Letter to Councilmember Linda Maio from Susan Schwartz, September 9 2003

From: SusanSchwa@aol.com [mailto:SusanSchwa@aol.com]
Sent: Tuesday, September 09, 2003 8:12 AM
To: Maio, Linda
Subject: Why Berkeley High Women's Crew should row at Aquatic Park

To: Councilmember Linda Maio
From: Susan Schwartz

Linda, I don't think that approving tonight's (Sept. 9) consent-calendar authorization for an initial environmental report is controversial -- both sides agree on it. My daughter is entering her fourth year of rowing crew at Berkeley High, so I have an obvious interest. This note summarizes why I believe the team should be allowed to use that water.

1. Aquatic Park's renaissance needs to be continued, with more uses and users. I watched the old play structure rot out and people become afraid to use the park. The renaissance brought by the new Dreamland playground, Mark Liolios' EGRET group at the south end, the new bridge, and other improvements needs to be continued and extended. Working with urban creeks and invasive weeds, I deal first hand and regularly with realities that come with underuse -- needles and condoms, stashes of stolen good in bushes, camps methodically surrounded with used toilet paper to keep out intruders. Parks need users to avoid these.

2. Our children desperately need opportunities to exercise, to be outdoors, to wor together toward positive goals, to learn to love nature in an active way. We read daily about the epidemic of obesity, problems of delinquency, kids who know only computers, etc. And while teens certainly can be thrilled by watching wildlife -- my daughter worked on butterfly research this summer -- most of them, most of the time, will come to love of outdoors by doing something active there.

Crew is the ultimate team sport -- there are no stars -- and Berkeley High crew is among the sports that is truly ethnically mixed. And you can be any body type -- crew gives big, strong, hefty girls a chance to excel; and small, lightweight girls a chance to be leaders as coxswains. Although team members pay tuition, no girl is turned away for lack of funds -- crew gives full scholarships -- and anyone can row. Before Prop 13, there were other public-school rowing teams, but only here in Berkeley have dedicated parents managed to maintain this sport because of what they see it can do for their daughters. (Not least of this is that crew girls often get much needed scholarships, due to Title 9. Many a BHS crew girl has gone to a very good college this way, something she could otherwise never afford.)

3. I have enough experience with initial studies, negative declarations, and EIRs to know that they will provide no answers. They elicit factors that should be considered, but often degenerate into an arcane exercise. (For example, the recent mitigated neg dec for expanding the Tile Shop stated that loss of trees will be mitigated by construction of an attractive warehouse.) In the end, the Council will have to decide what balance is best for the city. That is, is disturbing birds for two hours each day, with mitigations such as added protections for birds along the west shore, worth the benefit to the young women who will be able to row? And this is not just those who row now, but those who will be able to row because they can get to practice without the time and expense of travelling to and from Lake Merritt or some even more distant spot. I have been in charge of arranging carpools for crew, and know what a struggle it is for girls with working parents (or in some cases no parents), for whom

BART is a major expense, who need their time to study or to help with siblings. Being able to row in a place accessible by foot, bicicyle, or a short bus ride would be such a blessing!

4. While there will never be "enough" habitat for birds, it is important to remember that habitat for birds on the Bay has increased radically in recent years, and will continue to do so thanks to bonds approved by voters. In addition to thousands of acres of new refuge in the North and South Bays, and hundreds in Oakland/San Leandro/Hayward, in our own area we have areas of quiet water (the habitat provided in Aquatic Park) newly totally protected from intrusion in the Emeryville Crescent, Brickyard Cove, and the entire area between the Albany Bulb and Point Isabel. There also are two smaller lagoons immediately south of Aquatic Park, where EGRET will be improving already good bird habitat.

Thus, loss of use of Aquatic Park for two hours a day, plus whatever time it takes for birds to return after practice, is not the first step on a slippery slope.

A footnote to that -- it is possible, though I think unlikely, that the added disturbance could tip a balance and radically reduce the number of birds using Aquatic Park. Crew supports continued monitoring for this reason. But this rather remote possibility does not seem adequate to bar use of this urban park, created for the city by the WPA. (By the way, I do know something about bird behavior; years ago I was an avid wildlife watcher and published a book on it, among other books on natural history; I also wrote an alas unpublished book about wildlife in Seattle, another urban area.)

Thanks for your attention to this long email, and for your consideration for our children.

Susan Schwartz