Op-Ed: Save Chavez Park

Berkeleyside, the free local online daily, yesterday published my op-ed titled “The Berkeley Marina Plan Would Destroy Cesar Chavez Park.” I’m republishing the op-ed below. I want to thank the readers who have sent messages of support, several of them asking what specifically they can do to save our park. The answer, to begin with, is to contact your City Council member.

Email the mayor, Jesse Arreguin. Email City Council members: Rashi Kesarwani  Terry Taplin  Ben Bartlett  Kate Harrison  Sophie Hahn  Susan Wengraf  Rigel Robinson  Lori Droste  You can also email the whole City Council: council@cityofberkeley.info, but emails to the individual Council members are more likely to get attention. If you don’t know who your City Council member is, enter your home address on this web page and it will tell you.

Opinion: Berkeley Marina plan would destroy Cesar Chavez Park

There are real needs for maintenance and improvement in the park but the city’s plan in its current iteration will not solve those financial problems.

By Martin Nicolaus April 29 2022, 3:22 p.m.

In a recent email, Mayor Jesse Arreguin noted that the Berkeley Marina comprises over 100 acres. Ninety of those acres make up Cesar Chavez Park.  The ongoing Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP) appears, at first sight, to pivot on the issue of a commercial ferry terminal at the municipal pier site on the marina’s south side. But a closer look shows that BMASP also envisions profound changes in Cesar Chavez Park on Marina’s north side.  These changes would transform the park from a place of relief from urban stress into a high-pressure commercial amusement park.

Two proposals, in particular, stand out. No. 1, BMASP wants to create a big oval “Large Event Area” with an “Events Pavilion” in the southern half of the park. No. 2, BMASP wants to turn the Native Plant Area into a “Large Adventure Park II.”  Let’s take them in turn.

The proposed Large Events Area is outlined in the map above from Slide 47 of the BMASP presentation dated March 16. The key is the addition of an “Events Pavilion.” This would be a large permanent building with a roof and a stage. For example, BMASP gives the “LOVEBOX” installation in the photo below from Slide 40.* BMASP also would add undefined other “PARK PAVILIONS.”

Part of the BMASP process was an online “Public Input” questionnaire that closed on April 22.  The “Events Space” question illustrates the covert bias of this instrument. “Events and regional gatherings are a key source of revenue generation for the Marina Fund,” says the questionnaire. You’re then asked to indicate your degree of approval for an “Events Space.” The loud hint is that if you disapprove of the Events Space plan, you are throwing money away. The way this question is put rests on a lie. Events, whether regional or otherwise, have never generated revenue for the Marina Fund. The lineup of Marina Fund revenue sources given 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 disturbing Cannabis Festival that some in the 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 festivals. 

The BMASP slide show estimates that the maximum revenue from the largest events would come to $170,000 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 $1 million per year, but BMASP clearly doesn’t lend it credence. Nor should we. These numbers are pure speculation, resting on untested assumptions.   

Several 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 heavy impact on the park, and the existing spaces adequately serve them. The proposed big dedicated Events Space and Events Pavilion don’t serve local needs. They’re bait for big commercial operations out for a profit. These operators know how to sweet-talk gullible city staffers (and money-hungry candidates) with promises of big revenue while actually draining the local coffers for externalities like police and fire overtime and cleanup. These kinds of events not only lose money, but they also hijack the environment, poison the habitat, and degrade nature.

Each of the large events projected for the Events Space and the Events Pavilion would bring major noise pollution to the park, heavy traffic and parking congestion, 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.

The second main impact of the BMASP is even worse. BMASP proposes a so-called “Large Adventure Park II” (shown in the drawing above from Slide 63). What BMASP means by an Adventure Park isn’t spelled out, but it’s a different creature entirely from the beloved Adventure Playground on the south side of the marina that has entertained and instructed generations of kids, including mine. That facility disappears from the BMASP scheme. What BMASP wants instead is a sporting place for grownups involving “ziplines, ropes courses.” For example, BMASP shows the “Ropes Course, Orange County” (Slide 44). The price for a day is $350 for a group. It’s geared to paying adults. 

