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Derby Field Environmental Impact Report Approved By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday February 21, 2006

The Berkeley Board of Education approved an environmental impact report (EIR) of the East Campus/Derby Street field Wednesday, re-igniting debate over whether a baseball diamond will be built there.  

Board directors voted 4-1 to grant a consulting firm $100,000 to conduct an environmental analysis of the East Campus, a school district-run expanse surrounded by Ward and Carleton streets, and Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street. The report is expected to shed light on a proposal to close Derby Street between MLK and Milvia to develop a regulation-sized baseball field, a proposal supported by the majority of the board. 

A second option would involve a mixed-use athletic field, and Derby Street would remain open. The street currently hosts the Berkeley Farmers’ Market.  

Because the Berkeley City Council has exclusive rights to close Derby Street, BUSD has beseeched the council to share EIR costs, which may run as high as $200,000.  

School Board Director Shirley Issel says it’s worth it. 

“I’m very interested in knowing what the environmental effects would be if we were to close the street, because I think that’s the preferred option,” she said.  

The Berkeley High School men’s baseball team currently practices at a San Pablo Park on Russell and Mabel streets. Building a diamond at Derby Street would provide players with a regulation-size field that’s walking distance to campus, proponents say. 

“I think it’s a legitimate expectation on the part of Berkeley citizens that our students would have access to a full-sized baseball field,” Issel said. “I think that’s kind of a standard expectation.” 

Opponents of development of a regulation-size diamond say the area would be better served if the street is left open and the field is able to serve multiple athletic activities. 

School board Director John Selawsky, who lives in the neighborhood, said he opposes “shoehorning a baseball field into a neighborhood that already has many things going on.” 

Selawsky was the board’s lone voice of dissent against the EIR Wednesday. 

Furthermore, he pointed out that at present, the school district doesn’t have enough money to build a field, which calls into question the necessity of conducting an environmental report at all. 

“There’s no money for it,” Selawsky said, “so why are we even debating it?”