Public Comment

Our Marina Saved

By James McVaney
Thursday May 07, 2009 - 06:04:00 PM

For nine years now, plans have been in the works to bring a Bay Area water ferry service to the Berkeley-Albany shoreline. The state-created Water Emergency Transportation Agency (WETA) is responsible for developing, and operating this regional ferry system.  

While WETA’s main legislated goal is a kin to providing a “water highway” in the event of a catastrophe such as the “Big One,” their ferry system will, at minimum, increase many people’s regional mobility, connect communities, decrease vehicular traffic congestion, and provide a more diverse mass and public transit system. This agency recently, and correctly, voted to choose the Berkeley fishing pier site for the location of the proposed Berkeley ferry terminal.  

Situated halfway between the Berkeley Municipal Pier and Hs Lordships restaurant, the site turned out to be the only practical and available real estate along the Berkeley shoreline. The benefits from the fishing pier site are numerous, and greatly outweigh the negative impacts. Foremost is the site’s ability to increase frequency of the ferries without causing significant impact to other users in the event of an actual “double bridge-out” disaster, where ferry transport becomes critical to the welfare of the citizens.  

Following close behind, is the economic benefit the nine or so marina businesses will reap from the increased foot-traffic that will be practically on their welcome mats. This last issue is important since the City of Berkeley’s Marina Fund has been regularly requiring large fee increases from it users, mostly the boat owners, to stay on an even keel. In fact, at the last Waterfront Commission meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to raise the marina’s vessel berthing fess by a whooping 6 percent. This proposed rate increase will make the city-run marina the eighth most expensive in Northern and Central California.  

Geographically, this site is outstanding for the ferry terminal. Its commanding view of the bay is priceless, and will surly provide many memorable “Kiss and Drop” moments for countless commuting couples. Additionally, wind-powered watercraft tend to avoid this area because the adjacent mile-long fishing pier creates a “wall.” This wall puts the terminal in a corner area, and makes sensible use out of otherwise unless space. A Dadaism of the Bay, if you will.  

There are many more benefits to this area. Come explore this setting, I am sure you will fall in love with the place as much as I have. But remember take the bus! Ride the No. 9 to the end of the line; you will be 300 feet north of the terminal location. 

The other proposed sites all disrupted their existing environments for various and unique reasons. The site at the foot of Gilman street, which at first glance seems OK, was fatally affected by issues of increased traffic at the notorious I-80/Gilman intersection and mitigation of adjacent bay eel grass, which itself was planted as a mitigation for another project. The Albany/Buchanan Street site was taken out of consideration for being in the East Shore State Park and not fitting into the park’s vision, and because of explicitly stated opposition to the site from the Albany City Council.  

The Berkeley Marina site was just a bad choice to begin with. Existing marina users would not only face life-and-death dangers caused by large ferry vessels and small boats using the same sea-space inside the Berkeley marina, but would suffer many other negative impacts. For example, boat owners on F-G and H-I docks would have their vehicle parking taken away, and be forced to walk a considerable distance from their cars to their boats. The E and F dock boaters would also suffer from restricted seaborne slip access resulting from a would-be 500-foot gangway and attached ferry terminal. This ferry terminal footprint is so large that eight high-value slips in the marina would be removed to accommodate it, and the turning radius needed by the ferries. Another nail in the coffin for this site concerned the “water churn” caused by docking ferries. This Jacuzzi-like effect is very significant, and would absolutely smash the natural tranquility of the marina setting.  

As Berkeley Waterfront Commissioner Paul Kamen noted in his March 25 commentary published in this paper, parking is the main unresolved issue. The parking issue can be resolved in many ways. From simple measures like allowing parking on University Avenue or, to giving berthers at the marina parking stickers, like every other neighborhood in Berkeley, with some parking spaces set aside for their guests. Another solution could be construction of outlying parking lots or multistory garages. Or perhaps, like Mr. Kaman suggested, WETA, which has an explicit right to set fares as it sees fit, could create a progressive fare structure which gives large discounts to people who have used public transport to reach the ferry terminal. This last scenario seems the most pragmatic, progressive, and environmentally suitable, solution for guaranteed long term success of the Berkeley ferry service. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Kamen, who recently voted to place the ferry terminal inside the marina, misses on his other assumptions in his commentary. The most glaring is his list of impacted activities. I believe, from living in the marina for over 10 years, that these activities will be positively impacted from their increased use, public exposure and communal sharing of whatever marina space is available. Furthermore, Mr. Kamen seems to brand the ferry service as a commodity, when in fact it is emergency infrastructure for the public welfare, and therefore plays by a slightly different set of rules.  

Now, according to WETA spokeswoman Shirley Douglas, with “2012 as the optimistic date of first service,” Berkeley can have a shining beacon of light on the shore to guide their collective vessel out of the sea of the Great Recession. The fishing pier site should be enthusiastically supported by the local community. 


James McVaney is a live-aboard boater in the Berkeley Marina and an advocate for the Berkeley Ferry Terminal.