Public Comment

Commentary: Regulation Field Serves Just a Few By MARK McDONALD

Tuesday March 28, 2006

Who could oppose something as apple pie as a baseball facility? Anybody, as long as the impacts and costs are too severe.  

The letter by baseball parent Ed Mahley (March 17) promoting a regulation baseball facility for the Derby Field contains many false facts. Moreover, his letter demonstrates why folks are so polarized about this last shred of open space in our part of town. It is disappointing to see how little the baseball proponents care about other kids’ sports teams, costs, and those people who will be seriously affected by the huge facility they are trying to jam into our crowded neighborhood. The proposed regulation facility would cost unknown millions of dollars that we don’t have and most likely will be used primarily by this one small sports group. Mr. Mahley claims that Berkeley High’s baseball teams can only use Derby Field if Derby Street is closed and a regulation-size baseball facility is installed. This is not true as the field with Derby Street left open is still a huge area and would serve well as a practice field and still guarantee usage by other school sports teams. The Derby-Open plan would also guarantee access to the public when not in use by school athletes and preserve the popular Farmers’ Market as is. The 10 regulation games could still occur at the San Pablo Field which is regulation size.  

Who’s going to pay the undetermined millions for their new baseball facility? I believe the City of Berkeley’s general fund is the only source available right now. The school district is already requesting the city to pay $100,000 towards the impact study to close Derby Street. The school district does have the $800,000 needed to construct the multi-use plan which includes the baseball practice field and leaves Derby Street open. This plan is the product of a long public process involving hired architects and serves everybody, guaranteed, including the Farmer’s Market and the public. The ballpark proponents claim that mysterious outside donors will foot the bill for the regulation size ballfield, but many years have passed and these have so far failed to appear. The expensive artificial turf at Berkeley High School’s football field is in bad shape and needs replacement and no outside support has materialized here either. Warning to reader: The baseball ballpark proponents have recently added “multi-use” to their title, borrowing from their opposition the original “multi-use field” group. There is no guarantee that any other Berkeley High sports team would be able to use the ballfield facility. There is no credible guarantee that the public won’t be locked out to prevent damage to the expensive baseball diamond, as some other school departments do. There is a possibility that the proposed baseball facility would be rented out to other baseball groups. Although they deny it and it may not happen immediately, the baseballers are thinking night games with night lights and a sound system. This is one reason why many of the locals are so bitter about this issue. Any Berkeley citizen should ask themselves how they would feel about paying for a bright noisy sports facility in front of their house on the only open space around that they probably would be locked out of between games? 

Especially frustrating is the fact that the Berkeley Unified School District is currently partners with the school departments of Richmond and Albany in a multiple field sports complex near Gilman Street and is sharing costs on a variety of fields for different sports except baseball. The other cities’ school departments have been forced to proceed without Berkeley regarding their regulation baseball field and are scrambling to replace the $2 million dollars that would have been Berkeley’s share. Berkeley’s school district is not participating because of their plan to build their own baseball facility at Derby Street, regardless of how much more expensive it is and who it impacts. They claim it is better for the baseball players to have the closer location. Why is it all right for all the other sports teams to use the Gilman street site but not the baseball players?  

When the School Board first tried to take possession of Derby Street seven years ago, they told the Farmers’ Market they had to leave. Fortunately, public support for the market and the inability to find another location halted the city from surrendering the land to the school district . Now the baseballers are back and say that the market can move around the corner onto a basketball court that will be built. Readers should understand the hostility this school board holds for the Market and to move it off city controlled land onto school district controlled land does not bode well for it’s future . This was demonstrated last week at the School Board meeting when public pressure finally forced the board to move ahead with opening the field which has been in limbo all these years hostage to the baseball facility plan. Assuming that Berkeley’s student athletes would be using the field and needing bathrooms, a request was made to open those at the adjacent Alternative School. Just the possibility that a Berkeley citizen attending the market might use the bathrooms caused the board to issue a resounding no. We need an affordable multi-use field that serves everybody for Derby Field. The City Council should not cooperate with any effort to close Derby Street, a vital emergency route, for just one small vocal sports group.  


Mark McDonald is a Berkeley resident.