Eastshore State Park

How to Fix the Preliminary General Plan

By Paul Kamen
August 18 2002

Public hearings are neither democratic expressions of the political will, nor are they scientific evaluations of public preferences. However, we can still learn a lot about the political and public reactions to certain elements of the Plan by paying attention to what is being said.

This document suggests some ways that the Preliminary General Plan can be modified to satisfy a large part of the criticism being leveled against it. Some compromises will still be necessary, but in general the mix of uses does not change very much under these proposals.

I am personally aligned strongly with the "active recreation" side of the debate. Therefore I think I can make the following recommendations with both objectivity and credibility, because they work mostly to increase protected habitat and reduce the "hard" urban features that are now part of the Plan.

Here's how to fix the Plan for the Eastshore State Park:

1) Move the playing fields to the Brickyard

There is broad support for playing fields in the Eastshore State Park, but there is also significant opposition to locating them on the Albany Plateau. The Brickyard really is a better place. It is much closer to good bicycle access, and closer to other active recreational and commercial uses (park main entrance/visitor center, café/deli/market, Marina water-related recreation).

And, the land under the piles of earth at the Brickyard's "put and take" topsoil operation appears to be very stable and flat, being significantly older and probably cleaner fill than the Plateau.

Sketching out a possible arrangement of fields, I find room for three full-size soccer fields plus a Little League diamond, without reducing the large existing parking area. This plan also retains a kayak launch area on the west side of the Brickyard, with additional parking close to the water. The proposed lawn area would be replaced by these fields, but there has been virtually no expressed support for lawns at the various workshops and hearings.

2) Delete the "promenade" on the Brickyard Peninsula.

There appears to be very little enthusiasm for a "promenade" here. While it may be true that the existing rip-rap is every bit as "hard" and "unnatural" as a promenade with railings and built-up viewing areas, spending the money to develop the promenades seems out of place in this location.

3) Designate the Brickyard Peninsula as a conservation area, probably with dogs prohibited. This is one place where it would be possible to control dog access (narrow entrance and close to park headquarters), and proximity to the developing salt marsh to the east of the Peninsula suggests relatively rich habitat value.

4) Limit kayak launch facilities to the west side of the Brickyard

The water access inside the cove east of the Peninsula only works at high tide. Kayakers have tide books and can work around this, but the value of a launch site here compared to a nearby location with many more hours of access every day is dubious. The cove could be designated as a preservation area without seriously compromising active uses.

5) Consider additional fields on the North Basin Strip.

The North Basin Strip seems to be accepted as an area for active recreation, and there would be a positive synergy between field sports facilities and water-related recreation centered at the boathouse. Kids who come down to the waterfront for a game will very likely get their first glimpse of a kayak, dragon boat, outrigger or small sailboat in motion, with the resulting expansion of their recreational horizons.

The Plan should retain the promenade along the North Basin Strip - it is much easier to justify this treatment here because of the continuing erosion of the shoreline and dangerous materials constantly being extruded from the landfill. The only viable option here is to "harden" the water's edge with a bulkhead and a shoreline walkway.

6) Designate the small beach near Fleming Point as a dog beach.

There really is a legitimate need for a dog beach in the area. If Albany beach is considered too valuable for sand dunes and for people who need a dog-free environment, then it makes sense to allow off-leash dogs on the smaller beach to the south. Technically this is out of the park boundary, but it's all well within BCDC's hundred feet of high water and will almost certainly be within an easement for the Bay Trail to the west of the racetrack.

7) Designate the Albany Plateau as conservation area.

With four to six playing fields in Berkeley, the need for playing fields here is very much reduced.

8) Allow vehicular access and parking at least half-way out along the lower road on the Albany Neck.

This is the only way to meet the need for windsurfer access to the best launch site on the entire East Bay shoreline. It would be better to adopt the windsurfers' plan for a parking area at the west end of the Neck, but some compromise appears to be necessary here.

9) Leave the dogs and art on the Albany Bulb.

"Let it Be" is going to win this one anyway, and the planning team and State Parks would be well advised to cut their losses and get with the program. The reason is simple: Bringing an off-leash dog to the Bulb or making a driftwood sculpture will continue to be attractive acts of low-stakes civil disobedience. There seem to be thousands of people ready to keep on doing what they do now with their dogs, and it is very unlikely that Sniff and company will desist just because of some park rules. In fact the art is probably more meaningful if it's clearly in violation. Breaking the rules for what is perceived to be a just cause, especially when it is both convenient and safe, is a temptation that is difficult to resist.

So leash laws and art bans on the Bulb will be very very difficult to enforce - and In the context of tight budgets, State Parks will look very bad if it dedicates significant resources to opposing these community values.

10) Remove construction debris from the Albany Bulb only as necessary for safety, and make no significant effort to replace invasive plant species with natives.

Dangerous building debris should be removed from the Bulb, but only to the extent that this is clearly necessary for safety. Otherwise the expense is not justified. Same with invasive plant species - it's expensive and has dubious benefit when weighed against the expressed community values.

More background and commentary at www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission
(expressing only personal opinions in this document)