Birth of a park: the history
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it took several villages and more to create this park — the Eastshore State Park. Now the park stretches along the east side of San Francisco Bay from Richmond to Emeryville. Thirty years ago it was only an idea. The land was part garbage dumps, part toxic landfill, and most of it was privately owned by the Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad and allied private interests had very different ideas than a public park. They wanted to fill the bay almost out to Alcatraz, to build shopping centers, an airport, navy base, hotels, luxury condos. Author Norman La Force, whose history of the struggle to build the park appears in book form today, compares it to the Thirty Years War. He writes:
This was a political Thirty Years War for the shoreline. Indeed, the analogy to the Thirty Years War is apt for as with that conflict, it was fought for a time in one place, then stopped, to be fought again later or in a different location. It also represented a conflict between two different belief systems that would determine the fate of the communities involved. In the case of the East Bay Shoreline, the difference was between the belief, on the one hand, that the waterfront should be used for private development that would enrich the private owner and provide tax revenues to the cities along the shoreline, and the belief, on the other hand, that the shoreline should be held for the public with three objectives in mind. One was that the waterfront should be for public use and enjoyment. The second objective was to protect and preserve precious environmental and ecological resources that faced destruction from various development plans if they were not saved. The third objective was to retain the beauty of the open waterfront of the Bay.
La Force was uniquely positioned to write this history. Beginning in the early 1980s he was a leading member of the local Sierra Club chapter, one of the key organizations in the ever-shifting coalition of groups that advocated for the park. His is, without apology, an activist’s history. It is meticulously researched, it exposes weaknesses as well as strengths, but it burns with the fire of passion to get this park made.
The story of this prolonged war — it actually took closer to 40 years than 30 — is too complex to summarize here. Read the book. Suffice it to say that at one time or another it convulsed Emeryville, Berkeley, and Albany, and played out on a statewide level in Sacramento. La Force’s book names dozens of organizations and many dozens of individuals who played a role; they’re listed in the book’s Index.
As La Force says in his conclusion, this effort
demonstrated what individual citizens could accomplish with perseverance and by organizing and using membership organizations to accomplish their goals. …. If the citizens’ effort to create the Eastshore State Park teaches anything, it is to show that individuals can make a difference and to demolish the shibboleth that an individual’s voice in public affairs does not count. The history of this effort also shows how important it was to build and create organizations and coalitions of groups and individuals to achieve the goal of creating the Park. Alone or singly one person could not have accomplished much, if anything, but organized with others and with people willing to take on leadership roles, much could be accomplished…. Success in creating the park also required a diversity of character traits and leadership methods. Each leader brought a different set of leadership skills to the effort, all of which were important when put together in a collective effort to achieve the common goal. No one method would have made success possible by itself…. Another important element in the success of this campaign was perseverance. At any one point, people could have just given up. Had that happened, no park would have been created.
La Force wrote this text in 2001-2002 as a manuscript that circulated among a few. Now, on the thirtieth anniversary of the Committee for the Eastshore State Park (CESP), it is being published as a paperback and also as a Kindle e-book. It’s a well-written account, filled with concrete detail and with names and places. It will resonate with everyone who played a part in these decades of effort, and it will educate many who today enjoy the benefits of the park without knowing the passion and sometimes heartbreak that went into it.
I happened across La Force’s unpublished manuscript while researching the history of Cesar Chavez Park. This park was intended to become part of the Eastshore State Park, and the State spent considerable sums to convert it from a garbage dump into a recreation area. But an organized lobby of regional dog owners bow-wowed a spineless Berkeley City Council into setting aside 17 acres in the center of the park for an unfenced off-leash dog run in 1998. That violates State Park rules and dumped the park into the City of Berkeley’s budget, where it has been starved for resources for decades. Prime example: plastic porta-potties, intended for temporary use, are still in place after 25 years. — After reading his manuscript, I contacted La Force, and with his agreement, I formatted the pages as a book, cleaned up typos, added the index and cover, and published the result. I was happy to be able to use a couple of my photos of the Berkeley Meadow for the cover.
Creating the Eastshore State Park by Norman La Force is available as a paperback at the Ecology Center bookstore, or online at your favorite purveyor. It’s also available as a Kindle book. If you attended the 30th anniversary brunch of CESP on Saturday Nov. 7 (2015), you could have picked up a copy at a discount there. LaForce donates all royalties to CESP.
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