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Richmond Joins Bid for Ferry Site By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday July 05, 2005

Berkeley’s strong lead in the competition for the first new ferry terminal in the East Bay weakened this week with an announcement from Toyota Motors. 

The Japanese automaker is looking for a site for a larger importing facility to offload vehicles from the specialized cargo vessels that haul them across the Pacific and warehouse them prior to distribution to dealerships. 

Richmond, which already has a smaller Auto Warehousing Company importation facility in the Port Portero shipyard terminal, jumped into the competition with plans to lease the automaker two Marina Bay terminals. 

That put Toyota on the top of the city’s agenda, sidelining plans for a ferry terminal and adjacent parking lot that would occupy part of the same site. 

When Toyota announced Tuesday that they’d selected Benicia because of its great rail access, the ferry terminal project was back on the front burner. Richmond’s bid is given weight by $45 million in funds authorized by voters last year. 

The San Francisco Bay Water Transit Authority (WTA), created by voters and funded by increased Bay Area bridge tolls, is looking for new ferry terminal sites, though they only have enough cash to pay for one. 

“We’re going to build a terminal somewhere in the East Bay,” WTA Chief Executive Officer Steven Castleberry told the Daily Planet last month. “It could be in Berkeley, Albany or Richmond.” 

While a site in Albany would preclude one in Berkeley and vice versa, whichever site survived the selection process would be in competition with Richmond for the first East Bay Terminal. 

The WTA has already set aside funds to create ferry service to the Berkeley area, minus a terminal building which would have to be funded locally. But without a strong push from the City Council for a specific site, Berkeley could lose out to Richmond, said WTA Public Affairs Director Heidi Machen Friday. 

Mayor Tom Bates has been a major backer of a Berkeley Marina site, but aide Calvin Fong said Friday that no vote on selecting a possible site has been set. The city’s Waterfront and Transportation commissions also declined to specify a preference. 

The WTA will pick a firm Sept. 22 to conduct an environmental impact report, and without a specified preference all sites will be given equal weight initially. 

With Richmond back in the game, their bid is sweetened by last year’s Measure J, the $45 million sales tax increase authorized by Contra Costa County voters to fund ferry service for the western edge of the county. 

Berkeley’s push for the terminal has been moving forward through city commissions, which have been calling for a selection process that includes all potential sites: two either end of the Golden Gate Fields and a third at or near the Berkeley Marina. 

An April WTA poll found the strongest support for a Berkeley Marina site, followed by a site at the end of Gilman Street and a site at the base of the Albany Bulb at the end of Buchanan Street. 

Environmental groups are lobbying hard again the latter two sites, which they see as a potential threat to wildlife. 

Castleberry told a recent Berkeley Transportation Commission meeting that the WTA would prefer a site recommendation from the city, noting that a nod toward one by the city council would carry weight when it came time for the WTA to decide. 

Albany Mayor Robert Lieber has noted that both the Gilman and Buchanan sites would require extensive dredging while a Berkeley Marina site would not. 

“Berkeley better get its act together,” said Waterfront Commission Chair Paul Kamen. “Otherwise we’ll miss out on a wonderful amenity.”N