Letter to the Mayor and City Council

February 4 2003

Dear Mayor and Councilmembers,

This letter is in response to the letter by Norman La Force to the Council and Planning Commission dated February 3 2003.

Yes, there was a period of time when the Wolfe Mason draft of the Marina Master Plan did not show the water access point in the North Sailing Basin. But the plan is the result of a public process. There were three public hearings and numerous Waterfront Commission meetings and Planning Subcommittee meetings at which public input was received and evaluated, and as a result, the final draft of the Marina Plan includes new water access for kayaks, canoes and small sailboats in the North Sailing Basin. It is not really legitimate to wind the process back to an intermediate point and then identify that as the result of the planning process.

The nature of the proposed access point is also somewhat misrepresented in Norman La Force's letter. This access point might be as simple as a set of tidal steps or a path through the rip-rap to allow people to walk to the water with their kayaks, using existing parking near the corner of Marina Blvd. and Spinnaker Way. Or it might be as elaborate as a new boathouse with docks, on-site storage and a new drop-off point. These decisions come much later, and would be guided by continuing public input. But at this point in the process there is no reason to assume that water access must involve new roads, parking or docks, as has been portrayed by those arguing against this element of the Marina Plan. These are details left to the site planning phase and a future revision of the North Waterfront Plan.

It is of course true that the North Waterfront (Cesar Chavez Park) Plan does not show this water access point. That is why the words "coordinated with the North Waterfront Plan" should be included in the language of the Marina Master Plan. The site planing for a water access facility would probably require a revision to the North Waterfront Plan, and clearly this would also be a public process.

Keep in mind that when the North Waterfront Plan was written in 1979, the Meadow, the North Basin Strip, and the Brickyard were all privately owned and the future character of the shorelines of these lands was uncertain. However, in 1986 a Waterfront Plan was adopted that set the priorities for the North Sailing Basin:

"Encourage sheltered water sports such as small boat launching and mooring (sailing, rowing, paddle, and sail-boating), with rentals to private organizations for necessary support facilities along the eastern shore of North Waterfront Park, provided environmental standards such as protection of the Bay from leachate can be met and provided this use is consistent with the City's Master Plan for North Waterfront Park"

But now it is 2003, and the recently adopted General Plan for the Eastshore State Park, after a new round of public input and new environmental analysis, continues to identify the North Sailing Basin as the preferred location for water-borne recreation. We can now plan waterfront uses with a lot more certainty. But the basic priorities of the 1986 plan cannot be changed unless a new public process indicates that the public no longer supports these goals. The Planning Commission, while it was somewhat critical of various details of the proposed Marina Plan, did not find that it was inconsistent with either the General Plan or the 1986 Waterfront Plan now in effect.

Water-borne recreation propelled by muscle and wind is an important part of the Berkeley waterfront. This activity is now concentrated in the South Sailing Basin, but this area is being used at capacity in the summer. More critically, the South Sailing Basin is shoaling rapidly and is on its way to becoming a tidal flat. Sensible long-range planning suggests that the South Sailing Basin should become the protected habitat, and the center of active recreation should shift to the North Sailing Basin. It is important that our Marina Plan recognize the natural forces at work here, and give us the freedom to work with these processes rather than attempt to force-fit less appropriate uses.

I urge the Council to respect the public process and keep the Marina Plan consistent with the priorities expressed in the Waterfront Plan of 1986, with the final Marina Plan draft, and with the Eastshore State Park General Plan.

The reasons for doing this go beyond the immediate aesthetic considerations of having boats and docks "disrupting" the waterfront. Muscle and wind propelled boating is the most ecologically sound recreational use of the Bay. Water is what gives the waterfront its identity, and distinguishes shoreline parks from inland parks. Should we be allowed to float on the water and move silently through it, or should we be content to simply look at it?

Paddle and sail unlock the experience of the Bay, and create its future stewards. We should support and encourage these activities whenever possible for their positive environmental and social impacts. They are not environmental compromises, but positive steps to ensure the long-term health of the shoreline and the Bay.

These are also the forms of recreation that serve a large class of youth who are not attracted to the culture of team sports. In the face of the City's deepening financial crisis, water-related recreation programs will be vital. Note that the Marina Fund is independent of the City's general fund, and may be in a position to keep water-related recreation programs thriving.

There are several reasons to support the proposed access location on the Cesar Chavez Park side of the North Sailing Basin in addition to the planned facility on the North Basin Strip. This part of Cesar Chavez Park is inside the geographic limits of the Marina Fund, where a Marina-financed youth program could operate. But the North Basin Strip is in the Eastshore State Park, outside of the reach of the Marina Fund. And, in addition to certain technical difficulties that apply to some types of non-motorized boating, the facility on the North Basin Strip will be subject to the very long time line of State Park implementation.

I urge the Council to include water access to the North Sailing Basin in the Marina Plan. The Eastshore State Park enabling legislation calls for a park that supports "recreation harmonious with the natural setting." The same should apply to the City's side of the North Sailing Basin. Wind and muscle powered boating is harmonious with the natural setting of the Berkeley shoreline in every sense of those words.

Best regards,

Paul Kamen
pk@well.com 510-540-7968

ps: It is ironic that the environmental community of Berkeley is being represented as opposed to kayaks, canoes and small sailboats (and even to low-speed fuel-efficient commuter ferries). Throughout the world, non-motorized watercraft are advocated as solutions to environmental problems, not as an abuse of the shoreline that must be fought at every turn. Even in Berkeley, the environmental mainstream shares a great deal of enthusiasm for these activities, and our City's waterfront policies should reflect this enthusiasm.