On April 23 the Berkeley Daily Planet published a report by Matthew Artz on a meeting of the school board at which, Artz wrote, the board announced their plan to build a “multipurpose athletic field,” at Derby and MLK Way for soccer and softball, for the use of three schools, without installation of lights.
As a resident of the area I was pleased, until Artz went on to write that four of the six board members immediately “expressed a preference” for the
former, contested plan of closing Derby to create a larger, hardball field for the Berkeley High School team, which now uses a field at San Pablo Park. Artz quoted Director Rivera as follows: “We should keep the door open so when we’re allowed to close Derby, we can go ahead with bigger plans.” Not “if” but “when.”
Alarmed at this mixed message, I wrote to the members of the board and received an answer from School Board President John Selawsky, who wrote that he was misquoted, that he still favored an open Derby Street although “the school board, or at least a majority, has always preferred a closed street project, ” and that, in any case, the decision was up to the City Council.
I then wrote to the mayor and the City Council, but received no answer except an acknowledgment from Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
Then, last week, fulfilling Artz’s concern for mixed messages, the school board voted to recommend the Derby Street closure to the City Council, and
to create a place on the proposed hardball field to accommodate the Tuesday afternoon farmers’ market.
The farmers’ market is not the main issue. Geography and traffic patterns are.
Our neighborhood is bounded on four sides by busy thoroughfares: MLK Way, Dwight Way, Ashby Avenue, and Shattuck/Adeline. Of the eight streets west to east between Ashby and Dwight, only one has no residential housing between MLK Way and Shattuck/Derby (which is why the location of the fire house on the corner of Derby and Shattuck is so sensible.) Close Derby, and we are left with seven residential streets from east to west between Dwight and Ashby. Only four of them go through from Shattuck to MLK Way, three of these north of Derby. Of the four streets south of Derby, before Ashby, there is only one through street, Stuart (where I live), already crowded with traffic and parking attracted by the Berkeley Bowl.
Closing Derby would not only increase traffic on these heavily impacted streets, but would mean that westbound fire trucks would have to choose one of these residential streets to respond to emergencies. The fire truck could make a difficult left turn onto busy Shattuck, and then another left turn against heavy traffic, to go west on Carleton, or—more likely—make an easy turn right onto Shattuck/Adeline, then right again down the only street that goes through, Stuart (Ward goes through after Adeline, but has speed bumps at MLK Way).
Furthermore, the easy slogans of providing playing fields “for the children of Berkeley” only mask the real effect of creating a hardball field for the Berkeley High School team. If that happens, you can forget the promise of soccer and softball fields to be used by three schools and neighborhood children, or to be used by anyone at all except the Berkeley High team and its visiting competitors from other high schools. High school athletic fields are expensively planted and maintained—and always fenced and locked up, lest the turf be damaged by kids playing around on them. And whatever the promises of no lights, etc., they all seem, eventually, to be equipped with blinding lights for night games, and, even worse, a blasting sound system.
By all means, the school board should use its property for the benefit of the children of Berkeley. But it should not withdraw that property from them for the use of only a few, and sacrifice our neighborhood so that the Berkeley High School baseball team can shave 10 minutes off the time it takes them to get to the hardball field at San Pablo Park.
Dorothy Bryant is a local novelist.