The Eastshore State Park
(and the Five Naked Emperors)
by Paul Kamen
The "Goals and policies for the Eastshore State Park" (June '99) and "Compilation of Past CESP Decisions Re Specific Park Area Uses to Supplement Goals and Policies" (September 15 '98) have recently been distributed to the Berkeley Waterfront Commission.
These documents express land use and policy preferences that appear to be heavily weighted to reflect a number of specific value judgments held by the individuals and organizations that generated them. I think I am correct in stating that every member of the Waterfront Commission shares these values. However, the specific manner in which they are applied to the Berkeley Waterfront might fail to recognize some important aspects of the Berkeley shoreline environment - both cultural and natural - that bring the overall sense of the documents into question.
The goals and policies as stated would read very well for a park acquisition and development project in a more remote and rural setting. But I am reminded of the story of the emperor's new clothes: That is, there are some crucial realities, obvious to the outside observer but easy to overlook by those immersed in the project, that seem to have been left out.
Naked Emperor #1: The Freeway
This is the primary environmental problem facing the new park. The freeway is noisy, unsightly, and distracting. Mitigation of these negative factors is difficult and expensive - a narrow band of vegetation is not enough. The freeway has a serious adverse effect on the desirability of using the adjacent lands for any human activity normally associated with enjoyment or observation of the natural environment.
The freeway compels movement. It might be compatible with the Bay Trail, as a "passing through" use category. (It has proven to be compatible with the commercial uses that exist there now.) But realistically, people are not going to voluntarily choose to engage in recreational activities right next to a major freeway when there are much more attractive options available at other nearby locations.
What is missing from this set of goals and policies is some recognition of the necessity of providing buffering between the freeway and the areas of open space that have potential uses by humans. This should be a very high priority.
If any of the land along the north strip is to have value as the kind of open space that can be enjoyed by humans, then significant buffering structures should not be ruled out.
Recommendation: Areas of the North Strip that will have no effective freeway buffering should be designated as natural habitat preserves with nothing more than "pass-through" human activity. Other areas require substantial barrier berms and possible structural development to separate the sights and sounds of the freeway from the waterfront.
Naked Emperor #2: Crime, Security, and Homelessness
These issues are disregarded in the stated goals and policies, yet these social problems can and do render some park areas almost useless. Aquatic Park is a conspicuous example. Few people use large areas of this park for "normal" park activities at times other than the weekend peaks.
The solution to crime and safety problems that has had to be imposed at the Berkeley Marina is to close off certain areas after hours. This represents a serious failure of land use planning and security management. The infinitely preferable solution is to bring a higher level of legitimate after-hours activity to an area that has a security problem. It's worth noting, for example, that the public areas in close proximity to the Marina Radisson Hotel have dramatically lower crime statistics than other areas of the Marina.
For the Eastshore Park, the proposed hotel and ferry terminal at the foot of Gilman Street might make a positive contribution, both in terms of mixed use dynamics and after-hours security. A "metal campground" (managed short-term motorized or RV camping) might also be of great value in terms of both crime prevention and discouraging homeless encampments.
The Eastshore Park cannot be planned in a social vacuum. Cultural forces that determine the feasibility of various features and shape the use patterns of the waterfront must be factored in at the beginning. There may be some undesirable constraints imposed by taking this approach, but it is the only approach that is realistic if the most fundamental access goals are going to be met.
Recommendations: Recognize that it may be necessary to include activities involving 24-hour occupancy in order to insure security and safety. Camping should not be ruled out, and appropriate hotel development at the edges of the park should not be discouraged.
Naked Emperor #3: The Weather
The Berkeley waterfront is cold! It is right in the fog stream that blows in from the Golden Gate, and summer temperatures seldom exceed the 60s. It is also windy. This is an ideal venue for sailing, windsurfing , kayaking, kite flying, bicycling, and hiking. But sunbathing? Swimming? Outdoor picnics? Watching a sports event?
Yes, there are pockets in the marina where picnics are possible, due the microclimates provided by varied topography and tall trees. But even if these features can be developed in the Eastshore Park, they will only be isolated pockets. The weather suggests that the most appropriate activities are the ones that involve higher human energy output. This favors active participation sports rather than the "passive recreation" recommended in the September '98 guidelines for the Berkeley section of the park.
