School Board Asks Council to Close Derby Street By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday October 07, 2005

The Berkeley High School baseball team’s long desired South Berkeley field of dreams came one step closer to reality Wednesday when the School Board voted in favor of closing a block of Derby Street. 

By a 4-1 vote (Selawsky, no) School Board directors gave the City Council until April 15 to decide whether to close Derby Street between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way while the district tries to raise an additional $1.4 million needed to build a regulation baseball diamond and overlapping multi-purpose field at the school district’s East Campus site. 

If the council declines to close Derby Street, the district will then move forward with building just the smaller multi-purpose field at the site with the street remaining open. 

“You can’t raise money until the street is closed,” said Berkeley High Baseball Coach Tim Moellering. “Nobody wants to fund a field that might not get built.” 

The proposed field has previously housed portable classrooms that served as storage space and classrooms for Berkeley Alternative High School. 

If sod is planted over Derby Street, which divides the East Campus site, the field would be large enough to serve as the new home field of the high school baseball team, which now practices and plays home games in San Pablo Park. 

Doug Fielding, head of the Sports Fields Users Association, said that a baseball diamond at East Campus would open up field space at San Pablo Park for other high school teams like girls rugby and girls and boys lacrosse, which are often relegated to practicing early in the morning or on weekends because of a lack of available fields in the city.  

But the many residents around East Campus, which stretches from Carleton Street to Ward Street, oppose closing the street. 

“We’d like to keep Derby Street open and keep the Farmers’ Market where it is and not disrupt the neighborhood,” said Liz White of the East Campus Neighborhood Association. 

The Ecology Center, which operates a Tuesday Farmers’ Market on Derby, opposes the plan, which would move the market to a larger space along Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

“I don’t think they have money for the amenities to make it a workable market,” said Pam Webster, who sits on the Ecology Center Board of Directors and is married to School Board Director John Selawsky. They live near East Campus. 

The City Council now must decide if it will close Derby Street and help the school district reduce the cost of the project. The school district has set aside $1.3 million, enough to build the smaller field without closing Derby. It would take roughly $2.7 million to close Derby and build the baseball diamond, according to Lew Jones, the district’s facilities director. 

Some of the expenses associated with closing Derby Street include an estimated $287,000 to move the Farmers’ Market, $482,000 to upgrade the sewers under Derby and $417,000 to put in a new traffic light at Carleton Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way as requested by the Berkeley Fire Department, which has a nearby station at Derby and Shattuck Avenue.  

Fielding said the City Council needed to reconsider those requirements associated with closing Derby. “I think they’re going to come to an agreement [over money] by deciding we don’t need to do this stuff,” he said. 

Moellering told the School Board Wednesday that the baseball diamond project would be eligible for grants from the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, which has set aside $30 million to provide outdoor activities for disadvantaged youth in urban areas in Northern California. 

The School Board chose not to allocate additional funds to close Derby from its $116 million voter approved bond fund. All of the money from Measure AA has been allocated for other projects, Jones said. 

This is the second time the school district has asked the council to close Derby Street to build a baseball diamond. In 2000, the council denied the district’s request after the Farmers’ Market and Councilmember Maudelle Shirek, who represented the East Campus neighbors, opposed the project. 

Her successor, Max Anderson, told the Daily Planet Thursday he needed more information before forming an opinion on closing Derby. 

Had the School Board voted Wednesday to proceed with the smaller field, it would have been ready by spring 2007, Jones said. Closing Derby Street would add an extra two years to the project, he added. Besides the six-month wait to see if the council will approve closing Derby, Jones said the city would need to commission a revised environmental impact report.  

An EIR performed on the earlier proposal, but never certified, would need new traffic surveys and have to be reopened for public comment, Jones said. 

“I’m really worried about spending a lot of money for a smaller space that fewer of our kids will be able to use,” said School Board President Nancy Riddle, explaining her vote to support the closure of Derby. “That doesn’t seem like a good long term investment.” 

In opposition, School Board Director Selawsky warned the board about getting embroiled in a heated land use issue just one year before it plans to return to voters with a tax hike proposal.  

“I don’t think we can afford to alienate neighbors and communities right now,” he said. ›