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Sports fields may lie in measure J

By Matthew Artz Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday October 23, 2002


The vote on a seemingly straightforward ballot initiative to re-zone a piece of Berkeley waterfront property could ultimately decide where local kids play organized sports. 

Pushed by environmental groups with unanimous support from City Council, Measure N would allow the city to limit development on a 45-acre, bayshore parcel owned by Canadian firm Magna Entertainment Corporation. 

Magna has planned two hotels and retail space at the site, immediately east of the proposed Eastshore State Park near Gilman Street, according to Norman La Force of the Sierra Club. 

If the measure is passed and extensive commercial development is restricted, environmentalists and city officials hope the company can be persuaded to sell the property to the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) to be developed as sports fields. 

“It’s an ideal place to put soccer fields,” said Berkeley Mayoral candidate Tom Bates. 

Bates said he has facilitated negotiations between Magna and EBRPD on the possible exchange. Both parties refused to comment on talks, but Bates said Magna and EBRPD have hired companies to appraise the land, and that a settlement could be reached before Election Day. 

The parks district has a $10 million dollar surplus, that according to Bates, could be used to buy the land. 

A deal, Bates said, could win additional support for the planned state park, which stretches 8.1 miles from Emeryville to Richmond and has been a source of contention among competing interest groups. 

Throughout the planning stages, environmentalists have fought playing field advocates over the current plan to put three to five fields at the waterfront Albany Plateau. Environmentalists have argued the Albany parcel should remain wild habitat, while the Magna property, most of which is already paved, is better suited for playing fields. 

Both sides now have a tentative agreement to put the fields on Magna’s parcel if the company is willing to sell. 

But Doug Fielding, president of the Association of Sports Field Users, said there are still big hurdles to moving the fields. “We still don’t know if Magna will sell the property at a price EBRPD can afford, and we don’t know if EBRPD will allow for at least six fields at the site.” 

Fielding has previously said that EBRPD is hesitant to include sports fields on their property, because of their mission to protect natural habitat, but Bates said they are amenable to allowing fields in this case. 

For Berkeley voters, the November initiative is a case of deja vu. In 1986, faced with a plan by Santa Fe Railroad to turn most of the waterfront into a commercial development, city voters passed Measure Q which prohibited development on Berkeley’s southern waterfront, and limited development at other sites to no more than 565,000 square feet. 

Faced with the restrictions, Santa Fe sold 80 percent of the property to EBRPD, for $28 million, which designated the parcel as part of Eastshore State Park. However, the rest of the property which includes Golden Gate Fields Racetrack was ultimately sold to Magna. 


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