Millions and Meetings

The local online daily, Berkeleyside, had a story yesterday titled “City secures $15M state earmark to improve Berkeley Marina.” This is good news but somewhat old news. It was already a topic-of discussion in Parks Director Scott Ferris’ report at the July 13 meeting of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission. But Berkeleyside missed this historic meeting, where more than 100 people blasted the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP) proposals for Chavez Park. Berkeleyside didn’t pick the story up until after Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, echoed shortly by Terry Taplin and Rigel Robinson, gushed about it in their constituent newsletters late last week. Omitted in this Berkeleyside story was the detail that the funding request was voted on and submitted by the entire City Council, not just three of its members, last October 26; see earlier Berkeleyside story.

Yesterday’s Berkeleyside piece mentions that a number of organizations supported the plea to the state budget for the money. Among them, although not listed in the Berkeleyside story, was your Chavez Park Conservancy. I wrote a support letter for the request on Chavez Park Conservancy stationery at Kesarwani’s invitation on February 8 this year, see copy below. So if there is credit to go around, a tiny sliver belongs to the Conservancy.

The headlines in Kesarwani’s newsletter and in the Berkeleyside story say that the money will help the Marina and the Berkeley pier. The pier has been closed for six years now, following at least 15 years when the city did no pier inspections and no pier maintenance. However, the request that Council sent to the state in October makes no mention of the pier. The top item in the request was for $6 million for “Dredging Main Channel.” The reason given was that “There are several spots where large boats cannot enter or exit during low tide.” Then there’s $4.5 million for J Dock replacement, mainly to convert “from small boat slips to slips for medium and larger boats.” An additional $2.35 million goes for boat dock piling, finger dock replacement, and shoring up the Marina office. Then, $1.25M for paving some Marina parking lots. At the bottom of the list is the reason I signed on to the request, $1 million to widen the Cesar Chavez Park perimeter trail. There’s no item about the pier.

In a comment to my letter of support addressed to Kesarwani, I pointed out what I saw as a glaring inequity. I wrote:

While I support this funding request in general, I do want to point out a glaring inequity.  The request for $6 million to dredge the main channels so that large boats can get in and out at low tide is the biggest funding item and will benefit the smallest number of people, namely the owners of the biggest sailboats, yachts.  This may be a population of a dozen people.  All very well off and in no need of subsidies at public expense.  It is the height of inequity to spend millions in taxpayer money to spare them the inconvenience of having to wait for a moderate tide to start or end their yacht outings, as sailors have had to do for many centuries. 

I had the following reply:

Thanks for your input. I wanted to acknowledge that I had read it, and appreciate the point. My understanding is that the dredging was included as a revenue-generating strategy to attract more large boats to the Berkeley Marina. This funding would help to get the Marina Fund out of its current structural deficit and provide funding to enhance infrastructure for other marina users. 

This sounded like the well-known trickledown theory, whereby subsidies to the rich magically benefit the less well-off. When running for office, Kesarwani flexed her budget management prowess and her ability to think critically about budget issues. So I thought she would have answers to some basic budget questions:

For an expenditure of this size, one expects some research. At a minimum:
1. Which boats have experienced delay at low tide, for what length of time, and how often?
2. How many berths for large boats are currently vacant, and how much revenue would accrue if they were rented?
Absent data of this type, the expenditure appears capricious and has the odor of a favor to wealthy cronies.

That was the end of the correspondence. There was no reply from Kesarwani or her office. So much for critical budget analysis. Looks like some big sailing yachts in the Marina will be hosting candidate fundraisers.

Another omission in the Berkeleyside story is the $1 million requested and supposedly granted for the perimeter trail in Chavez Park. Ferris mentioned this in his report at the July 13 commission meeting, and indicated that this grant might be used as a matching fund to double the amount from other sources, providing for great improvement in this trail. No mention of the trail or of any money for Chavez Park in Berkeleyside. Does this mean the money has been shunted into another bucket since July 13?

The Berkeleyside story conjures up a warm fuzzy feeling. Money is coming in. At last. How wonderful. But note the fuzzy part. Although the detailed item-by-item funding request to the state is a public record, the story never refers to it. The story proceeds as if the state wrote a blank check for $15 million. “Now, the city is working to determine exactly what to do with the money.” Parks Director Ferris contributes to this vagueness in his Berkeleyside quotes, saying that the city still needs to figure out how much dredging to do, and “it’s kind of a wait-and-see.” He’s quoted as saying that “he hopes to bring recommendations to council in the fall as far as how to use the state money.”

The story also says the city “hopes to spend some of the state money to help rebuild the Berkeley pier.” Interesting. If the City spends some of the $15M on the pier, it will go outside its request to the state. Does the state have the same loose budget controls as our city? Note also that $15M, even if spent entirely on the pier, would be only a proverbial drop in the bucket. Bottom line, the headlines about “pier repair” coming from this state grant are eyewash. Don’t hold your breath.

The way this small bucket of millions is allowed to slosh around is a red flag for the giant $650 million bond measure the council just put on the November ballot. Does the city have any real controls and any robust and transparent processes to determine how this humongous pool of money will be spent?

