Commentary: Parent Wants Regulation Ball Field at Derby Street Site By Jahlee Arakaki

Tuesday December 06, 2005

I’m a parent of two children who Berkeley public school students. My youngest is a freshman at Berkeley High. I’ve supported a “field of dreams” at Derby Street from the beginning, 15 years ago, and have been involved with hundreds of like-minded families raising their children in Berkeley. A recent comment by Councilmember Linda Maio struck me as she responded to e-mails on this issue. She stated:  

“We’re committed to kids; we’re committed to livable neighborhoods. It’s our job to balance these two in this case.” 

I am in total agreement with Councilmember Maio. “Balance” is the key word here, and in all things that matter. The primary reason for field users supporting this project is that by moving Berkeley High baseball out of San Pablo Park, it will allow the city to run a neighborhood after-school program for low-income kids who live around the park. The Recreation Department supports this because they know how badly this is needed. It is a priority for the city to figure out how to serve these kid s near San Pablo Park who have no one to drive them anywhere for recreation. Everyone benefits from this care and attention. By closing Derby and moving Berkeley High baseball out of San Pablo Park, the city can annually provide 4,000 hours of after-schoo l, supervised recreation for these kids. Statistically, crime is higher in low-income neighborhoods where there is no supervised recreation.  

Let’s talk about balance.  

Twenty thousand-plus—that’s the number of hours of outdoor recreation that would hav e been provided to “at risk” children had the council supported them the last time this issue was raised. 

Twenty—that’s the number of houses that would have a direct view of Derby. Now I know for a fact from attending previous years’ council meetings that not all Derby Street homeowners oppose closing the street.  

No way, however, do these numbers reflect balance! 

San Pablo Park is a community that really needs a neighborhood park. Many low-income families simply can’t afford sports programs that cost $200 to $300 per child per season to play. Yet their kids are no different in their aspirations than those raised in other neighborhoods—their needs should be met. too.  

We now have an opportunity to allow them to have a park that works for them. Why sho uldn’t the needs of significantly more residents who live around San Pablo Park not be taken into consideration when talking about livable neighborhoods? Will the City Council and the school district bow to the lobby of fewer than 20 homes on Derby Street who are supported by the political clout of the Ecology Center and ignore these kids and this need?  

Again, out of balance.  

Marzuola and Waller cry foul about the huge fence and “36,000 square feet of concrete and asphalt” running the length of MLK—th is hyperbole is simply a scare tactic. With the exception of the backstop area, which is a block away from any residence, there will be no difference in fence heights between an open-and closed-Derby plan. An athletic field, which is what BUSD is buildin g whether Derby is open or closed, is not a neighborhood park.  

And the now oft-heard phrase, “Send BHS to Gilman.” The fact is that the baseball diamond at Gilman is a replacement for a diamond that was going to be built by the City of Albany on the Alb any Plateau, for the Albany Little League. And the Albany Little League, which serves almost as many Berkeley kids as Albany kids, has already made it clear that they want to use Gilman at the same time that BHS would need to use the field. Their baseball program conflicts with Berkeley High’s season, and their community of players has grown over the years because Berkeley cannot field its own Little League team for obvious reasons. Let’s set the record straight: Albany will only allow Gilman Field to be used on the weekends. Those dedicated to playing baseball at the high school level need a field nearby, certainly not three miles away at Gilman, so they won’t miss classes during fifth and sixth periods as has happened in years past. They’ve seen their g rades drop because of the long trek just to make home games at San Pablo Park—they miss two class periods, hauling their heavy backpacks filled with schoolbooks and their heavy baseball equipment—especially heavy I’m told, if you’re the catcher—and walk 3 0 minutes for a home game. Another example: girls’ field hockey. When there’s not enough field space for practice at Berkeley High, some of these intrepid players who can drive squeeze 11 teammates into a car with their equipment and backpacks and drive t o San Pablo Park to practice. By the way, BUSD cut $25,000 from BHS athletics this school year, much of it involving transportation ($400, and more, for one round-trip away game; a full season is 16-games, half of them away).  

And those who fear that the Farmer’s Market will disappear even though that’s the one thing everyone agrees on—keeping it in the neighborhood because it is such an integral part of Tuesday evening shopping. Using hyperbole and outright lies to scare people into opposing the Derby S treet field is not right. No one in Berkeley who wants a baseball field at Derby is against the Tuesday Farmer’s Market, and it has existed in the plans for a Derby Street field from the beginning, 15 years ago. 

It’s important for this city’s future that we find ways to bridge the difference between the haves and have-nots. These children have only one chance at being kids, Berkeley has only one high school, farmers’ markets will always be an integral part of our city, and San Pablo Park needs a viable r ecreation program. Providing options are what we as adults should be good at. After 15 years, it’s now time to step up to the plate and give it our best shot.  


Jahlee Arakaki is a former boardmember of the Albany-Berkeley Girls’ Softball League (1991-94), the Albany Little League (2002-03), and the Berkeley High School Athletic Fund (1999-2002).›