An open letter to The Yodeler, the local newsletter of the Sierra Club.
August 21, 2001

Preserving the East Bay Shoreline: What are we Really Trading Away?

The article by Norman LaForce in the August Yodeler makes a strong and valid case for habitat preservation along the shoreline of the new Eastshore State Park. But should we really be painting all of the various bodies of water within the Eastshore State Park boundaries with the same broad brush?

The problem, as accurately stated in The Yodeler, is that the area offers outstanding recreational opportunities. Many of these recreational opportunities are water-based. Arguably the most valuable open space in this park is the water, not the land, and there is considerable demand for greater access to various forms of recreation involving non-motorized motion over water.

There is a sublime satisfaction in simply floating on water and directing one's own course. At the most basic level, this can be achieved by providing good launch facilities for kayaks, and by providing entry-level rental rowboats for casual visitors. This is the kind of activity that cements one's relationship to the natural value of the shoreline, and ultimately broadens the constituency of the various environmental activist communities.

So when we propose to limit human access to virtually all of the accessible water area, and severely limit recreational support facilities on the shoreline, we have to take a close look at what we might be trading away.

Motorized uses are clearly out of the question. At issue is the accessibility of the North Sailing Basin, and possibly other areas of the waterfront, to small watercraft propelled by muscle or sail. Also at issue - and this is really the key issue - is whether we view water-borne recreation as something we can do right at our doorstep, or something that involves driving a considerable distance in a vehicle large enough to carry our equipment. Seen in this context, and in view of the very high local population pressure, there is an environmental imperative to make every effort to substitute local recreational opportunities for those usually found a great distance away. Provided that this can be done without significant habitat damage.

The North Sailing Basin is the protected body of water between Cesar Chavez Park and the North Basin Strip (where pumpkins and Christmas trees have been sold). It's perfect for entry-level rowing, beginning small boat sailing, and as a launch site for other watercraft that venture further out into the open Bay. It's been identified by the Eastshore State Park planning consultants as the body of water with the least importance as wildlife habitat and the most suitable for recreational uses.

There is also a population of diving ducks in the North Sailing Basin during winter months. Similar wind-protected sub-tidal habitat can be found in parts of the Emeryville Crescent, to the east of the Emeryville Marina, behind the Brickyard Peninsula, in the South Sailing Basin, on the north side of the Albany Bulb, behind the breakwater off Battery Point, and in the very large protected area in the lee of Brooks Island. It's also important to note that in the South Sailing Basin, which already hosts a number of very active sailing, kayaking and windsurfing programs, there appears to be no significant interference between ducks and watercraft. Part of this easy co-existence is probably due to the seasonal aspect: watercraft usage is minimal during the winter months when the large rafts of ducks are present. In addition, the ducks seem to prefer the leeward side of the basin, closer to the Brickyard, while the people tend to favor the west side, in deeper water and further from the freeway noise.

It's certainly true that a duck and a kayak cannot occupy the same space at the same time. But all the evidence points to compatibility between non-motorized watercraft and diving ducks.

But are new watercraft facilities really necessary when the nearby South Sailing Basin offers many of the same opportunities?

Yes, for two reasons: The South Sailing Basin facilities are already at full capacity. On summer weekends the parking lot is full and the docks are crowded. More importantly, the environmental conditions are somewhat different, especially in summer months when the wind is up. The South Sailing Basin is an ideal place for intermediate and advanced sailing and windsurfing, but not as good for paddlecraft and not appropriate at all for entry-level rowing. The North Sailing Basin offers a much larger protected area for entry- level and youth-oriented activities. The North Basin is the only place where entry-level rowing - probably the most important activity of all in terms of public access - is feasible.

What are we really trading away if we limit human access to the water?

In this case, I believe we are trading away something more important than the few percent of parkland needed to support recreational activities, and more important than the relatively insignificant interference with an even smaller percentage of the winter duck population's habitat. We are trading away our fundamental relationship to the Bay, and the unique opportunities that floating on water provides for spiritual sustenance and environmental connection.

Whatever the classification used by the State, the plan for the Eastshore State Park should allow, encourage and support a wide range of non-motorized active water-related uses in the North Sailing Basin.

Paul Kamen
Chair, Berkeley Waterfront Commission