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Environmentalists don’t play well with others

Doug Fielding
Tuesday May 14, 2002

To the Editor: 

Using lots of money to get their point across? Telling lies to convince you that where they stand is where you should stand? Making statements that seem to make sense except for what they don’t tell you? Big Tobacco? No. Big Sierra Club and Citizens for an Eastshore State Park (CESP). 

It’s a disappointment, no question. To have other community groups, and very moneyed and powerful ones at that, take such a hard line, “me and only me” approach to what should be a cooperative community effort in building a great Eastshore State Park. 

We provide recreation opportunities to over 12,000 children and about half as many adults. We like birds. We like mudflats. We would love them, really, to restore Codornices Creek between our recently built playing fields in Berkeley so the children could see frogs and trout without having to go on a car ride followed by a forced march. This could also be happening at Eastshore State Park. Kids can look at birds many of them have never seen. They can walk a path down to the Albany Bulb and see some artwork and where land ends. Or maybe someone can just find a place to play. 

We think mud flats, birds, marshes, creeks and playing fields can co-exist to the benefit of the community. The Sierra Club and CESP think differently – fine, they are entitled to their opinion. But knowingly providing the community with false information to sell their idea is not okay. 

“Playing fields with their herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides would wipe out the habitat value of the (Albany) Plateau and threaten the fragile ecology of the mudflats.” This statement made in the April issue of the Sierra Club newsletter is factually incorrect. That was bad enough. But even after the Association of Sports Field Users met with the leaders of CESP and the Sierra Club several weeks ago in an effort to start a dialogue and to let them know they were mistaken about our use of chemicals, the CESP May newsletter continues to make this knowingly false assertion to advance their planning agenda 

For the past eight years our organization has maintained a number of playing fields from Richmond to Berkeley. We’ve never used pesticides. Our soccer fields in Berkeley and Albany are among the best maintained in the Bay Area. We’ve never used herbicides on our turf. We’ve told both the Sierra Club and CESP that we support the banning of the use of pesticides and herbicides on sports fields in Eastshore State Park. 

The Sierra Club never even made an effort to find out the facts and accused another community group, in public, of being environmentally insensitive. Perhaps the Sierra Club was ill informed but CESP followed suit, after they were told of the facts. In short, CESP lied to this community in an effort to advance their political agenda. 

The Sierra Club and CESP also try to make the case that there are lots of places to put playing fields. “We have also urged Berkeley to acquire the American Soil Products property…would include structured sports fields.” What CESP and the Sierra Club do not tell you are that the asking price for these eight acres is well in excess of $20,000,000. That works out to $5,000,000 land costs per field! If the Sierra Club has an extra twenty million, by all means buy the property. If they don’t, should taxpayers be asked to spend these kinds of sums when there is public land across the street that can be used for the same purpose? The sports community understands that this location isn’t ideal. Nor was the location of Harrison Park. But it’s a better alternative than no playing fields. 

These environmental groups have offices, paid staff, expensive brochures, and a seemingly endless supply of money for mass mailings. Those of us who volunteer our time and put our money into maintaining playing fields, providing kids with something to do after school, buying equipment and giving scholarships to kids deserve better treatment than this. 

Eastshore State Park is a very big place. It stretches from the Bay Bridge to Richmond. The Sierra Club and CESP position might be a little more understandable if this was pristine wilderness. It’s not. It is a concrete and rebar landfill. We could better comprehend their position if the bulk of the park was being developed. It is not. For the most part the place is going to be left in its current state, just as they want. The Sierra Club and CESP have really taken a “mine all mine” approach to a piece of property that was paid for by all of us and needs to serve the diverse interests of the 645,000 people who ring the park — some of whom want something other than a place to watch birds. 

But what the environmental groups have done here goes far beyond Eastshore State Park. If groups, such as CESP and the Sierra Club, are spreading false tales of eco-disaster on such black and white issues as whether or not playing fields require pesticides, how much credibility should we be giving them as we listen to their claims of doom and gloom in other areas? Is the short road extension along the Albany neck being requested by the wind surfers really going to create the problem the environmental groups claim or is this just another example of their need to manipulate the end result by manipulating the information? To the extent these eco-bullies are a primary source of information on the environmental consequences of how different activities will affect the environment, they have corrupted the process. 

We need these environmental groups to provide us with reliable information to counter the claims of industry and agribusiness. When they start knowingly providing misleading information we should all be concerned, not just those of us who have an interest in Eastshore State Park. 

I am sure this letter will generate a number of responses. The response I would like to see published is from the Director of CESP and the Director of the Sierra Club, who was quick to point out to a local journalist that “he should get his facts straight”. At least we understood the journalist was writing an opinion piece. 

- Doug Fielding