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Water Authority floats ferry plan for Berkeley

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Saturday September 01, 2001

The Water Transit Authority held a second meeting at Berkeley City Hall Friday to discuss an evolving plan to link San Francisco Bay communities with an expanded ferry service.  

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the WTA held a previous meeting on Aug. 10, attended by approximately 15 ferry supporters. Worthington said he called Friday’s meeting so environmentalists could air concerns about potential impacts of ferry terminals in Berkeley and other locations around the San Francisco Bay.  

“The WTA didn’t notify environmental organizations for the previous meeting,” Worthington said. “And I wanted to make sure they heard a wider range of opinions.”  

The California Legislature created the San Francisco Bay Area Water Transit Authority in 1999 for the purpose of developing a long-range plan to relieve traffic congestion by expanding ferry service. The project was funded with $12 million out of the State Transportation Funds in 2000. 

Four WTA representatives, including Chief Executive Officer Tom Bertken, presented the working plans for the expanded ferry system. Currently they are studying the possibility of adding as many as 23 ferry terminals to the nine that already service the Bay Area. In addition to Berkeley, some potential East Bay sites include Martinez, Benicia, Crockett and the Oakland Airport. 

The WTA began presenting the working plan to city officials and citizens groups in Bay Area cities in late July.  

Friday’s meeting was attended by 12 people, including former El Cerrito Mayor Norman La Force, who is now chairman of the Sierra Club’s East Bay Public Lands Committee. Those who attended the meeting mostly had questions about the environmental impacts of a ferry terminal at two possible locations in Berkeley, the end of Gilman Street and the Berkeley Marina. 

The Berkeley Marina was the temporary site of a ferry terminal during a BART strike in the 1970s and eight months in 1989 after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. 

The attendees expressed concerns about the impact of dredging the shallow waters at the Gilman Street location, the potential construction of a parking garage at the Berkeley Marina and possible negative impact on existing public transportation. 

Bertken and WTA Planning Manager Steve Castleberry stressed during the meeting that the working plan is in the early stages and is being evaluated primarily by potential ridership. Castleberry said once the potential locations are determined to be viable, each specific site will undergo a thorough environmental review.  

The WTA has a deadline of Dec. 12, 2002, to submit an operations plan, which will recommend priorities for ferry routes, types of vessels and required facilities. The plan will also present estimated costs and suggest funding sources. 

“The biggest thing right now is finding out if anybody is going to ride these things and if they’re not then there’s no need for environmental studies,” said Castleberry pointing to a map of proposed ferry routes and terminals. “These are routes we are studying and not what we will be recommending to the Legislature.” 

But several attendees said environmental issues should be considered at all stages of the plan’s development. La Force was concerned about the impact of traffic at the East Bay Shoreline State Park.  

“People worked for 40 years to create a place to enjoy the peace and serenity of the Bay and you can’t have that if car after car and bus after bus are bringing people down to the waterfront to catch the ferry,” he said.  

Steve Geller, who is on the board of directors of the Alliance for AC Transit and Bus Riders Union, said he was worried the proposed ferry system would take riders away from existing public transportation systems. 

“Water transit should do something to improve current traffic congestion by getting people out of their cars and not off of AC Transit and BART,” he said. “If it doesn’t do that, then why bother?” 

Worthington said taking money away from existing public transportation would not achieve the goal of reducing automobile traffic.  

“If they take money from the highway funds that would be cool,” Worthington said. “But the danger is they will take money away from AC Transit and then we’d have worse service, which would result in a net loss of people using public transit.” 

WTA Public Affairs Officer Heidi Machen said no funding sources have been identified, but said possibilities include federal and state funds and possibly raising bridge tolls. She said diverting money from existing transportation sources had not been ruled out.  

“One reason why we are holding these meetings is to get public input, which will affect how we proceed,” she said.