The movement to save Chavez Park from the BMASP park-wrecking scheme has enjoyed success in reaching some members of the City Council. Council Member and Vice Mayor Kate Harrison, District 4, took the lead on June 21 with a strong and clear statement. “I am dedicated to maintaining the public natural space Berkeley has left as it is integral to the wellbeing of our communities.” See her complete statement below. More recently, on July 20, Mayor Jesse Arreguin submitted an equally strong and clear statement. Among other points, he wrote, “The Mayor does not support plans to ‘commercialize’ the Park by converting large portions of it for a permanent outdoor music venue or other revenue generating uses.” See his complete statement below. We also have indications that Council Member Sophie Hahn, District 5, will make a similar statement very soon. That is good news.
However, these would be only three votes out of nine, and we need at least five to prevail. As this is written, two Council Members have made evasive statements on the BMASP plan, and the remainder have not spoken.
Evasive describes the responses of Rashi Kesarwani, District 1, where the park happens to be located. In emails, Kesarwani takes the position that there is nothing to worry about, these are just ideas, nothing has been decided, and we should let the BMASP process go on as scheduled. Many of Kesarwani’s former supporters find this position insensitive. BMASP means Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan, emphasis on Specific Plan, not just some random suggestions. BMASP has the plan to wreck the Native Plant Area and turn it into zip lines and a ropes course. Kesarwani sees nothing there to worry about? The BMASP process has been widely and fairly criticized as non-transparent, covert, manipulative, and apparently fraudulent. We should let that process proceed without disturbance? The optics of Kesarwani’s response display a cold calculator who, despite her politician’s smiles, has no love for the park or its users and no feeling for the concerns of the people who elected her. One District 1 resident, Susan Tomasello, summed up the view of many others when, after an exchange of emails with Kesarwani, she wrote, “After review and a lot of thought on this subject, as much as I’d like, unfortunately I am not reassured by your recent email response. Your words seemed vague and not particularly helpful.” After a meeting with Kesarwani this week, park activist Jeff Malmuth, who has done tremendous work educating people about the BMASP plan, came away deeply frustrated. We have collected a number of signatures on an early petition addressed specifically to Kesarwani and will present those to her office shortly.
Council Member Terry Taplin, District 2, represents the West and Southwest Berkeley flatlands. He defines himself as an environmental justice activist. His logo shows roots underneath the letter T and a bird roosting on the letter I. You would think that Taplin would be among the first to raise the alarm about the BMASP plans for Chavez Park. If the proposed “Large Events Area” goes forward, the park will be closed off repeatedly to all visitors except high-priced event ticket holders. Park access will crash from equitable to privileged for the affluent elite. In the words of Kate Harrison, “Not only is this an environmental issue, it is a blatant equity issue. Public, natural space is necessary in urban areas as it allows any and everybody access to nature, not only those who can privately afford it.” And someone who adopts roots and birds in his logo would normally be up in arms over the BMASP proposal to rip out the Native Plant Area in the park and replace it with zip lines and ropes courses. Taplin apparently has been tied up with many other concerns directly affecting his district and in his most recent newsletter was not yet up to speed on the real meaning of the BMASP proposals for Cesar Chavez Park. One looks forward to updated position statements from this talented and well-intentioned Council Member.
As for Council Members Ben Bartlett (District 3), Susan Wengraf (6), Rigel Robinson (7), and Lori Droste (8), they have not yet to my knowledge made public statements about the BMASP plan. There is a myopic tendency in some elected officials to pay little or no attention to constituents’ concerns until they land on the Council’s agenda. The more alert political figures realize that leadership means getting ahead of the bureaucratic agenda, not sitting back until it reaches their desk. By that time, voters may be angry enough to toss them out. We can move things forward by signing the petition to save the park.
Statement by Vice Mayor Kate Harrison June 21 2022
I was alarmed about the BMASP plan when it was presented. Just yesterday, my husband and I took a walk at Brickyard Cove, reclaimed from industrial uses to a beautiful natural space. It would be a travesty to destroy natural spaces under the City’s domain when regional agencies have worked so hard to open up natural spaces for our enjoyment. I do not want us to repeat the mistakes of the past in treating nature as secondary to commerce.
There are many steps before the City moves forward with development and I promise that I will continue to speak out about maintaining this vital, natural place. I commit to fighting to keep the small boatyard as it is a vital element of the marina specifically for working people. I am dedicated to maintaining the public natural space Berkeley has left as it is integral to the wellbeing of our communities. I recognize that hosting events and concerts in Cesar Chavez park will create more trash and pollution for the plants and animals that rely on the fragile, vital, natural habitats. Not only is this an environmental issue, it is a blatant equity issue. Public, natural space is necessary in urban areas as it allows any and everybody access to nature, not only those who can privately afford it.
The Berkeley Marina is a refuge and a space of rejuvenation and rest for so many people, plants, and animals. I am committed to keeping it that way.
All the best,
Statement by Mayor Jesse Arreguin July 20 2022
Thank you for contacting the Mayor’s Office expressing your views on the future of Cesar Chavez Park. We agree that the Park is a special place that should be preserved and enhanced to protect habitat and wildlife and for recreation, bird watch, dog walking and other non-commercial uses. The Mayor is a strong supporter of the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar and its role honoring the life and work of his hero Cesar Chavez, who the park is named after.
The Mayor does not support plans to “commercialize” the Park by converting large portions of it for a permanent outdoor music venue or other revenue generating uses.
While one-time public events (like the Kite Festival) may be appropriate if well managed, allowing fixed stages and infrastructure and permanent use of open space for this purpose is a dramatic change that goes against its designated purpose, and may violate City Measure L, which prohibits the removal of parks and open space without a vote of the people.
Unfortunately, in the course of conducting outreach for the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP), high level concepts about a variety of possible park uses have been interpreted as a final plan to allow multiple commercial uses in the park. To clarify, there are no plans for the development of Cesar Chavez Park or to dramatically alter it.
We appreciate your ongoing use and support of the park, which is really a jewel and regional destination that should be maintained. While long term solutions are needed to the infrastructure and finances of the Waterfront, BMASP should focus on expanding the Waterfront and Marina for maritime uses, recreation, open space, walking, biking, and some limited commercial activity that is compatible with the state’s grant of the tidelands.
The Mayor and City Council are committed to improving the Waterfront, and the city has invested millions of dollars in recent years to pave and fix streets, improve docks, paths and parking lots.
Additionally, thanks to the leadership of California State Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, the City of Berkeley will receive $15 Million in Waterfront funding through the recently signed state budget, with $1 million being allocated for improvements to the one-mile perimeter pathway at Cesar Chavez Park to widen it to meet Bay Trail standards and additional improvements to meet ADA standards. Another project improving the Park will be the construction of new restrooms by the end of Spinnaker Way, funded by Measure T1. Rest assured that the BMASP is being developed with community feedback being central to the decisions made, and we value your input on this matter.