Commentary: Closed-Derby Street Plan is Anti-Youth, Anti-Community By RIO BAUCE

Tuesday December 06, 2005

There are two options on how to construct the playing fields at East Campus. One option is to build an open-street field, which has been crafted by community meetings with the WLC architects. This plan includes a multi-purpose field, basketball courts, and most importantly, an open street. This field benefits sports teams at Berkeley High School like the lacrosse team, the field hockey team, the rugby team, the soccer team, and could be used by the baseball teams for infield and batting practice. 

The other plan is a closed-street plan, which has been developed and promoted by baseball field advocates. The fundamental difference between this plan and the open-street plan is that this plan includes a regulation-sized baseball field and compromises the full multi-purpose field and the basketball courts. This plan also closes the 1900 block of Derby, which the Farmers’ Market has occupied every Tuesday for nearly 20 years. 

Let’s forget about the neighborhood concerns for a moment. Let’s forget for a moment that the field is too expensive (somewhere in the ballpark of $4 million). Let’s forget that the Fire Department at Derby and Shattuck will be inconvenienced if it has to respond to a 911 call. Let’s even forget about the needs of Berkeley Alternative High (that they want basketball courts and gardening programs for their students). Let’s talk about the things people really care about. 

Firstly, this backing of the closed-street field is primarily by adult supporters of the Berkeley High School (BHS) varsity baseball team. There has been no concern for any of the other teams, like the lacrosse team, the field hockey team, and the soccer team. Some of the planners have only had a concern for a baseball diamond for the BHS varsity baseball team. Not only have they not taken account of the other sports’ teams at BHS, they also have zero concern for the low-income residents that live in public housing on Ward Street or the students that attend Berkeley Alternative High. 

The young kids at public housing have been in need of playing space for a while. The City of Berkeley has ignored that request up until now. We now have a real solution on the table—the open-Derby Street Plan. Currently, kids at public housing play kickball, football, Frisbee, and even soccer in the middle of the street. This is a “cry” for open playing space. My biggest goal has been and will continue to be to help to allow them to use the space in their own “backyard” for playing these sports that they treasure, rather than re-routing traffic onto the very street they plan on. 

Another reason that the closed-street plan is flawed is that it doesn’t genuinely respect the Farmers’ Market. On numerous occasions, I have been told by the closed-street supporters that, “The closed-street plan provides more space per square foot than the one on Derby. So, actually, this plan is much better for the Farmers’ Market.” Well, I’m sad to say that if this were true, then the Farmers’ Market would undoubtedly support this. However, the people who say this seem to have little to no respect for the Farmers’ Market. 

The Farmers’ Market has been in our neighborhood even before I moved here in June 1993. I was just 3 years old. I would come over to the Farmers’ Market and shop with my father. And even now, as a 15-year-old, I still go shopping at the Farmers’ Market. Though now I can do it by myself. My point is that the Farmers’ Market is a haven for kids in our neighborhood. Low-income kids in our neighborhood volunteer at the Farmers’ Market to learn more about healthy food and nutrition. It really is an entity in our neighborhood that helps many of us survive. 

I have been to Farmers’ Markets all over the Bay Area—in San Francisco, in Oakland, in Point Reyes, in San Rafael, and many others. I have to say that Berkeley must be the biggest, most exciting, most diverse market that I have ever seen—by far. We can’t lose it. A closed-Derby Street plan would have many negative impacts on the Berkeley Farmers’ Market and the lives of our neighborhood children. 

If the Farmers’ Market were moved to the parking lot on busy Martin Luther King Jr. Way, it would pose threats to the market. How would people be able to find parking for the market? What about the disabled? The current market provides space for parking. While I and others (including the Ecology Center) encourage the use of bus, BART, biking, and walking, in reality, not everyone will do that. It is important to have parking available for a business to thrive. Secondly, the “MLK Jr. Way Farmers’ Market in a parking lot” look is very unattractive. The market would be in a locked-fence area on a busy, crowded street. Also, it may cause problems for the disabled, bikers, and people with babies in strollers (in terms of accessibility), if it is not in the open area on Derby Street. The Farmers’ Market has existed for nearly 20 years in our neighborhood. Farmers have told me from experience that when a market moves many times it takes years to recover, if it ever does. That really saddens me. It saddens me that some people do not care about this community entity that is so important to so many Berkeley residents. 

Please show your support for low-income kids in the community and for the Farmers’ Market. Please write Mayor Bates and all your councilmembers and ask them to keep Derby Street open.