I’ve been negligent in keeping up with the Berkeley Marina development plans coming out of City offices. Back in January, Parks Commissioner Jim McGrath created a stir with an important Berkeleyside op-ed announcing his resignation over the Mayor’s plan to install commercial ferry service. McGrath made a strong argument that the ferry plan would involve huge public subsidies for a small number of potential riders and would roll over recreational users of the Marina area. I thought that was the main issue in the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP) and that it would not directly impact Cesar Chavez Park. Now I’ve taken a closer look at the City’s BMASP documents and my hair is standing on end. What BMASP has in mind is a park wrecking scheme, nothing less. If this plan goes through, you can forget nature and you can kiss the Native Plant Area good bye. BMASP has them scheduled for extinction.
Two projects in particular stand out. Number One, BMASP wants to create a big oval “Large Event Area” with an “Events Pavilion” in the southern half of the park. Number Two: BVMASP wants to turn the Native Plant Area into “Adventure Playground II.”
The Events part is outlined in the map, above, from Slide 47. Note the addition of an “Events Pavilion.” This would be a large permanent building with a roof and a stage. As an example, BMASP gives the “LOVEBOX” installation in the photo just below. BMASP also would add undefined other “PARK PAVILIONS.”
In the “public input” questionnaire that accompanies the BMASP slide show, the question is put this way: “Events and regional gatherings are a key source of revenue generation for the Marina Fund.” You’re then asked to indicate your degree of approval for an “Event Space.” This is a flat lie. Events, whether regional or otherwise, have never generated revenue for the Marina Fund. The lineup of Marina Fund revenue sources on slide 8 makes no mention of event revenues, because there haven’t been any. Even the biggest event, the Kite Fest, which I personally have loved, costs the City major sums of money to put on. Once or twice a year, a big charity may hold a fundraiser that draws a few hundred people, but the City’s expenses in groundskeeping, sanitation, and staffing always eat up more than the rental fees. Even the disgusting monster Cannabis Festival that some dopeheads in City government wanted to put on would not cover the cost of fencing, groundskeeping, staff time, police and fire overtime, DUI cases, and the enormous cleanup necessary after marijuana festivals.
The BMASP slide show estimates that the maximum revenue from the largest events would come to $170k a year. That’s already in a different universe than what past event revenues have been historically, namely zero or negative. BMASP also quotes a much higher “City staff” estimate of almost a million per year, but BMASP clearly doesn’t lend it credence. Nor should we.
A number of local nonprofits have successfully held events such as religious observances, drum circles, foot races and the like in the park. They don’t make a bad impact on the park and they do just fine with the existing spaces, thank you. The proposed big dedicated Event Space and Events Pavilion don’t serve local needs. They’re bait for big commercial operations out for a profit, and these operators know how to sweet-talk gullible City staffers with promises of big revenue, while actually draining the local coffers for externalities like police and fire overtime and cleanup. These kinds of events are not only money losers, they hijack the environment, poison the habitat, and kill nature.
Each of the large events projected for the Events Space and the Events Pavilion would bring major noise pollution to the park, not to mention tobacco and alcohol use, littering, and violence. Forget taking a quiet walk in the park. Forget nature — anything with wings or legs or a belly to crawl on runs away or hides when a Big Event happens, and for quite a while afterward. For some species, a single such disturbance during nesting season is enough to guarantee that they never come back.
As if that weren’t enough, the BMASP plan further offers a so-called “Large ADVENTURE PARK II.” That’s shown in the drawing below. What BMASP means by an Adventure Park isn’t spelled out, but it’s a different creature entirely from the beloved Adventure Playground that has entertained and instructed generations of kids on the south side of the Marina. That facility disappears from the BMASP scheme. Good-bye kids. What BMASP wants instead is a sporting place for grownups involving “ziplines, ropes courses.” As an example, BMASP shows the “Ropes Course, Orange County.” The price for a day on that operation is $350 and you need to have a reach of 60 inches to participate. That’s right, it’s not for kids. Good-bye, kids.
The most outrageous part of the BMASP proposal is the planned location: smack on top of the Native Plant Area in the southwest corner of the park. The whole 3.5 acre grove where dozens of varieties of California native trees, shrubs, and grasses grow will be turned into a playground with ziplines, ropes courses, and other entertainment for grownups who enjoy that sort of thing and can afford the ticket. Forget the California Coastal Conservancy that paid for establishing the Native Plant Area 40 years ago. Forget the progressive City Council that paid for the other half of it 40 years ago. Forget the hardworking, nature-savvy trio of Charli Danielsen, David Amme, and Dave Kaplow and their associates who worked from sunup to sundown to establish native plants in this challenging site, a historic project. Forget the dozens of volunteers and concerned supporters who have weeded and trimmed in the Native Plant Area in recent years. Forget the Native Pollinator Garden project just funded by Alameda County. It will all go under the bulldozer to make way for a commercial zipline and rope course operation, supposedly earning the City $120,000 a year, if you believe that.
It might be a different matter if there were a groundswell of popular demand for rock concerts and zip lines on the Marina. But BMASP’s own public opinion polling shows just the opposite. No less than 87 percent of the respondents go to the Marina for its walking/biking pathways. Similarly, 79 percent go there to enjoy the parks. (Slide 22.) These are by far the most popular reasons why people go there. Nothing else is even close People go to the Marina overwhelmingly to enjoy being in nature. Bottom line: the BMASP recommendations run absolutely counter to what people want to see in the park. If BMASP succeeds, the park will be wrecked beyond restoration.
It isn’t too late to stop the BMASP park-wrecking steamroller. Take the BMASP survey today or tomorrow (the last day). But more importantly, email or call your City Council person and/or the City Council as a whole, and tell them to put BMASP back in the box and shut the lid. Yes, we need progress in the parks, very much so, but we don’t need to go where BMASP wants to take us. Make a noise, and do it now!