This is a letter from Doug Fielding, representing ASFU, to Don Neuwirth of the ESP planning team
December 28, 2001
As mentioned in an earlier letter we represent almost 30,000 individuals who actively use playing fields here in the East Bay. I want to state our organization's position regarding active recreation in Eastshore State Park. This proposal has the support of our regional members including California Youth Soccer, Golden Gate Women's Soccer, East Bay Senior Soccer as well as our regional but more local members such as Albany-Berkeley Girls Softball, Blues Women's Rugby, Alameda Contra Costa Youth Soccer, among others. Our proposal also has the support of organizations whose interests go beyond athletics including CPAC as well as a number of the organizations lobbying on behalf of dog owners' needs in the park. While we have some issue with the concept of "structured" versus "unstructured" areas our request is as follows:
1. Active structured recreation on the Plateau
2. Active structured recreation on the North Basin Strip (if environmental issues are of concern in this location then we would use this as a site for artificial fields)
3. Active structured recreation on either the Meadow or the Brickyard
4. Active unstructured recreation on either the Meadow or the Brickyard
All unstructured recreation spaces can be graded flat to sheet drain, can be irrigated and can have things like backstops. I recognize that we are requesting somewhat more structured recreation space than was initially proposed.
Rudolph Giuliani in stepping down as mayor of New York related a story about public policy and the need to have policies based on rational decision making rather than emotion and politics. When he first came into office he thought it would be a good idea to put policemen on every subway train in an effort to reduce crime. The general public largely cheered this idea. However, he soon found out that 66% of the crime in the New York subway system happened on the platforms, not on the trains and his thoughts turned to policeman watching muggers wave to them as they passed on the train. So let's talk about land use and regional recreation.
The problem confronting recreational land use can be summed up in one word- girls. Twenty years ago the number of girls and women engaged in structured recreation was virtually non-existent. Today girls make up 41% of the soccer players. There are girls' softball leagues and girls' rugby. And now, these same girls are women with similar needs. Women took half the adult use field space for the recently opened fields in Berkeley. Just to keep pace with the gender demand in Berkeley alone, we would have had to build another 9 fields. The same is true for Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond, Oakland, San Pablo and pretty much any other urban site in the Bay area. This is why people are traveling to fields outside their local community. This is a region wide problem and it requires a regional public policy response.
To build fields you need land, lots of it. And money, lots of that too. Each field takes about two acres. When we initially got into field development to help address this regional need, we first went to EBRPD whose Tilden Park seemed like an ideal place to meet a demand that was so overwhelming that children were (and continue to be) regularly turned away from recreation programs. EBRPD responded that no "structured" recreation was allowed.
So we looked elsewhere. It was an exhaustive search which included such ideas as decking over EBMUD reservoirs and putting fields inside the horse track at Golden Gate Fields. Where are the governments who are charged with meeting this overwhelming new demand supposed to find affordable two-acre parcels?
After almost seven years we finally were able to have the City of Berkeley purchase a four-acre site at 5th and Harrison from the University of California. This intergovernmental transaction allowed the City of Berkeley to secure undeveloped land suitable for two fields at almost half of market value. They paid a mere $2.75 million dollars for the land and development costs added another $1.5 million (excluding streets) making each one of these fields a $2.1 million investment. Berkeley was fortunate to actually have this land available and be financially strong enough to complete this transaction. Most cities, certainly not Albany, Richmond, El Cerrito or San Pablo could even consider such a financial transaction yet they too have the same pressure for more space. Some larger governmental agency, most logically the state or regional park district, needs to step in to fill or coordinate this regional need.
And if the need in Berkeley was nine fields on a population base of 110,000, the local regional needs for the 675,000 people who live in the cities adjacent to the park are what, 55 fields? If we took all the field areas we are proposing for this last large parcel of land which can service this need we will get maybe 12 fields. The need being filled by these 12 fields hasn't even included all the demand from those players whose live in Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Alameda, Mill Valley etc. They too are short on field space and they too have a right to use this regional park.
We now come to the issue of structured versus unstructured recreation. A recent survey of juvenile offenders in San Francisco asked them what could have been done to keep them out of jail. 75% of them responded, "Give us something to do between 3:30 and 6:00." The current proposal, not ours, calls for a large portion of the park to be set aside for unstructured recreation.
So who is using this unstructured space between 3:30 and 6:00 weekdays? Certainly not adults, most of whom are working. Certainly not children because the location of this space, unlike a Central Park in NYC or Grant Park in Chicago, is separated from the residents by an eight lane freeway. It pretty much requires an automobile for access. So on one side of the freeway you have children being turned away from after school recreation programs or like monkeys in cages crammed 45 to a field. While vacant land on the other side of the freeway goes unused. What is the rational basis for this public policy?
In the evening, if you're an adult, unless you have been playing for a very long time or just happen to get lucky, you can't find a place to play mid week or on a Saturday, pretty much anywhere in the urban parts of the Bay Area. You can't make this same statement about looking for a quiet place to take a walk, fly a kite or have a picnic. And adult use is for the most part not unstructured, even though to the casual eye, because the players aren't wearing uniforms, it would appear that it is. Most adult games are played with the same people at the same field at the same time on the same day of the week. People don't show up at a field in the hopes that there will be 20 other people who want to play the same sport nor do they generally wake up on a Saturday and call 20 of their friends.
And those fields that do exist are literally worn down to the ground from over use. The four fields in the Fielding/Gabe's complex serve 50,000 visitors each year and have long waiting lists. If you look at the relationship between acreage devoted to active versus passive recreation in light of the 675,000 people who live in the cities adjacent to the park, you will find that the land use patterns are way out of balance. It is our understanding that this near East Bay area is 80% below national norms for active recreation space. Eastshore State Park provides one of the last opportunities to address this need.
We would be making a mistake to put into perpetuity a policy, which allows a flat field to be built but not used, when we have a demonstrated need. An alternative to the "structured" versus "unstructured" debate is to deal with this problem at an administrative level in the operation of the park rather than as a land use designation. For example, you might take a field and allow "structured" use during weekdays when the demand for "unstructured" use is low but no "structured" use on the weekends when the demand for "unstructured" use is high. This is what ASFU does now with many of its fields. This is the rational public policy approach.
In closing, I do want to express my appreciation for all the hard work and effort that you and the staff of EBRPD, CDRP and CSCC have put into this project. I recognize that managing active recreation is somewhat outside the comfort zone and traditional role for state and regional parks departments. I would hope that our proposal would be seen as an opportunity for experimenting with new roles for your agencies as well as new ways for managing park land in highly urbanized areas.