Daily Planet Staff
The last public discussion on the Eastshore State Park General Plan resembled an outlandish daytime talk show Thursday, as a crowd of more than 300 people jeered planners, mocked opponents and even watched police drag a woman out in handcuffs.
The park, billed as a bastion for personal contemplation and family recreation, stretches 8.4 miles along the coast from the Emeryville Crescent to Marina Bay in Richmond.
After decades of public support for a state park, chief planner Don Neuwirth has seen consensus wither during the last 18 months in which environmentalists, playing fields advocates, dog walkers, artists and windsurfers have come forth with conflicting demands.
The current plan tries to appease all parties.
The plan allocates 40 percent of the land and 60 percent of the water for recreation, preserving the remainder for wildlife habitat.
Among the highlights include playing fields, picnic facilities and bicycle rentals at the Berkeley Brickyard just south of the marina, preservation of the Berkeley Meadow just north of the marina, a boat launch and youth hostel at the North Basin Strip west of Gilman Street, up to five athletic fields at the Albany Plateau and a windsurf launch and continued off-leash dog walking at Point Isabel in Richmond.
But attendees of last week’s meeting weren’t impressed.
“The plan lacks vision,” said Norman La Force of the Sierra Club. “It is a hodgepodge of compromises that creates conflict between groups.”
The central battleground concerns 40 acres of overgrown brush at the coastal landfill in Albany. For the past several years off-leash dogs and artists painting on driftwood have claimed the area.
But the current plan calls for three to five athletic fields on the landfill’s eastern plateau, while the bulb-shaped western part is designated as sea bird habitat. To protect children and birds from dogs and human encroachment, the state will mandate leashes and prohibit art at the landfill.
“We have not been taken into consideration one bit,” said Sasha Futran of Let It Be, a grassroots alliance of dog walkers and artists. Her group argues that unleashed dog walking and unlicensed art add to the vitality of the park and have not endangered birds or children.
Neuwirth labeled the art, some of which depicts nudity, inappropriate for a public park and said efforts to compromise with artists have failed.
Playing field advocates accepted the plan and defended the inclusion of fields on the plateau against environmentalists, who want the entire plot preserved for wildlife.
“You guys aren’t really getting it. We play on fields with glass. A little wind isn’t going to hurt us,” said one teenage soccer player in response to a claim that the Albany fields would be too windy.
Environmentalists argued that soccer and baseball players could disrupt the migratory birds that flock to the mud flats just north of the Albany landfill. They support an alternative Berkeley City Council resolution calling for playing fields along the western edge of Gilman Avenue. Playing field advocates say the city’s proposal is unrealistic because the land is private property. A field shortage, they said, has already cost Berkeley its spring little league.
Windsurfers are also involved in the turf war. According to Berkeley resident David Fielder, the south end of the Albany bulb has the best wind in the park. Citing the heavy equipment windsurfers must carry, he wants planners to pave an established road and build a small parking lot so windsurfers can access the spot.
Neuwirth doubted the windsurfers would get their way. He said the city of Albany owns the road and opposes a windsurf launch.
The meeting got off to a contentious start. Inexplicably, before unveiling the plan, the planners played the Beatles’ “Let It Be” followed by the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
“It felt like a very sarcastic jab,” said Missy Bronsnan of Let It Be.
Later, two East Bay Regional Park officers arrested a woman who asked a question out of turn and had started walking towards Neuwirth. She was not charged and was released into the custody of an attorney present at the meeting.
Residents continued to trade barbs after the arrest. Even teenage girls were subject to abuse. After a group of uniformed female soccer players defended building fields, a woman replied, “Are you going to ride your bikes [to the field] or are your moms going to drive you in their SUVs.”
Neuwirth warned that continued bickering could undermine the entire project.
“If people don’t support state bond allocation to build it, the money may go elsewhere,” he said.
The entire project, supported in conjunction with the East Bay Regional Park District and the California State Coastal Conservancy, will be implemented over 20 years. Neuwirth estimated the park would cost between $10 million and $50 million.
Public comments on the plan and the environmental impact report are still being accepted. In November, a final plan will be presented to the State Parks Commission, which has the last say on the project.
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