This article appeared in the April 1999 issue of the newsletter published by CAN-B, the Community Association of North Berkeley.
This is the original full-length version, before being edited to fit the space limitations of the CAN-B newsletter.
Waterfront Report, April 1999
By Commissioner Paul Kamen, appointed by Mayor Shirley Dean
After two decades of representing the Cal Sailing Club at Waterfront Commission meetings, I'm finally able to see these meetings from the other side of the table. And I'm as excited as ever about the possibilities for our waterfront, with some long-delayed projects finally nearing completion and others finally getting underway. Here are the big issues, and my brief summaries of how they should go:
1) Water-Related Public Access
The waterfront is all about open space - but a very different kind of open space. "Public access to open space" at the waterfront does not mean paths and park benches. The real open space resource is the water, not the land, and facilities and programs that allow people of diverse backgrounds and limited resources to participate in water-related activities are the highest priority. We have some superb examples of non-profit organizations providing such specialized recreational opportunities, and there is room for at least several more.
Historically, marina staff hasn't always seen these activities as particularly important. Indeed, the Cal Sailing Club has been something of a thorn in the side of previous marina managers. But I think we are on the right track now, and with luck the new Marina Master Plan will speak to the importance of allowing these groups to thrive.
Water-related priorities notwithstanding, the waterfront is a wonderful place for parks. Chavez Park is finding it's niche with kite flyers, dog runners, and hikers who will endure the cold seabreeze for the views and island-like isolation from "mainland" Berkeley. Meanwhile, the Regional Shoreline Park, once slated for high-rise office development by Santa Fe, is now officially in State ownership and the future of these lands as park is assured. Close proximity to the freeway is somewhat problematic, and it will be fascinating to see what uses finally evolve on this land beyond the planned shoreline trail.
3) Boat Berthing.
This is the core service provided by the marina, and it's significant that the first phase of the long-delayed dock replacement is almost finished. The new F and G docks even have an ADA-compliant gangway, and we're hoping to entice a local "adaptive sailing" program to locate there. Docks A through E, on the north side, are next. There's also a shoaling problem, and another round of expensive dredging is in our future if we expect to continue to market the marina to boats of significant size.
Compared to some other East Bay marinas, Berkeley sometimes falls short in the areas of service and customer relations. The best approach is probably close scrutiny and quick response to known problems.
4) Security and Safety:
Recent violent crimes near the fishing pier have forced a measure to close the road immediately south of the pier late at night. Any closure driven by security is a great loss, but the real loss of use occurs long before that, when the safety level, real or perceived, prevents people from using an area after hours. I see this as another argument for appropriate development. The best solution to the marina's violent crime problems is to increase activity, not restrict access. After-hours commercial activity might be the best way to make more of the marina safer for everyone.
5) Money, Planning, and Development.
The marina's annual budget is approaching 3.3 million. On the revenue side, 1.66 million comes from berthers, 1.24 million from leases and other sources. Skates and the 375-room Radisson provide most of this, at $174,000 and $722,000 respectively. And the Radisson also sends 1.45 million "uptown" every year as room tax. (There's also $265,000 leaving the marina annually as possessory interest tax on rented berths and $143,000 in business licenses.)
This leaves the marina with an operating shortfall, and it needs to find a way to become self-sufficient. There is considerable sentiment among the waterfront community for re-structuring the marina's financial relationship with the City. But what goes into one pocket comes out of another, and this restructuring cannot be achieved without a net loss in city revenue. The big picture seems to point to other solutions.
The most viable source of new revenue is new hotel development, according to proponents of this option. At first glance this appears to conflict with open space and recreational goals, and it meets considerable resistance at planning workshops. But as we work through the numbers, the site plans, and the access issues, it becomes clear that development might have something to offer. Or at least, a good case can be made along those lines. Aside from the revenue stream necessary to sustain the marina and all the varied activities it hosts, specific amenities lend themselves well to direct support from a hotel.
Example: Our waterfront is a world class windsurfing site, and there is a vocal user group with a short but expensive wish list of physical improvements to their favorite launching and rigging areas. Windsurfing fits the model of a ski resort - especially and uniquely in Berkeley, where "slopes" of several skill levels are available in close proximity. You can see where this is going. One of the more interesting proposals places a hotel somewhere on the south side of the marina, probably near His Lordships restaurant. It would provide sailboard launch site improvements and use the "windsurfer resort" theme to establish its identity. 100 rooms has been suggested as an appropriate scale.
On the north side of the marina, there is a small boatyard that's in financial difficulties. There's also a very successful commercial sailing school. Radisson has proposed major expansion into this area. Something on a smaller scale than proposed, leaving a smaller but functional boatyard and adding another 100 or 150 hotel rooms, might be feasible.
In some respects, adding another 200 hotel rooms is the easy way out of the marina's financial stress. It's not a particularly creative solution, and it places burdens on marina infrastructure (parking, traffic, sewer capacity) that may degrade the quality of the waterfront for other users. But the argument being advanced is that this is a reliable and realistic way to make the numbers add up, and to insure that the non-profits, the berthers, and the park users continue to get the most out of the waterfront.
In general terms, the principle is a close three-way link between profitable commercial development, a public revenue stream, and access enhancement through architectural amenities. That's where we diverge from the classic hotel development model: Here in Berkeley, a "sailboard resort" hotel would co-exist side-by-side with the volunteer non-profit cooperative that provides very low cost public access to this specialized activity.
The degree of consensus for this approach is still something of an unknown, and sometimes relatively small details in a master plan can trigger acceptance or rejection. That's why input and advocacy from CANB members on these issues is important. The recent series of planning workshop generated some great ideas, and now I'm interested in broader feedback. Feel free to email your comments to me at email@example.com, or snail-mail to the entire Waterfront Commission c/o the marina office.