Naked Emperor #4: Money
Some of the policies as listed will be very expensive to implement, and seem to give no consideration to the cost-effectiveness of various alternatives. While it is fun to write blank checks, items like "overpasses at selected sites over I-80 for pedestrians" should not be introduced without some reference to the many millions of dollars that each one would cost. Resources are finite, and an access plan that works within existing (and currently planned and funded) pedestrian access points might be more sensible.
We also need to think beyond the boundaries of this park. Is money better spent re-creating a beach in Berkeley (for example), or enhancing access to a naturally occurring beach somewhere else?
The goals and policies also summarily dismiss any possibility of commercial revenue-generating activities such as restaurant and hotel concessions. These may or may not be compatible with other goals of the Eastshore Park, but in view of their potential to generate significant cash flow to support other park services and amenities, they at least deserve some study before being rejected. A commerce-free waterfront may be a desirable goal for its own sake, but at least we should know what the cost is going to be.
Naked Emperor #5: The City
Much has been written by urban planners about the benefits of mixed use, the built environment's relationship to the natural environment, diversity of activities in close proximity to each other, and the mixture being of greater value than the sum of its parts. I will not attempt to duplicate those writings here, except to invoke the metaphor of a "recreational monoculture" that threatens to minimize the value of our waterfront rather than enhance it.
The Berkeley waterfront is an urban waterfront, and painting the entire Eastshore Park with the broad brush of a natural habitat and open space preserve is inappropriate for reasons that span cultural, economic, and aesthetic considerations.
A few more details with respect to specific policies:
On-site boat storage:
As noted above, the goals published by CESP reflect value judgments that I share. I particularly like the emphasis on hand-launched boats instead of launch ramps, and the prohibition of all motor sports. But hand-launched boats cannot be brought to the waterfront without a car. On-site storage is one alternative that supports non-automotive access. The Cal Sailing Club has had great success with on-site private windsurfer storage (a locker about the size of a BART bicycle locker rents for $200/year). The Eastshore Park should include provision for private storage of windsurfers, kayaks, and other hand-launched small craft.
Rowboat rental is an ideal water access opportunity for the casual visitor who cannot make the commitment to learn sailing, windsurfing, or kayaking. Low-performance recreational rowing takes only a few minutes to learn and is enormously satisfying to the new participant. And it's very safe, especially if the rental facility is on the downwind side of the body of water served. This would be the case with a boat rental facility in the Eastshore Park, at the north end of the North Strip.
Furthermore, if the rowboat rental is coordinated with a boat return dock at Chavez Park across the North Basin, then a visiting family could park at Gilman Street (or arrive by ferry), rent a boat, and row across to Chavez Park. This would shift some parking from the Marina to the Gilman area where there is more space, and provide an attractive non-automotive link between the two park areas. It would also preserve the sense of the Berkeley Marina as an island, set apart from "mainland" Berkeley.
Public entry-level rowboat rental is so important, and such a good application for this waterfront, that I will personally oppose, to my last breath, any Eastshore Park plan that does not include a strong and explicit provision for it.
Why the prohibition on "high performance" kites? The cold, windy, and spacious Berkeley waterfront has proven to be an ideal kite venue. Also, there's an obvious problem defining "high performance" versus "low performance" kites. (Perhaps a more detailed explanation of the rationale will clear this up.) Chavez Park is already "on the map" as a world class kite flying location, and it seems counterproductive to work against further development of this use category.
People v. Plants:
"The recreational and cultural values of access must be subordinated to the needs of wildlife and native plants."
Taken literally, this precludes just about everything involving human uses of the park (other than active programs to suppress non-native vegetation and re-introduce native species). Obviously there are trade-offs to be made at every turn of the planning process. I think it's important to say "balanced with" instead of "subordinated to" if these goals are going to be widely accepted.
Some of the success stories at the Berkeley Marina and other Bay Area waterfronts have been private non-profit cooperatives or clubs that provide specialized recreational opportunities at very low cost. With this in mind, one of the most important policies to set for the Eastshore Park is how, where, and on what basis promising new groups will be invited to locate in the park. The establishment of guidelines for the terms of operation and public service components of these organizations is critical.
Although "concessions" are mentioned in the Goals and Policies and are common features at many state parks, co-ops and clubs are very different from commercial concessions. Allowances for them are conspicuous in their absence in the current set of CESP's written policies, and this is a serious omission that should be corrected.