Right now, it is an empty section of railroad track blocked off on both sides by a cyclone fence. It used to be a hang-out for prostitutes and rowdy drinkers until the city erected these fences at Berkeley Way and University Avenue about 10 years ago. Now many groups in the city want to make it part of a landscaped pedestrian and bicycle corridor.
But neighbors along the Old Santa Fe Right of Way don’t want the bad old days to come back.
At a 7 p.m. meeting tonight at Liz Fogerty’s house at 1301 Berkeley Way, they hope to voice their concerns to city officials and talk to the police department about crime.
Elena Nanapoulos, who has been active in the Berkeley Way Neighbors’ Group, said those who live closest to the proposed park have felt left out of the planning process. While the city has been working on the park idea since last summer, neighbors only got a chance to talk at a stakeholders’ meeting called by Councilmember Linda Maio on Feb. 11.
“The issue is that while we’re in favor of green space – we’ve asked for it for years because it’s a fairly unattractive space – we’re worried about crime,” said Nanapoulos.
The neighbors are happy that respected organizations like the Berkeley Montessori School and the Temple Nevitot Shalom will be making the neighborhood their home, but worried about what might happen to the open space at night.
“We’ve heard from police that the drug traffic nowadays is not stationary and not just on street corners. It happens on bikes,” said Carol Sullivan, also active in the neighborhood group. A sunny family-friendly bike path could become an after-hours super highway for drugs, she said.
Dave Campbell of the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition said that his group is trying to be sensitive to the neighbors’ concerns.
“I told the neighbors at the meeting that their concerns for safety are bigger than our concerns for a bike path,” he said. “We’re not going to ram a bike path down their throats if they don’t want it.”
A gate could solve the problem. Putting in the fence in mid-1980s ended the “uncivilized behavior,” said Filmer.
“I never thought I’d have the desire to have an ugly, tall fence in my surrounds, but it really improved the quality of the neighborhood,” she said.
A gate that could be opened in the morning and closed at night by beat cops would give them both green space and safety, she said.
Maio said she hopes all the groups can talk through their differences at tonight’s meeting because it seems everyone wants a green space, in theory. Then they can have another meeting to discuss the specifics of the development.
Steven Swanson, president of the Berkeley Partners for Parks, the group that has spearheaded the effort, said it is about time.
“Berkeley has been tardy with the greenway thing for a long time,” said Swanson.
Now that the city has a large grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, his group’s vision of a grassy trail that fuses pedestrian and bike paths with community gardens or maybe a putting green can become a reality.
“Our view on it is that an abandoned Right of Way doesn’t do anyone any good,” said Swanson. “A greenway tends to improve a neighborhood and there will be a lot of legitimate users, especially pedestrian activity. This is a self-policing mechanism.”
The greenway would also join currently isolated parks that have been created along the Right of Way, as well as connect South Berkeley to Albany and El Cerrito.
The city recognizes the people’s desire for more green space, said Maio. She said the park is at the top of the staff’s list of possible ways to use the HIP grant and high on her list of priorities, as well.
“I’ve been wanting to improve the Right of Way since I was elected, but there was no money to do it,” said Maio, who has worked on the Santa Fe Right of Way project for the last two months.
“Given the economy, I don’t think we’ll come across these kinds of funds again. I don’t want to miss the opportunity.”
A staff working group has been considering the project since the city was awarded the $1 million HIP grant in July 2001. The money is given for transportation projects based on how much housing a city plans to build.
Dave Fogerty in the city’s Office of Economic Development said $1 million would buy the city a pedestrian crossing at University Avenue, and a bike path to the Delaware Bike Boulevard that could connect to the BART station.
Although Fogerty could not divulge the staff recommendation that will be presented to the City Council in April, he did say the Santa Fe greenway was very favorably viewed.