Since I was unable to attend the Jan. 24 community meeting on Derby Field use, I appreciate J. Douglas Allen-Taylor’s report on the decision to demolish the old East Campus temporaries, but not to consider closing Derby for the present. However, because crucial details of this issue were left out of his article, many readers will surely misunderstand what our neighborhood concerns are.
Allen-Taylor writes, “Some neighbors are adamantly opposed to the baseball field, and others complain that as long as the empty buildings remain standing they serve as a haven for drug use, prostitution, and homeless people.” This could be misunderstood, confusing two separate issues. Those who oppose the closing of Derby for a fenced, locked, hardball field with night lights and electronic sound system, are not in favor of keeping those broken-down “temporaries.” We all want those buildings torn down, and the land used for an acceptable educational purpose. Some of my neighbors have said that they feel the BUSD has delayed tearing down the temporaries in an attempt to blackmail us by implying that in order to get the buildings torn down, we must accept a regulation hardball field that will bring more noise and traffic to our congested streets. I have never of heard any neighborhood opposition to multi-purpose use—soccer, softball, basketball—of the field.
Our neighborhood is already impacted by facilities that serve, not the neighborhood, but the whole city (Alternative High School, Early Childhood Center) or the whole Bay Area (Berkeley Bowl, Iceland). Of the eight east/west streets between Ashby and Dwight, three are already blocked to through traffic between MLK and Shattuck. Closing Derby would not only create a fourth blockage, but would mean that the firehouse on Derby and Shattuck would have send its westbound emergency trucks down one of our residential streets (there is no residential housing on Derby between Shattuck and MLK).
I’m not surprised that, as Allen-Taylor reports, the supporters of the Berkeley High Hardball field mobilized for this meeting. They want closure of Derby Street in order to meet size regulations for hardball. They want another city-wide facility—but not in their neighborhood—especially since plans for the use the of this fenced, locked field (with night lights and sound system) include generating income by renting the field to outside organizations when Berkeley High is not using it. In other words, this is a dubious semi-commercial use of school land that will be closed to use by anyone but the Berkeley High baseball team and renters from outside Berkeley.
The article noted that few nearby residents attended the meeting. Maybe that was the result of a kind of battle fatigue. Last year, after much input by neighbors who listed all these reasons for NOT creating the field the Berkeley High School coach wants, the BUSD voted to tear down the temporaries and install an open, multi-purpose athletic field (no Derby closure) that had the full support of the neighborhood. Only two weeks later the School Board met again and voted that this decision was only temporary until they could get City Council approval to close Derby! In other words, we had all gone through the “process” only to see agreement reached, the decision announced—and then nullified.
The only ray of hope in all this is Max Anderson’s proposal for a “land swap,” that would put the Berkeley High hardball field in a city park and designate part of the Derby field as a city park, keeping it open to multi-purpose use.
I am glad we have a temporary reprieve from having a commercial hardball field forced on us. I look forward to the demolition of those temporary buildings, and I—like my neighbors—fervently hope that Mr. Anderson can somehow convince the BUSD and the City Council to consider the welfare of our neighborhood while using this school land as it was meant to be used—for the welfare of all the children of Berkeley.
Dorothy Bryant is a local author and frequent contributor to the Daily Planet.›