Public hearing scheduled Aug. 15
Shoring up decades of public comment and controversy, planners with the California Department of Parks and Recreation have released a long-awaited plan for the waterfront Eastshore Park.
The plan lays out the preliminary blueprint for an 8 1/2-mile stretch of natural areas, sports fields and walking trails along San Francisco Bay from the base of the Bay Bridge in Oakland to Marina Bay in Richmond.
Release of the plan, which was accompanied by a draft environmental impact report, has already reignited an argument about whether playing fields or native habitat is best for Berkeley’s bayfront.
During the many years of park planning, advocates for sports fields and the environmental community each pushed their agendas.
Dubbed a compromise by state planners, the preliminary general plan calls for the development of up to five playing fields at the nearby Albany Plateau, with no fields planned for Berkeley, and the establishment of a “conservation area,” protecting plants and wildlife in the bayside Berkeley meadow.
“The plan reflects a potential for consensus,” said park planner Donald Neuwirth. “Not everyone is going to get what they want here, only some of it.”
Both the environmental community and the sports field advocates, who have until the end of August to submit comments, are calling the plan a disappointment.
“There should be more of an effort to protect and bring back natural habitat,” said Norman La Force, chair of the East Bay Lands Committee of the Sierra Club. He noted that the mission of the managing State Parks system is to preserve California’s diminishing native ecological systems, not to develop over them.
“Creating ball fields on a state park is against the law,” La Force said.
Proponents of the ball fields think otherwise.
Citing a need for six more sports fields to meet the city’s rising demand for athletics, Berkeley resident Doug Fielding insists that park planners should prioritize the needs of people.
“We would like to see playing fields in Berkeley,” Fielding said. Berkeley currently has 21 fields, according to Fielding.
The Albany-based advocacy group Let It Be agrees with the need to serve local residents.
“[State planners] are treating this like it’s wilderness... like it’s Alaska,” said Jill Posener, coordinator of Albany-based Let It Be.
Her group, which claims to have 1,200 supporters, opposes the state’s plan to restore natural habitat in Albany, specifically at the Albany Bulb, because it would put an end to such activities as public art shows and letting dogs run off-leash at the bayfill peninsula.
Berkeley City Council recently supported Let It Be, calling for the Albany Bulb to remain unrestored, with no nearby sports fields, and suggesting that fields be built in Berkeley instead.
State planners, who are not legally bound to heed recommendations from the five cities through which the state park passes, rejected council’s idea.
Neuwirth said that an extensive environmental study considering conditions for sports fields as well as native habitat showed that Berkeley’s proposal was less desirable.
He also said that the western end of Gilman Street, where Berkeley’s council recommended playing fields, is private property and cannot be considered in the park plan.
City Council also recommended fewer parking lots than the state did.
Neuwirth, conceding that no party will be completely satisfied, says it’s time for residents to put aside their differences and support the project.
“The park’s not going to get built unless people say they want it. There are people competing for money all over,” he said, suggesting that enthusiasm for the park would help attract necessary state funding.
In addition to state parks, the East Bay Regional Park District and the California State Coastal Conservancy are agencies involved with the project.
At 7 p.m. Aug. 15 a public meeting is scheduled at which the agencies will answer questions and hear public comments about the preliminary general plan and the environmental impact report.
Final approval by the State Parks Commission is expected later this year. The documents can be viewed on-line at www.eastshorestatepark.org.