The City has hired a consultant to propose changes in the Berkeley Marina. The project is known as the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan – BMASP. The plan would transform the park from a place of relief from urban stress and for enjoyment of nature into a high-pressure commercial amusement park.
Two proposals in particular stand out. Number One, BMASP wants to create a big oval “Large Event Area” with an “Events Pavilion” in the middle of the park. Number Two: BMASP wants to turn the Native Plant Area into “Large Adventure Park II.” Let’s take them in turn.
The proposed “Large Events Area” would require bulldozing and paving the big central meadow in the park. There would be a huge concert stage with a roof, screens, and a big sound system. As an example, BMASP gives the “LOVEBOX” installation in the next photo, below. The Events Area would cut off at least half of the current Off Leash Area. BMASP also proposes undefined other “PARK PAVILIONS.”
The idea behind the “Events Space” is to generate revenue. That’s a fantasy. Events, whether regional or otherwise, have never generated net revenue for the Marina Fund. The lineup of Marina Fund revenue sources given in BMASP’S own documents makes no mention of event revenues, because there haven’t been any. Even the biggest events, the Kite Fest and July 4, cost 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 cleanup and staffing always eat up more than the rental fees. Even the disturbing Cannabis Festival that some elements in City government want 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 events.
Cesar Chavez Park doesn’t pencil out as a regular events venue. The only access is via Marina Boulevard, a two-lane road, and parking is already tight in normal usage. The other problem is weather. Even in summer there’s regularly a chill northwesterly wind. That’s good weather for walking but not for sitting still. There are other venues in Berkeley that work much better. An event venue in Chavez Park is sure to lose money.
Big events bring major noise pollution, traffic jams, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, littering, and crime. Wildlife is driven away, maybe never coming back. The effect of the BMASP “Events Space” plan is rip the gut out of Cesar Chavez Park.
The second main impact of BMASP is even worse, if possible. BMASP proposes to create a so-called “Large ADVENTURE PARK II” in the spot occupied for the past 40 years by the Native Plant Area on the southwest side of the park. Here’s the map from BMASP documents:
What BMASP wants to put here is a commercial sporting facility consisting of zip lines and ropes courses. BMASP gives as an example one such place in Orange County. This operation is open to groups for $350 a day, and people under 60 inches aren’t welcome.
If this plan succeeds, forget the Native Plant Area in our park. This shaded oasis where dozens of varieties of California native trees, shrubs, and grasses thrive will go under the bulldozer. Forget the California Coastal Conservancy that paid to establish this habitat 40 years ago. Forget the progressive Berkeley City Council of the time that paid for the other half of it. Forget the hardworking, nature-savvy trio of Charli Danielsen, David Amme, and Dave Kaplow and their associates, environmental heroes 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 and the City staff who have weeded and trimmed and watered in the Native Plant Area in recent years. Forget the Native Pollinator Garden project just funded by Alameda County and by East Bay Community Energy. It will all be scraped away.
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. 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. Nature is the city-dweller’s lifeline, now more than ever. The BMASP recommendations are tone deaf to our environmentally conscious time. They run absolutely counter to what people want and need to see in the park. If BMASP succeeds, the park will be wrecked beyond restoration.
Other signs of BMASP’s distance from park visitor’s concerns abound. BMASP completely ignores the Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta Homage Solar Calendar, a park landmark.
BMASP envisions only one real bathroom in the 90-acre park, to be built years from now. This ignores a petition signed by nearly a thousand park users and the clear recommendation of a citywide study.
BMASP also plans to pave over the Adventure Playground on the south side of the Marina, where generations of Berkeley kids have played and learned.
BMASP claims to value public opinion, but it never contacted the Chavez Park Conservancy, the Chavez Park dog owner’s group, the Solar Calendar organization, or the model airplane group. And it didn’t reach out to the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, or Citizens for Eastshore State Parks, all of which have long records of engagement with Chavez Park. BMASP’s few public events have been lightly publicized and heavily staged, with tedious talking heads and tightly controlled breakout groups. It has fabricated a fake show of consensus for its outrageous plans, when there is in fact widespread and deep opposition.
The consulting firm that is driving the BMASP project, Hargreaves Jones, is an international landscape architecture giant that specializes in post-industrial brownfield sites. It has little experience with established urban parks having well-developed constituencies. The firm’s work so far has been shallow, insensitive, poorly researched, and sloppy. It has brought no landscape design ideas. Its only proposals are for commercial ventures that would destroy the beautiful and beloved landscapes we have long enjoyed here. The City should cancel its contract and replace it with local firms that know the park and its people.
What Can We Do to Save Our Park?
The authority to stop the BMASP park wrecking plan lies with the City Manager and ultimately with City Council. The matter will come on the City Council agenda at some point in 2023, but we need to derail it immediately before it ever gets there. We can do that by expressing our views loud and clear in emails and hearings.
A key City Council member is Rashi Kesarwani in District 1, where Chavez Park is located. Kesarwani’s term expires November 2022. She needs to hear from voters in her district that her chances of being re-elected depend on a strong and clear public statement about the BMASP park wrecking schemes.
To reach all council members and the mayor, email email@example.com
City Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please send copies of your messages to email@example.com. The chavezpark.org website has published a number of such messages and will publish more.
An earlier version of this content appeared in Berkeleyside on April 29 2022.
A trifold brochure with this content is in print. You can download a copy here; it wants to be trifolded.