The most outrageous part of the BMASP “Large Adventure Park” 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 commercial playground with ziplines, ropes courses, and other entertainment for grownups who enjoy thrills and can afford the ticket. Forget the California Coastal Conservancy that paid for establishing the Native Plant Area 40 years ago. Forget the progressive Berkeley City Council of 40 years ago 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 who worked from sunup to sundown to establish native plants in this challenging site, a historical project. Forget the dozens of volunteers and concerned supporters and the city staff who have weeded and trimmed 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 ziplines on the marina. But BMASP’s own public opinion polling shows just the opposite. No less than 87% of the respondents go to the marina for its walking/biking pathways. Similarly, 79% 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. 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 visitors’ concerns abound. BMASP completely ignores the Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta Homage Solar Calendar, a park landmark that could use upgrades and better access. Apart from a proposed “Enhancement” consisting of a “Dog Agility Course,” BMASP has nothing to say about the highly irregular unfenced dog problem area in the belly of the park. BMASP envisions only one real bathroom in the 90-acre park to be built years from now. BMASP also floats ideas of an “Interpretive Center” or “Museum” that no local person wants. The international consulting firm running BMASP, Hargreaves Jones, prides itself on “rigorous investigation,” but we’ve not yet seen a single HJ employee in the park asking park visitors’ opinions. The plan, including the alleged public input portion, is being engineered from above.

There are, to be sure, real money problems affecting the marina and the marina fund. There are real needs for maintenance and improvement in Cesar Chavez Park. However, the BMASP in its current iteration will not solve those financial problems, and it will not serve the public that uses the park.  

Martin Nicolaus is CEO of Chavez Park Conservancy and webmaster of chavezpark.org.

________________________________________

* Berkeleyside originally superimposed a caption on this photo, reading: “The city of Berkeley estimates revenue close to $1 million for additional and expanded events at the Berkeley Marina. Credit: City of Berkeley.” After I objected to this caption, and after the initial publication, Berkeleyside deleted the photo. Here I’ve restored the photo as I originally submitted it. The link to the Berkeleyside story after deletion of the photo is here.

An earlier draft of this writing appeared here on chavezpark.org as “BMASP: Park Wrecking Scheme” on April 21 2022.


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7 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Save Chavez Park

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  • May 5, 2022 at 12:39 pm
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    Please send this to your list of friends and neighbors. Ask them to write to their councilperson and to be aware that this is truly in the works if we don’t stop it. It’s been sent to 30 other people Please add to the protest to your councilperson
    Ruth Rosen, professor emerita, former columnist SF Chronicle.

    Dear Susan,

    Berkeleyside has just published a rather distressing description of a proposed development right on the Cesar Chavez park, where everyone I know goes for quiet, peace, and respite from the congested life of Berkeley. I am going to copy it to you. There is no need for an adult adventure park in Cesar Chavez. We already have a fine adventure park for children. There is no need for a place that would sponsor events and music. Berkeley is filled with places where people can hear music played. The park is a precious oasis for many of us. It’s where we go and enjoy the Bay, views of Mt. Tam, and San Francisco. It is truly one of the most wonderful places people visit, aside from Tilden Park to enjoy undisturbed beauty. This is what Berkeleyside published a few days ago:

    Opinion: Berkeley Marina plan would destroy Cesar Chavez Park
    There are real needs for maintenance and improvement in the park but the city’s plan in its current iteration will not solve those financial problems.

    116
    Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someonePrint this page
    By Martin NicolausApril 292022, 3:22 p.m.
    In a recent email, Mayor Jesse Arreguin noted that the Berkeley Marina comprises over 100 acres. Ninety of those acres make up Cesar Chavez Park. The ongoing Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP) appears, at first sight, to pivot on the issue of a commercial ferry terminal at the municipal pier site on the marina’s south side. But a closer look shows that BMASP also envisions profound changes in Cesar Chavez Park on Marina’s north side. These changes would transform the park from a place of relief from urban stress into a high-pressure commercial amusement park.

