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‘Curvy Derby’ Plan Enters Street Debate

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday June 20, 2006

A group of neighbors is proposing a new plan for the East Campus/ Derby Street field that just might find stalwarts on either side of the “Close Derby-Leave Derby Open” debate standing well in agreement. 

Members of the East Campus Neighborhood Association (ECNA) have drafted a blueprint for the vacant South Berkeley playing field, which would allow a regulation-sized baseball diamond to coexist with an open Derby Street. The potential closure of Derby—hitherto deemed a necessity to accommodate a standard baseball field for the Berkeley High School baseball team—has been an ongoing source of contentiousness in the city, pitting the BHS athletics community against neighbors and other stakeholders.  

The new proposal for East Campus, a Berkeley Unified School District-owned expanse bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Ward, Carleton and Milvia streets, would involve reconfiguring Derby to form an arc half way up the block to Milvia. A corner of the baseball diamond would fit squarely in that curvature. 

The plan, aptly dubbed “Curvy Derby,” would feature a discrete, multi-use playing field, a basketball court and most notably, proponents say, Derby stays open. Derby hosts a weekly farmers’ market often billed as a cultural asset to the neighborhood.  

“The problem needed a solution and it wasn’t getting anywhere,” said Susi Marzuola, an ECNA member and architect by profession. She forged the plan with a handful of others. “It’s an evolution from the [closed-street] plan and a good one.” 

To achieve the configuration, Carleton would have to be narrowed to 28 feet, Marzuola said, such that one side loses on-street parking. To compensate, Milvia will hold about 20 spaces, and the neighborhood will not suffer any net loss of on-street parking, she said. 

The concept has earned the tentative backing of both School Board President Terry Doran and Director John Selawsky, typically opponents on the East Campus issue.  

“I think it has possibilities,” said Selawsky. 

In a phone interview Friday, Doran said, “I’m so impressed. I want to thank the neighbors for coming up with a very creative plan that looks like it meets everyone’s needs.” 

Doran is a longstanding supporter of building a regulation-sized diamond for the BHS baseball team, which currently practices at San Pablo Park, a site that is not within walking distance from Berkeley High. 

Men’s baseball team coach Tim Moellering has also expressed support for the Curvy Derby proposal. “It looks pretty good to me,” he said. 

Because the decision to close Derby would ultimately fall to the City Council, city officials are additionally weighing in on the new plan. City Councilmember Max Anderson of District 3, said Friday, “It looks like it has some real promise, and it’s certainly worth exploring.” 

Curvy Derby represents a compromise for East Campus neighbors, Marzuola said; it must therefore be considered in conjunction with a series of requests. Among them: that a community design process take place, that the farmers’ market be allowed to operate on Derby and that BUSD make restrooms available to the farmers’ market. 

“For us to support this plan, these conditions have to be not only considered, but enforced,” she said.  

In February and May, the Board of Education agreed to allocate funding for an environmental impact report to analyze the effects of a closed- and an open-street plan. ECNA members hope the new proposal gets thrown into the mix. Since the plan is in its infancy, ECNA is asking the school district to hold community meetings that would permit a full, public vetting process.  

“The intent initially from the community is that it be a starting place,” said Pam Webster, an East Campus neighbor and volunteer at the Berkeley Alternative High School, which stands directly adjacent to the site. “We don’t expect it to be an end-all.” 

At a two-by-two meeting between the school district and the City Council last Tuesday, Mayor Tom Bates commended the proposal and exacted pressure on BUSD to take it into consideration. 

“It looks like it has a lot of elements that are very positive,” he said. “We encourage the district to put this on the table.”