Public Comment

Ending the Shore Wars

By Jim Rogers
Wednesday March 17, 2010 - 02:30:00 PM

Like Star Wars, Richmond's Shore Wars are a lengthy drama with a familiar cast of characters and endless battles. 

But there are differences: instead of fighting with light sabers and starships, we fight with General Plans and EIRs. 

More importantly, there are no heroes and villains. 

Some believe that preserving Richmond's shoreline intact not only provides the obvious recreational and environmental benefits, but increases the attractiveness of Richmond and thereby in the long run spurs economic development. 

Others believe that intelligently planned shoreline development with a mixture of commercial and recreational uses can provide desperately needed jobs and tax base while still providing excellent public access to the shoreline. 

Just as the Star Wars saga eventually had to end (much to my son Eli's dismay), its time for Shore Wars to end. 

There's a better win-win Force: Coastal Cooperation. 

Instead of incessant battles, let's take a deep breath, step back, stop looking at the sand and see the beach. 

Let's imagine a shoreline where the best recreational open space is used for that- even if it is currently zoned or used commercially. 

Where the battling armies call a truce and work out a Coastal Cooperation agreement that specifically maps out what uses each parcel will have. 

Some shoreline properties have high recreational/open space value, but little commercial value, some vice versa. 

Instead of the business as usual approach of splitting the difference (some development, some shoreline access) let's get the most out of each precious piece of Richmond's unparallelled 32 miles of shoreline.  

For the developments that do occur, let's be sure they are pushed back away form the shoreline, which means a lot more recreational area than the business as usual model of a small strip for the Bay Trail. 

And let's dedicate the future tax income stream from these properties to providing the money to reclaim land that is used commercially - but shouldn't be. 

Case in point: the noise from the shooting range on the North Richmond Shoreline ruins the area for recreational purposes. 

The shooting range members are open to relocation to an area with less conflicts with encroaching development, but it would cost a lot of money, which they don't have. 

Their land should be preserved for recreational/open space purposes: it is easily the most scenic (coves, beaches, shorebirds, wetlands, etc.) of the various North Richmond Shoreline properties. 

Locating a firing range in the middle of what should be a major recreational asset for nearby low income neighborhoods is only one of many zoning mistakes that can be corrected. 

This may be a long term project but that's what General Plans are for. 

Having a detailed parcel by parcel vision is only the start: we need a vision of shoreline access which gets all kids introduced to all our shoreline has to offer, whether that is windsurfing, kayaking, marine based biology educational programs, beaches, the Bay Trail, etc.  

Having a thriving Shoreline is a triple bottom line: good for recreation, good for local jobs , and good for the environment by reducing some lengthy recreational car trips to other shorelines. 

There are many other ideas which can be added to this, but the end result would be a General Plan amendment which would not only end the Shore Wars, but provide a vision, sparkling like the sun on the Bay, which we could use to seek funding from the Park District, the State, foundations, etc. 

I am optimistic enough to believe that Coastal Cooperation is a win-win idea that can not only provide better recreational access and environmental benefits than the status quo but also provide more jobs. 

But I am not foolish enough to believe it will be easy. 

There are numerous devil in the details complex environmental, recreational and financial issues to be worked through and bad blood between the warring parties that have been fighting Shore Wars for too long.  

Instead of having yet another Shore Wars battle and spending huge amounts of energy jockeying for tactical advantage in Shoreline zoning designations in the General Plan, I am inviting the armies to call a truce and have a timeout and use that energy on seeing what Coastal Cooperation we can agree on. 

If that process is successful, then we can add the Shoreline Settlement to the General Plan. 

If it is not, then we can go back to the status quo of Shore Wars, and fight over the General Plan. 

Whoever "wins" that battle will have achieved a victory which is both temporary and illusory because the Council historically, whether we like it or not, can and has changed the General Plan to permit whatever the majority wants to do on any Tuesday night.  

Instead of repeating the same tired arguments, let's dream, like our Shoreline, expansively and beautifully.