This article was written for the Spring 2000 issue of the newsletter published by CANB, the Community Association of North Berkeley.
Waterfront Report, April 2000
By Commissioner Paul Kamen, appointed by Mayor Shirley Dean
Some milestones have been passed, some big projects are still in progress, and others loom on the horizon.
The most important completion is a restructuring of the marina's berth rates, including the first substantial rate increase in many years. Passed by the Council in January, we now have a progressive rate structure that charges higher rates for larger berths, and also recognizes differences in berth amenities and services previously not reflected in the fees. It should increase annual marina revenue by at least $150,000 and it does this without any significant fee increases to the smaller boats. In fact the rates drop for the smallest berths in the marina, the only ones experiencing significant vacancies. We'll still be operating at a deficit, but at least it will be a smaller deficit. And we did it with barely a grumble from the focs'l
Meanwhile, the "Marina Plan and Waterfront Overview" is nearly complete. This is a 2-year planning effort that became a mostly academic exercise when the Council removed any possibility of significant commercial development from the table. The document will have some value for future planners, but there's no money to implement any of the improvements it recommends. The waterfront infrastructure is old, and some big-ticket items like new bathrooms, harbor dredging, and dock replacements are required in the near future. Grants might help, but grants tend to like new projects with multiple funding sources - not a good fit for the year-to-year needs of marina maintenance.
The Waterfront Commission's big continuing task this Spring is a comprehensive revision of the Marina Ordinance, and there's some progress to report here. We've recommended a ban on jetskis within 1500 feet of the shoreline and pier (leaving a 15 mph access corridor to the marina and launch ramp) and the berth overhang policy has been rationalized. We're also putting a better mechanism in place to deal with unseaworthy derelicts.
The big contentious issue is the bait shop and the commercial fishing boats: The bait shop seems to enjoy the exclusive right to run the reservation service for all the fish boats operating from the marina, but a few of them would prefer to do it themselves. In view of the bait shop operator's stated favoritism for the existing fleet over new boats when assigning customers, and the uniform pricing, the situation makes it difficult for new boats to compete with the established local fleet. It also means there are no bargains to be had because the boats cannot compete on price.
Marina staff likes the bait shop monopoly. It makes their job easier, especially when it comes to collecting the per- passenger marina fees. And although the current bait shop operator seems to be fair and honest and responsible about distributing business among the established boats that he serves, the arrangement is vulnerable to serious abuse by someone with less integrity.
The real problem here is that no-one is representing the customers in this debate. The Marina Staff wants the monopoly to stay in place because it means less work for them. The boat operators like the price-fixing and the de- facto restrictions on new boats. The bait shop likes the captive market and guaranteed revenue.
But I'd much rather see the fleet grow, and I'd much rather see the boat operators left free to compete on price and service. It's a regional market, and more boats will mean more choices, more customers, and ultimately more business for the bait shop too. The main beneficiaries of an open market are the customers, and It's the Waterfront Commission's job to look out for them.
An even larger issue that looms just over the horizon is the shape and character of the Eastshore State Park, that strip of now-public land west of the freeway between University and Gilman. CESP, Citizens for the Eastshore State Park, is about to receive public money to conduct planning workshops. CESP, however, has an agenda of its own. They have made assumptions about appropriate uses, and it seems unlikely that review of these assumptions will be within the bounds of serious consideration at the workshops. Read "The Eastshore State Park and the Five Naked Emperors," on my Berkeley Waterfront website at www.well.com/user/pk/waterfront/ESP.html for background.
We also have exciting new developments concerning the long- vacant Dock of the Bay building, and possible new tenants for the buildings at Aquatic Park. Check the website often for updates.