Ferry Plans Steam Ahead

By Richard Brenneman
Friday October 16, 2009 - 11:28:00 AM

The ferry is coming to Berkeley. WETA—the Water Emergency Transportation Authority—gave planning commissioners a Wednesday night update on its plans to build a new ferry terminal just south of the fishing pier at the Berkeley Marina. 

But the commission had questions, and by the time the meeting ended, the regional transit agency still hadn’t won the panel’s imprimatur for the service it hopes will carry 1,716 riders a day between Berkeley and San Francisco. 

“I would like to hold this over until Oct. 28 because there seem to be some concerns’” said commission chair David Stoloff. 

WETA will also be airing its plans before the City Council Nov. 17, though the agency has said it retains the final say, and not the city. The service could go on line as early as the end of 2010. 

The transportation agency selected the marina site April 2 as the best of four alternatives, one inside the marina and two near Golden Gate Fields in Richmond. 

“It was selected as the environmentally superior site,” said Ian Austin, vice president for risk and marine services with URS, a San Francisco-based multinational engineering, design and construction conglomerate. 

The site is also served by the 51 bus, he said, offering the best commute time for likely users, who are Berkeley residents who live in the hills. But commissioner Gene Poschman noted that AC Transit is currently cutting back on bus service, including the 51 line.  

Austin said another factor favoring the marina site is that it offers the shortest travel time to the city across the bay at 25 minutes. 

Austin said the ferry would also be a stimulus for businesses on Berkeley’s upscale Fourth Street, “and will provide for improvement to the Bay Trail.” 

Plans include a covered terminal, designed by Berkeley Architects Marcy Wong and Don Logan, which would be built along the waterfront, as well as a new pier extending out from the terminal. The facility will be capable of handling two ferries at a time, he said. 

Parking would be handled by enlarging and restriping the existing lot north of Hs Lordship’s restaurant, plans that also call for removal of the berm that now separates the lot from Seawall Drive. Central Parking Co. would provide valet service for 91 cars, with the drivers’ vehicles ready for them by the time the ferry docks, he said. 

Poschman said he wondered how many people would use cars, and if the 387 parking spaces planned for ferry users would be adequate, especially given possible cutbacks in bus service. 

Austin said WETA also calculates that 6 percent of their riders will arrive on bikes, which can also be taken aboard the boats. Covered secure parking would be provided for bikes that remain behind, he told commissioner Victoria Eisen, who had voiced concern about possible bike theft.  

Most commissioners said they didn’t have problems with the project. 

“I think it’s a good idea to have emergency service,” said Teresa Clarke.  

“I think it’s a good project,” said James Samuels.  

But Stoloff said he wondered if the ferry was really needed “if the new Bay Bridge is as strong as they say it is.” 

“It’s capable of entirely changing the use of the waterfront,” said Poschman, “and I don’t think the parking thing is worked out well at all.” 

“An enormous empire is being built with enormous amounts of money,” said commissioner Patti Dacey, who said that the ferry would change the use of the waterfront, and some ferries have environmental problems of their own. 

Commissioner James Novosel said he wasn’t happy with the landscaping plans and hoped a design feature such as a traffic roundabout could be added. 


Helios West  

UC Berkeley officials gave the commission a preview of their plans for their first major downtown project under the legal settlement with the city that ended a lawsuit challenging the university’s’ Long Range Development Plan 2020. 

UC planner Jennifer McDougall, Associate Vice Chancellor Rob Gayle and architect Bill Diefenbach of the Smith Group’s San Francisco office made the presentation. 

While most commissioners said they liked the design drawings, criticisms focused on the building’s northern face along Hearst Avenue and the design of a public open space along Berkeley way. 

The new building will house the university’s Energy Biosciences Institute, funded by a $500 million grant from BP, the former British Petroleum, to use genetically engineered microbes to transform plants into transportation fuels. 

“This is a much better place for it than up on the hill,” said commissioner Harry Pollack, referring to the original site above Strawberry Canyon at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

That site was later rejected after a lawsuit was filed by Friends of Strawberry Canyon, a group of Berkeley environmentalists. The university insists that the suit wasn’t the reason for the change.  

While McDougall said the city’s now-stalled new Downtown Area Plan would have allowed for the plan 100 feet height all long Hearst, the plan allowed only for 120 feet at the corner of Hearst and Oxford, dropping down to 65 feet toward Shattuck. 

The new lab will occupy part of the site which now houses the abandoned state Department of Health Services building, which occupies most of the two blocks between Hearst and Berkeley Way between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue.