Letter to the Mayor, Council and Commissions from
Norman La Force, August 23 2003
Date: Sat, 23 Aug 2003 17:10:38 -0700
Subject: Proposed Lease to Berkeley Women's Crew for Aquatic Park
Dear Mayor Bates and Members of the City Council:
I am writing to you on behalf of the Sierra Club concerning the proposed lease to allow the Berkeley Women's Crew to use Aquatic Park for practice during critical time periods when rafting birds are in Aquatic Park. I was on vacaction from August 7 through August 22, 2003 and thus was not able to attend the Berkeley Park and Recreation and Waterfront Commission meetings in August that took up this issue. The Club has a number of concerns both in terms of process and substance.
I. Background on Issue
A. Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon's Involvement in Aquatic Park Issues
First, some history. The issue of watercraft use in Aquatic Park, especially during the period from October through April is very contentious because the park is an important rafting area for many waterfowl. Both the Sierra Club and Golden Gate Audubon Society (Audubon) have been involved with this issue for many years, Audubon for at least 30 years. My own personal involvement on behalf of the Sierra Club is 20 years. This involvement has not only been lengthy, but active, and the city staff of the City has known of this involvement for at least as long as I have worked on the issue. In the past, the City Staff, knowing of this involvement, have consulted with Audubon and the Club on issues concerning birds and other impacts at Aquatic Park. Yet, strangely, as will be discussed below, the staff on the occasion of this issue became dumb and mute when time came to ensure that Audubon and the Club were kept informed on this issue.
B. History of Current Issue
In early 2003 Berkeley Women's Crew (Crew) came to the Waterfront Commission, requesting that it be allowed to use Aquatic Park for practice because, it claimed, the City of Oakland was kicking it out of Lake Merrit for parochial Oakland reasons. I was present at this meeting. Crew told the Commission that Aquatic Park was not an ideal choice for practice because the water course was TOO SHORT for a full length practice in their skulls. It told the Commission that the Oakland Estuary was a better site for rowing because it would allow a full length practice area, but that it did not know of any areas on the Estuary where it could practice.
Crew wanted to row through the critical bird period of October through April both in the morning and afternoon. It also wanted to be able to hold meets in May through July at the park. In sum, Crew wanted close to year round access to the Park and during times critical to waterfowl.
Arthur Feinstein for Aududon, and I, for the Sierra Club, immediately raised many concerns about this proposed use because of the impact on rafting birds in the park. We offered to meet with Crew to discuss the issue and to find alternative locations. We also stated that the City would have to do an EIR on any proposed use.
The City staff, Ed Murphy and Cliff Marchetti, responded that the city would do a study using LSA. Contrary to what the city staff report says about this issue, Audubon and Sierra Club did not just ask for such a study. We said it was a critical first step in doing a full EIR. Moreover, Murphy and Marchetti stated that both Audubon and the Sierra Club would be contacted by LSA both prior to and during the study. Contrary to that promise, LSA NEVER contacted us.
C. Audubon and Sierra Club Meet with Crew
Audubon and Sierra Club then arranged a meeting with Crew around March, 2003. This meeting was attended by about 8-9 persons for Crew and for Audubon and the Sierra Club. At this meeting Crew again told us that Aquatic Park was not their first choice and was not the best spot for practice because it was too short, but that they did not know of other locations. Crew also reiterated that the Oakland Estuary was just as accessible and would offer a full length watercourse for practice. Arthur Feinstein and I told them that we knew of locations and would help them locate such places. We also told Crew that we expected the City to do a full EIR on the issue.
D. Arthur and I Find Other Locations and Tell Crew About Them
Both Arthur and I were able to find alternative locations on the Estuary for Crew. I spoke with the Jerry Kent, Assistant General Manager for the East Bay Regional Park District. He told me that the Park District was developing a regional water craft area on the Eastuary near or in its Martin Luther King Park and that the Park District would love to have Berkeley Crew because the park was supposed to regional in nature. Jerry was ecstatic over the possiblity of Crew coming to the Park. Arthur contacted the Port of Oakland, which told him that it had locations that could be used.
In April, I contacted Crew, specifically Chris Noll, whom I was told to contact. He expressed interest in these two sites. He also told me that Crew was no longer interested in Aquatic Park. I offered to have Arthur and I help Crew meet with the Park District and Port of Oakland, to grease the wheels, so to speak. Chris declined our offer of assistance, saying Crew would do it alone. That was where the issue was left with Crew. At no time did Chris tell me that Crew was still bent on using Aquatic Park.
II. The June Waterfront Commission Meeting
I attended the June Waterfront Commission meeting dealing with other issues. At the end of the meeting, I spoke with Ed Murphy about the LSA study because I had not heard any thing about its status since the early 2003 meeting and no one from LSA had contacted me or Arthur Feinstein.
Murphy told me the following: First, he told me that the study had not even begun!!! Second, he told me that LSA would contact Arthur and me soon (That NEVER happened). Third, when I asked about the status of the Crew issue, he told me that nothing would be done on this issue at the Waterfront Commission for the rest of the summer because LSA had not even begun the study.
