Commentary Parsing the Derby Street Proposals By MARK McDONALD

Friday January 20, 2006

I would like to help clarify the two competing plans on what type of sports field should be developed at the Derby Street field. One is labeled the Multi–Use—Don’t Close Derby Street plan. The other is the Regulation Baseball Ballfield—Close Derby Street plan.  

The Multi-Use–Don’t Close Derby Street plan includes a practice field for Berkeley High School’s baseball teams and guarantees use by other school sports teams such as boys’ and girls’ soccer, lacrosse and others. This plan also includes basketball courts, a tot lot, public restrooms and tables and seating for patrons of the Tuesday Farmers’ Market which would continue to operate on Derby Street as it has for over a decade. Also included is guaranteed public access to the field when not in use by a school sports squad. This plan was crafted by a lengthy public process involving professional field architects and cost the Berkeley Unified School district (BUSD) hundreds of thousands of dollars. The construction cost of this plan is within the BUSD budget and does not require additional city funding.  

The Regulation Baseball Ballfield—Close Derby Street plan would provide a regulation League standard baseball field that would enable Berkeley High’s 40 baseball players a short walk when they host their six or seven games a year with other cities’ baseball teams. Presently they must take a bus to the new baseball field built for them at Gilman Street. This plan does not guarantee usage to other sports teams and does not guarantee public access when not in use. In fact, there is a real possibility that the field will have to be padlocked to protect the league quality infield. The closing of Derby street will require the removal of the Tuesday Farmers’ Market to a fenced in basketball court which will cause a variety of operational difficulties to the market as expressed by their representatives. The closing of Derby Street will add millions of dollars to the cost presumably to be paid out of the city’s general fund and may require additional property taxes.  

It is not a coincidence that former Councilmember Maudelle Shirek and BUSD Director John Selawsky both oppose the Baseball Ballfield—Close Derby Street plan. Both are to be commended for weighing the needs of all students and the community versus those of a small vocal baseball group. The issue has been confused and over simplified by local spin masters, most of whom do not live in South Berkeley. Petition-signers have not been told that Derby Street is a vital emergency route for South Berkeley and that the San Pablo Park fields would also benefit from the Multi Use-Don’t Close Derby plan, which could have been built eight years ago were it not for the baseball lobbyists holding the project hostage until their demands are met.  

For twenty some years the Derby Street neighborhood , ethnically and economically diverse, predominantly low income and working class, has tolerated the neglected BUSD property at the Derby site. This two block corridor that lies along Shattuck Avenue and MLK Jr. Way is home to public housing at Ward Street, Savo Island coop housing at Oregon Street, Harriet Tubman Senior Housing at Russell Street, numerous Section 8 housing and offers other public facilities like the Tool Library, Iceland and the new theaters at Ashby. The neighborhood has embraced the teens at the Alternative High School as part of their community. This is hardly the selfish NIMBY homeowners as described by the Baseball Ballfield—Close Derby advocates.  

Councilmember Max Anderson recently pointed out that there are many senior and children programs that suffered drastic cutbacks in the recent budget crisis that should be considered before spending city general funds on an expensive sports facility for the convenience of one small group of student baseball players.  


Mark McDonald is a Berkeley resident.