xIf Berkeley can’t readily muster space for new sports fields within its city limits, maybe the city of Oakland can pinch hit.
That’s what Berkeley leaders are hoping as they explore the possibility of turning the vacant Safeway site on Claremont Avenue in Oakland into a baseball diamond and soccer field.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Doug Fielding, chairperson of the Association of Sports Field Users, citing a city need for at least six more sports fields to meet the demand of local athletes. He noted that Berkeley currently has only 21 fields.
The effort to assume control of the Safeway site in Oakland follows several public meetings on the ongoing development of the Eastshore State Park, along the Berkeley waterfront, where dozens of sports advocates have been pushing an agenda for playing fields along the bay.
Their wishes, though, have met resistance from more environmentally-minded residents who want the waterfront to remain natural space for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts. The California Department of Parks and Recreation, which will have final say over the bayfront park, wants the shoreline to remain undeveloped as well.
“We definitely need playing fields for youth, but playing fields can be put anyplace if you’ve got the land... There’s only one waterfront, and it’s a very special area,” said Councilmember Dona Spring.
Spring authored the request to explore the Oakland Safeway site for playing fields. Her request received unanimous support from City Council.
However, some residents have expressed concern that Oakland may not be the best place for Berkeley sports fields.
“I’m a little confused about why the city is looking at other cities when they have good sites here,” said Fielding.
Others have voiced concern about the high volume of traffic on Claremont Street, and the safety implications, as well as the hefty price tag that may accompany the Safeway property.
The lot is privately owned, and not known to be up for sale, according to city officials in Oakland.
“But it’s a big sore thumb,” said Berkeley resident Kathryn Swift, a member of Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition and one of the first people advocating playing fields at the Oakland site.
Swift added that the high volume of traffic on Claremont Street may be a good thing, vouching for the site’s accessibility to local athletes.
Berkeley’s city manager’s office said it has already begun efforts to reach the owner of the Safeway site as well contact Oakland officials to inquire about joint appropriation of the land.
“In many ways, the regional approach makes sense,” said Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz. “Kids don’t pay attention to city borders.”
City staff, at an earlier request of City Council, is also looking into the possibility of buying land from Golden Gate Fields, on Eastshore Highway, and converting it to playing fields.
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