As such they tend to get short shrift from planners with landscape architecture or brick-and-mortar backgrounds. But with essentially no money to implement the physical side of the Marina Plan, the programmatic elements will become the real essence of progress at the waterfront.

Place Holders:

Other than necessary infrastructure maintenance, most of the specific features of the Marina Plan will not be implemented on any known schedule. These plan elements serve as project-specific place holders, establishing a preferred configuration or use category, for "when and if" the funding becomes available. Realignment of Marina Boulevard, the small craft launch facility serving the North Sailing Basin, and the Sailboard Club at the South Sailing Basin are examples.

Proposed Action:

Complete the Marina Plan, incorporating as many of the elements described above as possible.

Because of the development constraints imposed by the Council, the plan will very likely be an economic non- starter. If the Marina encounters serious financial difficulty maintaining current infrastructure and service levels, the ball goes back to the Council's side of the court.

Meanwhile, the door has to stay open for other funding sources and programmatic development options. Grant funding is one. Additional private non-profit cooperatives are another. These will most likely be a poor fit to the details shown in the Marina Plan, so adaptability is critical. The emphasis will shift to the non-physical elements of the Marina Plan, and many of these issues will have to be addressed by staff and Commissions after the current planning process is complete.