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Restoring Berkeley's soothing, shaded refuge

Susan D. Cerny
Monday February 24, 2003

There is something ultimately romantic about a small stream of water meandering under a bowering canopy of trees and edged with a lush undergrowth of ferns and bushes. The soothing sound of water as it tumbles down a hillside over mossy rocks calms the senses. The "babbling brook" is a cool shaded refuge on a hot sunny day or a wonderfully dark and mysterious place when the mist and fog come in. 

Codornices Creek in north Berkeley runs through Codornices and Live Oak parks; more of the creek flows above ground than any other of Berkeley's many creeks, including Strawberry Creek which runs through the University campus. It was on the banks of Codornices Creek that Berkeley's first non-native settler, Jose Domingo Peralta, built his adobe home in 1841.  

Further north is a smaller watershed that includes a little-known creek called Capistrano Creek. The natural drainage system begins around Thousand Oaks Boulevard near Great Stone Face Park, but mostly has been diverted into storm drains. However, the open creek bed remains visible in the backyards of houses between Capistrano and San Lorenzo avenues from Contra Costa Avenue to Nielson Street.  

Historically Capistrano Creek converged with Blackberry Creek just east of Ensenada Avenue, and the creek beds of these two streams are still visible in the backyards of two residential properties. (Blackberry Creek runs under Thousand Oaks School and has been day-lighted in the park behind the school.) 

Although the flow of water from both these creeks mostly has been diverted away from their natural streambeds, water continues to flow in them especially after a rain. Since the Capistrano Creek streambed remains and has not been built on or filled in, a group of property owners along the creek have formed a group -- the Friends of Capistrano Creek -- to study the feasibility of returning its natural, year-round flow. 

Recently the Friends received a grant from the Heller Charitable & Educational Fund of Kentfield which enabled them to hire a consulting hydrologist. Based on the hydrologist's initial findings the engineering department of the city of Berkeley has agreed to partner with the Friends to help them continue further research. The city will provide access to Berkeley's storm system data bases and equipment to send roving cameras through underground drainage systems so that a more accurate understanding of these systems can be made.  

This promising cooperation between the city of Berkeley and a neighborhood group could well lead to the restoration of one of Berkeley’s smaller and more romantic creeks. 

Roger Moss, of the Friends of Capistrano Creek, and Carol Schemmerling of the Urban Creeks Council of California, contributed to this article.  

Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny is the author of the book “Berkeley Landmarks” and writes this column in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.