Public Comment

Berkeley Marina Inappropriate For Ferry Terminal

By Ed Bennett
Thursday November 12, 2009 - 09:45:00 AM

Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) has reviewed the present proposal for a ferry terminal at the Berkeley Marina as presented to the Berkeley Waterfront Commission in October 2009. CESP now strongly urges the Berkeley City Council to deny permission for a terminal at the proposed site.  

CESP has followed the proposal for a ferry terminal in the Berkeley and Albany waterfronts and opposed the two sites proposed in Albany due to the impact on the future East Shore Park development in Albany.  

At that time CESP took no position on the two proposed sites in Berkeley pending future details. We attended several presentations by WETA staff. Initially some members of the CESP Board were favorable to the proposed Hs Lordship site because of the amenities the ferry might provide. However as more details became available it became evident that the ferry proposal had severe environmental and financial problems which have not been resolved. These critically outweigh any of the alleged benefits. Some of the concerns have been noted in the Waterfront Commission Oct. 14 recommendations to the Council and others have been more thoroughly described by Jim McGrath in his open letter to the Berkeley City Council dated Nov. 6.  

Reasons for a Ferry from Berkeley to San Francisco 

1. The ferry would provide added public service from the Berkeley-Albany area to SF and increase the availability of public transportation in addition to BART and AC Transit. The present proposal is for two ferries running at about 30 minute intervals with a capacity of less than 200 per trip. The total number of passenger trips projected per day is about 1750 or 875 each way. This is miniscule compared to the total passengers taken by car, bus and BART each day.  

2. The ferry would provide emergency service in case of a bridge failure from an earthquake or other catastrophic event. WETA staff has recently stated that it will take two years to complete the design for the ferry terminal. How much longer will it take to build, two years? By then the new eastern span of the bridge is scheduled to be completed. During the recent closure of the Bay Bridge only a small increase was noted in the existing ferry ridership from Oakland and Alameda while a large increase was noted in BART passengers and cars used other bridges.  

3. Surveys show that citizens liked ferries as an “amenity” and I am sure you would probably give the same answer. But your answer might be different if you were given information about the cost and subsidy required which is estimated to be in excess of $15 per trip which is several times the present subsidy for AC Transit or BART. What amenity is being offered? A 22-minute ride to SF, or from SF, during limited hours in the morning or late afternoon, no mid-day, evening or weekend service—a trip probably not long enough for a morning coffee or late afternoon drink! The ferry would not provide needed weekend service to popular recreational spots in Marin which are not easily accessible by public transportation.  


Arguments Against the Ferry in Berkeley 

1. One half of the present Hs Lordship parking lot would be dedicated to provide ferry only parking for an indefinite future and thus preclude more intelligent and visionary planning for a prime area of the waterfront which is now underutilized. 

In the future, Berkeley will have an opportunity to plan this area for more appropriate commercial and recreational use, perhaps even a “Caesar Chavez Park-South” to further complement the popular and well-used Caesar Chavez “North,” the developing East Shore Park in Berkeley and Albany and eventually into Richmond to fulfill the dream of Sylvia McLaughlin of a string of parks from the Bay Bridge to the Carquinez Bridge. At the present time, these parks are in the developing stage, we have a shoreline trail from Emeryville to Berkeley, an overpass bridge to Berkeley, but no trail from Sea Breeze Market to the Marina. Plans are slowly being developed by the State for the Brickyard. The last two phases of the Meadow restoration have been completed. We have the initial Tom Bates Ball fields and more should be built in 2010. This year Albany has been engaged in a “visioning” plan for its waterfront and the preliminary results show that Albany citizens want open space, not malls or other intensive commercial development. Bankrupt Golden Gate Fields property may be sold to the highest bidder in February. And there may be hope for some fantastic development in Richmond along San Pablo Bay and even Point Molate. 

2. The ferry will require a large public subsidy which we will pay for in higher bridge tolls or sales taxes or leave as a debt to our children. Is this the legacy we want to leave? This subsidy can be more effectively spent to provide improved service on AC Transit and/or BART. 

3. The environmental impacts of reduced enjoyment of the Marina are many. The concerns of the windsurfing community have been noted by their many enthusiasts. We have not heard from the many fishermen who frequent the shoreline in this area or from the many people who park their cars along the shore to admire the view or maybe eat their lunch. The trail along the bay will be reduced in width and planned benches will be eliminated. In order to accommodate the expected cars, the area of the parking lot facing the South sailing basin which is used by the Nature Center will be eliminated and be less accessible for the many students who learn about the ecology of the Bay. Benches and tables will be eliminated. Parking now used by buses to bring students for classes at the nature center will be eliminated and children will have to cross a busy street to get to the Nature Center and Adventure Playground. 

4. Berkeley and California have a goal of drastically reducing their “carbon footprint.” Ferries are not sailboats and are significantly more greenhouse gas generating than even cars, and especially compared to BART and AC Transit.  

In summary, the proposed ferry in Berkeley is a “big boondoggle” with little to recommend it and many negative impacts for the Marina, now an din the future. We urge the Berkeley City Council to tell WETA “No” and stop further planning. WETA has already spent $2 million on their plans and promotion. WETA should cease spending your public money for the Berkeley ferry. Albany has already told WETA they did not want a ferry in Albany and Berkeley should do the same.  


Ed Bennett is a board member of Citizens for East Shore Parks.