Fourth, and most important, when asked him if anything at all dealing with the LSA study or the Crew lease would be on the Waterfront Commission's August meeting, (the next meeting because there was no July meeting), Murphy told me, "No." I specifically told him that I was concerned about that fact because I was going to be on vacation during the time the Commission would meet. Murphy told me, that I did not have to worry because the issue would not be on the agenda.
He further assured me that LSA would contact me soon.
Now at this point, I will leave it up to the council memgers to decide what is going on here.
III. What Happened Next
Well, the next thing I know is that between the June 11, 2003 Waterfront Commission meeting and my leaving for vacation on August 7th, I was never contacted by LSA either personally, by phone, by email, or letter. Nor was Arthur Feinstein. Nor was Arthur or myself told by Ed Murphy, Cliff Marchetti, Lisa Carona, or Deborah Chernin that the staff was preparing to agendize the Crew lease issue with not only the Waterfront Commission but the Park and Recreation Commission for their August Meetings. Nor where we told of the August 4th Waterfront subcommittee meeting on this issue, which I could have attended because I was still in town!!!!
This, despite the fact, that all of these four staff people, know and knew full well of the concernsAudubon and Sierra Club had raised about this issue. Again, I will leave it up to you to determine what is going on here.
All I know is that I returned from vacation on August 22nd to find that Ed Murphy has sent Arthur and me an email the DAY BEFORE the Waterfront Commission meeting, telling me that a lease for the Crew is on the next day's Waterfront Commission agenda and that he is including the COMPLETED LSA STUDY!!!!
In sum, the staff kept Audubon and the Sierra Club in the dark about this issue until the very last minute. IV. Staff's Misrepresentations to the Waterfront and Park and Recreation Commissions
You should now that staff made misrepresentations to the two Commissions. First, Staff represented to the Waterfront Commission that Arthur and I had only recommended a study, instead of a full EIR. We had always stated that an EIR would need to be done, just as the City had done one for the dog park in Cesar Chavez Park.
Second, the staff's report implied that there were no waterfowl impacts when, in fact, the LSA report found that there would be impacts.
Third, the staff report to the Park and Recreation Commission stated that the Waterfront Commission had approved the Crew Lease when NO SUCH approval was given.
Fourth, staff contends that the LSA report sets forth mitigation measurs for the Crew Use. First, Steve Granholm, the author of the report, has told Arthur Feinstein that his recommendations were not mitigation measures and cannot be construed as such. Second, these recommendations are not legally mitigations since this was not a CEQA document.
Third, and most telling, the staff's recommendation for the lease terms does NOT include any of these recommendations as requirements for the lease. (See Staff Report-"Main Lease Terms.")
V. The Current Situation for the City Council
To say that Audubon and Sierra Club are upset about what has gone on would be putting things mildly. I am livid with anger about what has transpired and what appears to be an intentional plan to keep both Audubon and the Sierra Club in the dark about this issue in order to squeak through a use that staff knows is a very serious concern for both Audubon and the Sierra Club. Staff cannot plead their ignorance of our concerns given the past history which I have documented. Staff knew we had lots of problems with the Crew proposal, yet did not seek to discuss the issues with us at all.
I understand that the Park and Recreation Commission basically punted the issue at its meeting. It did NOT give its approval to the lease as staff is saying, but said that the City Council would have to decide what to do next.
I can tell you that Audubon and Sierra Club oppose the current proposed lease because of the impacts it will have on wildlife. We expect and request a full EIR be done on this issue, not a Negative Declaration, but an EIR just as the City did for the dog park.
Granholm's report states the following:
"During the practice periods [for Crew], the crew boat activity will greatly reduce the amount of open water habitat available for open-water birds in Aquatic Park and the amount of time that they can spend feeding. Many will probably leave the main lagoon, and those that remain will be flushed to the edges, where they are subject to repeated disturbance by park users and dogs. Only a limited number of birds that flush from the main lagoon could be supported by the adjacent, small basins and most would likely move to the Bay. As noted above, the repeated flushing of birds off the water and the reductionh in feeding time would reduce the energy they have available for migration."
Both Arthur and I are prepared to recommend to our respective organizations that if the City does not agree to do an EIR on this proposed use, that Audubon and Sierra Club sue the City of Berkeley, and I will be bringing the issue to CESP's and Save the Bay's attention. In brief, the reasons will be that the LSA report documents a a real adverse environmental impact to wildlife, which triggers the need for an EIR. Second, we have identified reasonable alternative locations that would not cause the documented impacts that Crew use in the park would cause. Under CEQA the city cannot ignore the fact that there other reasonable alternatives without the same adverse environmental impact.
This is a clear and identifiable negative environmental impact that the City cannot ignore under CEQA. Audubon and the Sierra Club fully expect the City Council of Berkeley to live up to its reputation as a city committed to protecting and preserving its environment and habitat for wildlife, even if its staff does not give a hoot.
I will be sending further correspondence on this issue in the future. But right now, your staff has ignored the environmental communtiy and once again put the City or Berkeley on a collision course with Audubon and Sierra Club over a key environmental issue of park use in Berkeley.
Norman La Force, Chair Sierra Club East Bay Public Lands Committee,