    Two proposals, in particular, stand out. No. 1, BMASP wants to create a big oval “Large Event Area” with an “Events Pavilion” in the southern half of the park. No. 2, BMASP wants to turn the Native Plant Area into a “Large Adventure Park II.” Let’s take them in turn.

    The proposed Large Events Area is outlined in the map above from Slide 47 of the BMASP presentation dated March 16. The key is the addition of an “Events Pavilion.” This would be a large permanent building with a roof and a stage. For example, BMASP gives the “LOVEBOX” installation in the photo below from Slide 40. BMASP also would add undefined other “PARK PAVILIONS.”

    Part of the BMASP process was an online “Public Input” questionnaire that closed on April 22. The “Events Space” question illustrates the covert bias of this instrument. “Events and regional gatherings are a key source of revenue generation for the Marina Fund,” says the questionnaire. You’re then asked to indicate your degree of approval for an “Events Space.” The loud hint is that if you disapprove of the Events Space plan, you are throwing money away. The way this question is put rests on a lie. Events, whether regional or otherwise, have never generated revenue for the Marina Fund. The lineup of Marina Fund revenue sources given 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 disturbing Cannabis Festival that some in the 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 festivals.

    The BMASP slide show estimates that the maximum revenue from the largest events would come to $170,000 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 $1 million per year, but BMASP clearly doesn’t lend it credence. Nor should we. These numbers are pure speculation, resting on untested assumptions.

    Several 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 heavy impact on the park, and the existing spaces adequately serve them. The proposed big dedicated Events Space and Events Pavilion don’t serve local needs. They’re bait for big commercial operations out for a profit. These operators know how to sweet-talk gullible city staffers (and money-hungry candidates) with promises of big revenue while actually draining the local coffers for externalities like police and fire overtime and cleanup. These kinds of events not only lose money, but they also hijack the environment, poison the habitat, and degrade nature.

    Each of the large events projected for the Events Space and the Events Pavilion would bring major noise pollution to the park, heavy traffic and parking congestion, 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.

  • May 5, 2022 at 11:22 am
    Permalink

    I agree with Judith Coburn’s comment here, except that I think there could be parking fees with exceptions made for lower-income folks. I actually think there should be a daily limit set on the number of visitors to CCP. Even though I go there out of necessity almost every day for health and mental health, I’d limit my visits to protect the experience for all. Please sign me up to help work to keep this an absolutely crucial refuge from the increasing urbanization here. If relief from climate destruction is sincere, people need somewhere CLOSE, not somewhere they have to burn gas driving hundreds of miles to find. And humans (and other animals) need refuge.

  • May 5, 2022 at 9:39 am
    Permalink

    I’ve been walking daily in Cesar Chavez or along the path between the Yacht Club and Lord Jeffreys for 40 years. All kinds of weather, even wonderful in rain and wind. With Berkeley now a dense city with rush hour gridlock, I need to get away where it’s quiet. For a few years, I lived on a boat in the Marina. The last thing I need is for Berkeley to monetize the last place except Tilden for people to get away from the crush. Tilden is wonderful in its own right, a visit to the forest. But it’s the ocean I seek. What will happen to the shoreline birdlife if the crowding is brought to Cesar Chavez. Also, watching early morning fisher folks and people gazing at the water drinking coffee in trucks and sometimes beater cars, I totally oppose parking fees which would make it impossible for anyone but the wealthy to enjoy the shoreline. And I think a ferry service will be used only the well off and is too expensive to build. Sign me up to fight these crazy schemes.

  • April 30, 2022 at 8:46 pm
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    I agree entirely. Let me know if I can be of help with organizing the dog walkers.

  • April 30, 2022 at 6:05 pm
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    I am a loyal dog walker at CC and i know many who would readily agree with your analysis in Berkeleyside. It seems that your concerns align with the majority of the many dog walkers i know. Seems to me that organizing the dog walkers could help to discourage or at least significantly modify what Berkeley is proposing. I could start collecting email addresses of like minded people if you think this could help. Thanks Jeff

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