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Community comes out to voice opinions on Eastshore Park usage

By Jia-Rui Chong, Daily Planet staf
Friday March 22, 2002

Little leaguers in uniform, soccer dads, windsurfers, dog-lovers and conservationists crowded into the Florence Schwimley Little Theatre Thursday night to tell the planning team for the proposed Eastshore State Park how they want the 1,800 acres to be used. 

At the third of four regional meetings, the planning team presented its “preferred concept” for the park, which will connect the waterfronts from Emeryville to Richmond. The map blended the planning team’s two original concepts and comments from the public. 

Stephen Hammond, a member of the planning team, talked the audience of about 300 through the plan to create “a recreational facility harmonious with its natural setting.” 

With charts and maps, he explained that 10 percent of the land and 33 percent of the water will be marked for preservation to provide the greatest amount of protection. 

47 percent of the land and 57 percent of the water will be marked for recreation to allow the greatest amount of human use.  

49 percent of the land and 10 percent of the water will be marked for conservation to allow the less intrusive human use. 

“I want to emphasize that this is the basis for the General Plan. It is not detailed or site-specific. It establishes the general framework that will provide guidance to the state to fund improvements and enhancements to the park,” said Hammond. 

But the planning team still wanted to hear comments from the public, said Don Neuwirth, who was also part of the group drafting the General Plan.  

The lines to the microphones stretched to the back of the theater when the public comment session began. There were four main points of contention. 

• Athletes and their parents wanted more playing fields.  

Doug Fielding, who chairs the Association of Sports Field Users, said that while they were happy with the current playing fields on the Albany Plateau, they wanted more. He suggested that the North Basin Strip could be used. 

“We’re trying to get 10 playing fields in Eastshore State Park. It would only be two percent of the land,” he said.  

Many other speakers made the same suggestions. 

Councilmembers Polly Armstrong and Miriam Hawley, who have fought for more space for playing fields in Berkeley, supported their efforts. 

“There’s been a history of driving kids to kingdom-come to play games on Saturdays and Sundays,” said Armstrong. 

“It’s hard for traditional families, but for families with other demands, it shuts the kids out of playing.” 

• Bird-lovers and members of the various nature clubs wanted to protect more animal habitats. Some pointed to the encroachment of the proposed hostel and boat launch into Berkeley Meadow.  

Several of the speakers had been involved with saving the land from development in the late 1960s. 

“We see a unique opportunity for an urban park as well as for a wild-land park focusing on education and recreation related to wildlife habitat,” said Normal La Force of the Sierra Club. 

“But we have to think about what’s appropriate given the environmental values and conditions we have at this site.” 

Other conservationists were worried not so much about the playing fields as the large parking lots that would be needed for them. 

• Dog-lovers wanted to protect as much space as possible for leash-free frolicking. They wanted more space at Point Isabel and on the Albany Bulb. 

• Windsurfers pleaded for better access to water recreation areas. Because their equipment is heavy, parking lots cannot be too far away from the shore. 

Though all sides saw the need for compromise, they hoped it would not be at their expense. 

The planning team will take all of these comments into consideration as it develops the General Plan. They will also look at written comments submitted during the workshop. 

The planning team will be local briefings in April for those who missed the workshop. It will be developing the General Plan for the fourth regional meeting in May 2002. After that, there is an environmental review. The process is scheduled to wrap up in October 2002. 

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