Stalled plans in Richmond are giving Berkeley the edge in the effort to land the East Bay’s first new ferry stop in years.
With funding secure for one East Bay ferry stop and partial funding for a second, the San Francisco Bay Water Transit Authority (WTA) is inching toward site selections.
While putting one ferry stop in Berkeley or Albany has long been the plan, new doubts have surfaced about opening a second terminal in Richmond—where city officials are devoting their attentions to another, and potentially more profitable, use at the site.
“We’re going to build a terminal somewhere in the East Bay,” said WTA Chief Executive Officer Steven Castleberry. “It could be in Berkeley, Albany or Richmond.”
While Richmond had been an early and ardent advocate of a terminal in Marina Bay, City Councilmember Tom Butt said enthusiasm has waned in light of a proposal by Toyota for the property.
The Japanese car maker wants to use much of the site as a vehicle storage lot as its expands its current import operations at the port.
“Right now, Toyota and the ferry seem to be on a collision course,” Butt said. “Up until the Toyota thing, everyone on the council was a huge cheerleader for the ferry. When the Toyota thing came along, everyone else lost interest in the ferry except for me and [Councilmember] Gayle McLaughlin.”
Castleberry said his staff will present a report on developments in Richmond at the next WTA board meeting on June 23.
Berkeley developer James D. Levine has said that he intends to bring ferry service to his proposed casino and resort complex on Richmond’s Point Molate should the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approve the site as a reservation for the Guidiville Rancheria of Pomos.
“We’ve talked to a consultant for Levine and took a cursory look at the site, but we think Marina Bay would better serve the needs of commuters while Point Molate would provide good access to the casino,” Castleberry said. “If the city wants us to move to another site, it’s got to be close to houses and have adequate parking.”
Marina Bay also makes sense as a transit-oriented development hub, said the WTA executive. Transit hubs are eligible for federal funding programs, making them attractive to developers.
While Richmond’s interest is momentarily diverted, Berkeley is pressing forward with its own push for a ferry terminal.
Castleberry said the city’s Waterfront Commission has scheduled a ferry site discussion for its June 8 joint meeting with the Transportation Commission.
Waterfront Commission Chair Paul Kamen has recommended three options for a new terminal, all at the Berkeley Marina. The sites include incorporating the ferry into the existing fishing pier; a location west of Seawall Drive between the fishing pier and H’s Lordship’s restaurant; and adjacent to the east side of H’s Lordship’s parking lot.
While fond of ferries himself, Kamen said he is skeptical of the WTA’s emphasis on it as a means to reduce traffic congestion.
“The best reason for ferries is that people like them,” he said. “They improve the quality of life.”
Kamen also questions the WTA’s push for the $6 million ferries with the heavy, fuel hungry engines that will travel at 25 knots per hour. The Berkeley commissioner favors 18-knot boats which can still travel from the Berkeley terminal to the San Francisco ferry pier in 20 minutes.
Both Kamen and the WTA agree that a new Berkeley/Albany ferry stop would produce about 500 to 700 daily trips over the next few years.
History shows that ridership has remained low since the construction of the Bay Bridge eliminated the need for water transit, Kamen said. He pointed to what happened when ferry service was reintroduced to Berkeley after the Loma Prieta earthquake closed the Bay Bridge. Daily ridership from Berkeley, Vallejo, Alameda and Oakland combined was at more than 20,000 while the bridge was closed, but dropped sharply after the bridge was fixed. Berkeley service was soon discontinued.
“If the [Berkeley] City Council endorses a proposal, we will start the environmental review process,” Castleberry said. “I haven’t talked to the mayor’s staff, but I’m assuming the chosen site will be on the waterfront” at the foot of University Avenue.
Two other proposed local locations have triggered strong opposition: The foot of Gilman Street in Berkeley and the end of Buchanan Street in Albany between Golden Gate Fields and the Albany Bulb.
The Bulb itself is about to join the Eastshore State Park, and environmentalists, who battled for the inclusion, have announced their intent to oppose ferry service there or south of the race track on Gilman Street.
While the WTA has the legal power to pick a site unilaterally and take it through eminent domain, Castleberry said, “We are working as partners with the communities, and we have no interest in forcing anything on them.”
Through a polling firm, the WTA in April surveyed 600 registered voters proportionately distributed throughout Berkeley and Albany. The results revealed strong support for ferry service in both communities.
According to the poll, which offered multiple options for a new ferry terminal, citizens in both cities gave an 82 percent approval to the University Avenue terminal, with 72 percent support for Gilman Street and 61 percent for Buchanan Street.
The poll also found that Albany residents were significantly happier than Berkeleyans with the way their cities seem to be headed. While half of Berkeley residents said they were pleased with the city’s direction, 69 percent of Albany voters thought their community was doing just fine.
Those same figures were reflected in citizen attitudes towards their respective city councils. While 71 percent in Albany gave their council a hearty thumbs up, the number dropped to 53 percent for Berkeleyans.
Pollsters also asked for citizens’ ratings of BART, the Sierra Club and AC Transit, three entities that will have a role in the location of ferry terminals. BART came out on top (91 percent favorable in Berkeley and 88 percent in Albany), followed by the Sierra Club (75 percent and 74 percent respectively) and then AC Transit (71 percent and 72 percent).