The Sierra Club Position on the Berkeley Ferry

This is from the September 19, 2001 cover letter sent with the Sierra Club's position paper on ferries, sent to Thomas Bertken, Executive Director of the Water Transit Authority. The letter was copied to the City Councils of ALbany, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Richomd:

"...the Sierra Club opposes commuter ferry service in or adjacent to a park. Consequently, the Sierra Club opposes any idea of a commuter ferry in or adjacent to the proposed East Bay State Seashore. I wish to make it very clear to the Water Transit Authority that the Sierra Club will fight any effort to establish a commuter ferry service along the East Bay shoreline adjacent to the new Eastshore State Park/Seashore especially at Gilman Street or at the Berkeley Pier as was discussed."

Norman La Force, Chair, Sierra Club East Bay Public Lands Committee & Legal Chair, San Francisco Bay Chapter

Aside from the issue of whether or not this restriction makes any sense, neither the foot of Gilman Street nor the Berkeley Pier is technically "in or adjacent to" the Eastshore State Park. The Gilman Street location does require that the ferry transit through submerged offshore "lands" that are owned by the State Park system, but Gilman itself falls well inside a mile-wide gap in park territory on dry land. The portion of the North Basin Strip that is within the park boundaries (same area where pumpkins and Christmas trees are sold) begins a quarter mile to the south of Gilman, and Albany Beach is 3/4 mile to the north.

Gilman falls right in the middle of an area that the racetrack owner plans to develop as a hotel/commercial center, so "adjacent to a park" does not accurately describe the situation. "In the middle of a commercial center" is equally applicable, unless there is reason to believe that efforts to acquire this area for park expansion will be successful.

If the Gilman area does not become part of the Eastshore State Park, there will almost certainly be an easement along the shoreline for the Bay Trail, and this will have to cross access to a ferry pier. However, virtually any other location on San Francisco Bay will also have to cross the Bay Trail when this project is complete.

The Berkeley Fishing Pier location is 2000 feet from the nearest corner of the Eastshore State Park, and the ferry route only takes us further away from park lands and waters.

While the Berkeley Marina does include some park-like features, it is also an existing commercial and recreational center that already supports diverse maritime activity. As the terminus of an AC transit trunk line (the 51M) with bus service every 20 minutes, the Berkeley Pier is a natural transportation node.

The Sierra Club "Position on Ferry Service" includes a fourteen-point set of guidelines, some of which are well-reasoned and legitimate. The document concludes that "large-scale expansion of ferry service is likely to result in exacerbation, not amelioration, of the region's problems" unless their guidelines are followed.

This conclusion is not entirely incorrect. However, opposition to a low-speed ferry service for the Berkeley to San Francisco route is simply not justified by the applicable facts, even using the Sierra Club's own strict guidelines.

As one South Berkeley resident sums it up:

"It seems a bit shortsighted to oppose environmentally-friendly public transit on the grounds that an area including a hotel and the largest banquet room in Berkeley is adjacent to a park, especially when that park is more or less bordered by a freeway from which the ferry might divert traffic."