But enough about millions. At the bottom of the Berkeleyside story lie a few paragraphs about the BMASP process. Coming in the fall, according to Ferris, “will be the next round of community focus groups” relating to BMASP. I know two regular park visitors with considerable history in the park who have asked to be on these focus groups, but their requests got ignored. BMASP is going to hand-pick the focus group members, and people with personal engagement in the park are not welcome. The BMASP process has been marked throughout by this kind of manipulation, as a number of park visitors have noted. To date BMASP has not reached out to any of the diverse Chavez Park constituencies such as the Conservancy, the Chavez/Huerta solar calendar foundation, the dog owner’s group, the kite fliers, model airplane club, and the regional organizations with a long record of engagement with the park, such as Citizens for East Shore Parks, Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the California Native Plant Society. The BMASP process is BS.

The Berkeleyside piece does take note that BMASP “has seen an increasing amount of community pushback largely from regular park users who say they are worried about too much development at the waterfront and the destruction of its natural, wild character.” That’s accurate. There’s been so much pushback that in just three months there was enough to make a book, Love Letters to the Park. Each city council member has a copy; the City Manager has a copy; Ferris has a copy. Possibly this pushback is the reason why the schedule for the so-called “large-scale community meetings” (a joke) has slipped from the previous target of September this year to “the end of 2022 or early next year.” Until then, “Ferris said the city continues to welcome community input in all forms.” But the link for sending “emails to staff” leads to a web page that contains no email addresses. If BMASP doesn’t formally and clearly withdraw its proposals to commercialize Chavez Park, the “community input in all forms” at the next BMASP meeting may take the form of pickets and demonstrations garnished with eggs and tomatoes.

Here, for perspective, is an aerial view of much of the Marina taken not from a drone but a kite in the hands of photographer Cris Benton.

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14 thoughts on “Millions and Meetings

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  • how deep is the Bay where they want to dredge. How deep is the Bay generally? i am not infavor of dredging for large yachts.

  • Bolinas has navigated the rules for compost toilets.

  • Norman: Is any work in progress towards returning Chavez Park to the Shoreline McLaughlin State Park? I like that idea alot!

  • Norman: i think it would be helpful to talk to the newspapers Katy Lauer at bay area news group covers Berkeley 507 210 7310

  • Martin: There is a berkeley city council agenda committee meeting on August 31 on zoom not sure the time 2:30? Could you go to that meeting and request in person Berkeley City Council meetings starting in September as covid is not an issue in Berkeley so far as in person events are concerned. They could require masks and even vaccination proof. I think they will push through with an undemocratic process if we dont get there in person and speak to the Council members and see where each one stands and why. Thank you, Maureen Daggett


  • Jim: I was impressed by Paul Kamen’s comments on the Berkeleyside piece in which he said (1) there is no need to dredge as even the biggest boats can come in and out using the southside channel, only the northside channel has an issue; and (2) the reason some big boat owners are leaving the Berkeley boat basin is not dredging but crime, as their parked cars get broken into regularly. Kamen is probably the most knowledgeable individual about Marina boating issues.

  • Marty–slip owners pay about 64% of the total revenue in the marina fund. While I’m a sailor, and would rather see sailboats, enhancing the uses you have is always the best approach to increased revenue. Westpoint Harbor in Redwood City has about half the slips that the Berkeley marina has, but generates about the same revenue–so there is some potential to increase revenue with larger boats.

    Who pays, and whether or not State money should be used to dredge the marina is a different question. In a more transparent world where the City took the marina fiscal problems seriously, we would have seen a serious discussion of costs, alternatives, and we could see a sound business plan for the marina being developed The contract that the city entered into required the consultants to provided a number of feasible alternatives for public review. That hasn’t happened; none of the public meetings, and I’ve attended them all, mentioned bigger boats or how much revenue that might generate. Nothing like keeping all information close held until it suits your purpose to reveal it.

  • But, to keep the “perspective” of Cesar Chavez Park and the Marina in better perspective, area-wise, the Marina is about 2/3 the size of CCP.

    How do the two areas compare wrt their relative “costs” to the City?

    Which one is the better ‘bargain’ per user (in City dollars spent, and/or by some other metrics, e.g., per vertebrate hosted and enjoyed, or per opportunity to use by a City resident, or in emotional, psychological, and social well-being, and physical health benefits, rendered, …)?

    But, while asking about the USE of the funds, one might wish to ponder how best to “improve” the Bay Trail leg which circumscribes CCP. “… the $1 million requested and supposedly granted for the perimeter trail in Chavez Park …”, we may wonder how this first Million would best be spent –what “improvements” will 1-Million dollars bring more joy per meter traveled to trail users?

    Maybe CCP really is much larger than the Marina, as the photo perspective suggests ?

  • my little questions might sometime get a response? Is work in process for returning Chavez Park to the Shoreline McLaughlin State Park? And has anyone checked with Marin Country Govt. Offices to see the feasibility of our having similiar compost toilets in Chavez Park. I will check but someone like you who has in company communication skills would be appreciated.

  • That was great Marty. Thank you for telling it like it is. Also love the aerial photo.

  • Thank you Martin, you are so good at plowing through the political BS. You ROCK! Cesar Chavez Park is so lucky to have you!

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