City Officials Question Both Berkeley Marina Ferry Sites

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday January 15, 2009 - 06:49:00 PM

The regional agency that governs Bay Area ferries gave too little consideration to the impacts of a ferry terminal at Berkeley Marina, city officials say. 

Building at either of two proposed marina sites could have serious negative impacts on businesses, boat owners and visitors to Cesar Chavez Park, they contend. 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz summarized their concerns in a letter to the Water Emergency Transport Authority (WETA), which has commissioned an environmental impact report (EIR) on the project. 

The draft EIR released in October failed to adequately consider parking and traffic impacts of the ferry terminal, Kamlarz said. 

The water transit agency said the project is needed because projected population growth will add further congestion even to the remodeled Bay Bridge and to BART transit. 

Ferry service would also provide “a viable alternative for transporting people around the region” in the event of disasters impacting road and rail traffic, according to the draft EIR. 

WETA picked four possible sites for an East Bay terminal, two at the Marina and one each on either side of Golden Gate Fields. 

City officials addressed only the two marina sites, given “the very small likelihood that either the Gilman or Buchanan (street) locations will proceed further in the process” because of significant environmental impacts at both of those locations. 

Kamlarz said the city’s Waterfront Commission, which oversees the marina, felt the draft EIR gave “insufficient emphasis to understanding and mitigating the negative impact a Ferry Terminal will have on parking and traffic on the Berkeley Marina and Cesar Chavez Park.” 

The first site, dubbed Option A, would create a new dock south of the Doubletree Hotel just west of Marina Boulevard and would require 304 parking spaces on either side of the roadway. The hotel currently leases 104 of the existing spaces earmarked for ferry parking. 

Option A parking would also take the 104 spaces west of the boulevard, which are currently allotted to 156 boat berths and 13 houseboats at the F, G, H and I docks, while the 200 additional spaces east of the roadway are currently gravel parking areas used by park visitors. 

Further complicating the Option A plan is the hotel’s lease on the parking, which runs through 2057. 

A parking lease also exists for the Option B site, which calls for a new dock to extend into the bay west of Seawall Drive and south of the Berkeley Fishing Pier. Plans call for the use of all spaces currently leased—through 2017—to Hs Lordships. 

Kamlarz said the waterfront commission considers the site “vital for the future economic development within the marina and is unwilling to give up any parking which would limit future development on Hs Lordships’ site.” 

The city manager also cited concerns raised by planning and transportation commissioners. 

“They want our support, but they’re going at it in a rather slapdash manner,” said Planning Commission Chair James Samuels during the panel’s Dec. 10 meeting. 

Another complication is the gap between dreams and reality. While WETA’s plans call for the ability to serve two ferries simultaneously, the regional group has authorized only one ferry for each of two routes, one between San Francisco and Berkeley and the other between San Francisco and Albany. 

Other concerns involve a lack of details on a shuttle service WETA proposes, to carry riders from Berkeley to the terminal, a possible need for public toilets to serve riders waiting for ferries to arrive and depart, impacts on parking and traffic in the marina, an inadequate description of Bay Trail uses and the impacts of construction on marina users. 

Kamlarz said the city also disagreed with the draft EIR’s conclusion that the loss of parking at the Doubletree site wouldn’t have negative impacts on the hotel, given that the report failed to include a parking utilization study addressing the issue. 

“The larger issue is whether a commuter terminal with 400 spaces is an appropriate use” in a recreational area, Kamlarz wrote. “The hundreds and perhaps thousands of people accessing the ferry for this new function on a daily basis will change the character of this area.” 

The public comment period on the proposal closed Dec. 31, and the WETA board will prepare a final EIR. The organization’s board next meets Feb. 19. A final selection of a site is scheduled to be made by July 1. 

The board is composed of state appointees, with three members named by the governor and one each by the Senate and Assembly rules committees.