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Eastshore State Park Dedication Fulfills Berkeley Activist’s Dream

By Richard Brenneman
Friday October 06, 2006

After 21 years of organizing, planning, cajoling and fund-raising, Eastshore State Park became a reality Wednesday, fulfilling the dreams of a coalition of environmentalists, politicians and organizations. 

A dedication ceremony at the Berkeley Meadow at the foot of the marina brought together many of those who fought for the realization of the 8.5-mile-long, 2,002-acre park which stretches from Emeryville to Richmond. 

The event was especially gratifying to Sylvia McLaughlin, the 89-year-old Berkeley woman who co-founded Save the Bay. 

“I feel wonderful and very, very gratified,” she said Thursday. “The first step has been accomplished—and now, onward.” 

While Wednesday’s ceremony marked a very real accomplishment, McLaughlin said much remains to be done as economic pressures on local governments and offers from developers are threatening key stretches of the bayshore. 

“There are lots of challenges,” she said. “No, let’s say opportunities.” 

Among the critical issues, she said, are plans for a waterfront shopping center at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, and multiple pressures in Richmond, including: 

• Developing efforts to create a massive container shipping port in an environmentally sensitive area. 

• Plans to create a shoreline casino, hotel, shopping and entertainment complex at Point Molate. 

• Drafting of a new General Plan for the city. 

“All of the cities have financial problems,” McLaughlin said, “and they need to figure out where to get the money for maintaining their infrastructure and paying their employees.” 

While shoreline development is tempting, McLaughlin said “recent studies have shown that parks and recreation areas add value to the surrounding areas.” 


Park genesis 

McLaughlin’s involvement in bay conservation began in 1961, when she and the colleagues she calls her “tea ladies” were stirred to action by an announcement that Berkeley officials were planning on filling in 2,000 acres of the bay west of the city’s shoreline, and the Army Corps of Engineers was floating plans that called for filling in most of the bay by 2020. 

Thus was born Save the Bay, with McLaughlin, Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick playing the leading roles. 

Three years later, some of their efforts paid off with the drafting of the city’s Interim Waterfront Plan which specifically called for creating parklands along the shoreline—a measure that would require purchase of the existing lands from Santa Fe Railroad, which owned most of the East Bay shoreline. 

Years of organizing followed. 

In 1985, McLaughlin became one of the founders of a new organization, Citizens for East Shore Parks, devoted to fighting the railroads development plans. In addition to Save the Bay, other founding groups were Citizens for the Albany Shoreline, the Emeryville Shoreline Committee, the Sierra Club and the Golden Gate Audubon Society. 

Dwight Steele, an environmentalist and activist, headed CESP until his death in 2002. Robert Cheasty, also a lawyer, is the group’s current president. 

In 1986, Berkeley voters approved a shoreline protection initiative, followed by similar measure from Emeryville in 1987 and Albany in 1990. 

Thanks to legislation authored by then Assemblymember Tom Bates, and aided by bond measures passed at the state and local levels, the East Bay Regional Parks District was designated as the lead agency for parkland acquisition and management. 

In 2000, the California Department of Parks and Recreation launched a planning process that led two years later in a unanimous vote by the state Parks Commission to approve the park’s general plan. 

“It’s been very gratifying to see this happen,” McLaughlin said. “I’ll be even happier in Proposition 84 passes, which will provide the funds for our parks that will allow us to continue to plans for an area park that can be enjoyed by people as well as birds and other wildlife.” 

That measure, the Clean Water, Parks and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006, would provide $5.4 billion in funds for safe drinking water, parklands and coastal protection. 

McLaughlin said she’ll also be playing close attention to local elections, where development issues are playing key roles. 

Wednesday’s gathering was well attended by political and environmental luminaries, including Assemblymember Loni Hancock, the mayors of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville and Richmond, city staff, and directors and staff of the East Bay Regional Parks District and the state department of Parks and Recreation.  




Sylvia McLaughlin gets ready to take the stage at the park opening. Photograph by Shelly Lewis.