Page One

Berkeley Shoreline Parks
under Scrutiny

Toni Mester
Saturday March 07, 2015 - 04:15:00 PM
Martin Nicolaus
Martin Nicolaus
Martin Nicolaus
Martin Nicolaus

The Parks and Waterfront Commission meets Wednesday night to consider the future of the Brickyard and Cesar Chavez Park, two prominent but troubled shoreline facilities that will be developed to serve the open space and recreational needs of a growing regional population.

The meeting will take place at the Frances Albrier Community Center, 2800 Park Street in San Pablo Park on Wednesday March 11 at 7:00 PM. Commission Chair Jim McGrath will preside over what promises to be a significant gathering. 

The Brickyard 

The agenda includes an update on the Brickyard Project by the staff of the East Bay Regional Park District. The 30 acre site, at the intersection of lower University Avenue and the frontage road, is part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park that also includes a 72 acre natural resources protected area, commonly referred to as “the meadow” and the north basin strip, home to the Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex, aka “Gilman Fields.” 

The Brickyard, adjacent to the Sea Breeze Market and Deli, will be developed over the next decade. According to current plans, Phase One includes grading and preparing the site for a parking area, entry plaza, picnic sites, meadow, and enhancement of existing wetlands and beach. Later improvements will be park signage, a restaurant, shoreline reinforcement, and a service building. 

The service facility is a point of controversy. CESP (Citizens for Eastshore Parks) opposes its location at the Brickyard, believing that a garage and its attendant traffic would detract from the beauty and enjoyment of the site. They also want a visitors’ center, as promised in the general plan, named for famed conservationist and CESP co-founder Dwight Steele. 

Cesar Chavez Park 

The Commission will also consider forming a one year subcommittee to work on planning issues regarding Cesar Chavez Park and discuss recommendations to the Council generated by a biological resource assessment (BRA) commissioned by the Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department in response to demands by the dog walkers for increased mowing of the off-leash area to curtail a foxtail infestation. 

The BRA by Jim Martin is also controversial. The Animal Care Commission rejected its conclusions and questioned the qualifications of the author. These and other communications to the Parks and Waterfront Commission are attached to the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting, which includes a comprehensive and erudite summary and proposed resolutions by Chairman McGrath. 

Any decision by the Commission will be difficult, especially since two recently appointed members Maritessa Ares and Kate Harrison will have to play catch up on some complicated questions including the requirements of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as the politics and players involved. 

The BRA recommends four alternatives in dealing with the foxtails, which have become more troublesome according to many dog walkers. The seed heads or awns adhere to the animals and can penetrate orifices, creating horrific internal infections and equally horrific veterinary bills. 

The dogs are therefore both vectors and victims of the foxtails, as their seeds are dispersed by wind and clinging to animals. According to many experts, there is no easy way to deal with foxtails, which also cause problems for horses, cattle, hay and other crops. 

The Department of Agriculture states “Once established, foxtail barley is hard to eradicate. It increases under excessive grazing pressure. Dense stands are usually associated with some type of disturbance, such as overgrazing, close mowing, or repeated burning. Seeding disturbed meadows and pastures with desirable, fast-growing forage grasses is effective in reducing the amount of foxtail barley that invades the site.” 

The botanical problem is complicated. Of the four alternatives outlined by Jim Martin in his BRA, one is unacceptable, two are simplistic, and only one approximates the level of complexity demanded by the situation. The alternatives are the common response to any irritant: 1. Do nothing. 2. Do too much (overkill). 3. Do something specific and elegant. 4. Move. 

The first is self-evident, the no-change alternative. The second is the intensive mowing alternative, which may actually make things worse. The third is the Increased Management Alternative and the fourth is the Reconfigured Footprint Alternative: moving the dog park to the southeast corner of the 90 acres park. 

Doing nothing is just a delaying tactic. Increased mowing would probably require greater environmental review, even an EIR, to scientifically examine the negative impacts. Moving the dog park to an already mowed area sounds like a quick fix but would have to overcome huge resistance by the current users and would be a political nightmare. 

That leaves the specific and elegant solution, increased vegetation management, which would require a greater investment in time, money, and good will than the community has shown to date. Let’s hope that people can get together for the good of the Park and all its users and dedicate ourselves to the best and most rational solution. 

If you love our shoreline parks, please read the BRA, the public comments, and the agenda and come to the meeting on Wednesday night with positive energy. 


Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley and a former Parks and Waterfront Commissioner.