School Board Asks Council To Close Block for Derby Field

Tuesday May 11, 2004

The Berkeley School Board is asking the City Council to step up to the plate and dig up a Berkeley street so that the district can build a new home for the Berkeley High baseball team. 

Two weeks after sending a mixed message on the type of athletic field they want to build at its East Campus site on Martin Luther King Jr. Way at Derby and Carleton Streets, the board passed a measure 4-0-1 (Selawsky, abstain) last Wednesday declaring its preference for the city to close a block of Derby Street between Martin Luther King and Milvia Street. The district says if that is done, it can sod over the pavement and build a regulation size baseball field. 

“The City Council can’t entertain it unless they know we want it,” said School Board Director Terry Doran, who co-sponsored the resolution with Director Shirley Issel.  

The last time the City Council considered the street closure, the school board lost big. In 2000, with opposition from several neighbors and the Berkeley Farmer’s Market, which uses the that section of Derby Street on Tuesday evenings, the council voted 6-3 to deny the school board request. 

Proponents of the plan think this time around they will have two factors on their side: The resolution safeguards a spot for the farmer’s market on the site and supporters say they are told Mayor Tom Bates is open to considering the plan. The mayor’s office declined to reply to inquiries from the Daily Planet on this issue. 

Currently the proposed plot is home to a collection of portable buildings that house a few district offices, some classes and storage space. It also currently has a very large grassy field that residents use for pickup football and soccer games. 

The resolution passed last week will not halt the current plan to remove the portables and build a multi-purpose field on the site bounded by Carleton and Derby streets while the school board waits for a decision from the City Council.  

The Berkeley High School baseball team currently practices and plays home games at San Pablo Park, a 1.5 miles from campus. Doug Fielding, chair of the Association of Sports Field Users, told the board that the lack of sports fields prevents the baseball team from practicing for more than an hour and a half daily.  

School Board President John Selawsky feared that the resolution would prejudice the board as it prepares to organize a committee of neighbors and school officials to plan the project. 

“It seems we’re not keeping an open mind on uses of that site if we’ve already determined what the uses of that site are,” he said.