Park Week 9/29/23

Water the Babies Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning, Saturday 9/30, meet at the Spinnaker Way parking circle at 9 for a stewardship outing in the Native Plant Area. The young native plants need one more boost of water and weed clearance, hopefully the last before the rains.

Bob Huttar, Conservancy Volunteer Coordinator, writes, ” many of the plants are flowering beautifully despite being quite dry. Even though these native species are adapted to California’s dry summers the best way to establish new plantings is to give them additional water throughout at least the first year.”

We’ll be working until lunch. We hope you will join us. You will want long pants, long sleeves and sturdy shoes or boots. We will have a few hand tools and lots of gloves if you need them. 

Birthday Bird

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

It was my birthday and I was hoping to see something special. But in the Native Plant Area the main bird action was a gang of American Crows mobbing a raptor of some kind, too far and too fast for me to identify. Then all was quiet, and I imagined I would not see the raptor again. As I walked north along the west shore with my eyes mostly on the water’s edge, I glanced over for a moment at a movement in the extreme right of my vision.

Susan Black photo

There on a pole sign, I could not believe it, sat the raptor. A Red-tailed Hawk. A big one, possibly a female. The crows seemed to have forgotten about it. It paid me little attention as I set up and began filming it.

Over the next fifteen minutes, this impressive bird flew short distances north and then south again, landing variously on the shoreline rocks, on the path, and on a bench, apparently happy to be filmed, turning this side and that. What a great birthday gift!

Photographer Susan Black, who happened to be passing by, caught this snapshot (left) of me trying to focus the bird as it flew almost directly over my head. No way.

Here’s a frame from my video showing the hawk coming in for a landing on the rocks.

High Blue

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

The Great Blue Heron is among the most versatile of birds. It can wade and hunt in shallow water. It can pace and forage in grasslands. And with seemingly no effort, the big avian can perch high up in trees, as if it were an ordinary songbird. It flew up on one of the Monterey Pines that line the hotel parking lot just as I walked into the park. After a minute or two surveying the lot from on high, it flew further west and out of my sight.

The next day I saw it — or one of its fellows — in the shallow water of the North Basin. It had company in the form of a Great Egret, almost its equal in height and wingspread. A Snowy Egret, smaller but arguably prettiest of all, posed quietly on a rock at the water’s edge, waiting for breakfast to swim along.

Almost in Season

Wild Turkeys think they own Berkeley. They’ll stop traffic on University Avenue and they’ll forage anywhere from the flats to the foothills. I saw them last week near the Monterey Market in North Berkeley. This week they took possession of Spinnaker Way on the south edge of the park. That seems pretty daring a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Do they know that it’s against the law to “harvest” them for the holiday?

Grebes Together

Three of the big grebes were floating on the North Basin about six feet apart. One was watching, the other two had their beaks tucked between their wings, hard to identify. Then something woke up the nodders, and it was obvious that this threesome had two Clark’s and one Western. In response to a park visitor’s question, “how do you tell them apart?” — these pictures tell all. The Clark’s wears its black cap clear of the eye, and its beak is clear yellow. The Western pulls its cap down over the eye and its beak is a muddy gray-yellow. Apart from that, the birds could be identical, and for decades scientists thought they were just color variations of the same species. Now it’s Aechmophorus clarkii and Aechmophorus occidentalis, and even though they may hang out together, there’s rarely any hanky-panky between them.

Migrants Arriving

The autumn bird migration season brought these two species to the mudflats around the Schoolhouse Creek outfall this week. The Killdeer are said to be “very common” but I haven’t seen them here since almost exactly this date five years ago. See “A Killdeer Visit,” Sep 29 2018. Their scientific name, Charadrius vociferus hints at the loud and fierce behavior of these little shorebirds. I cited these “Cool Facts” from the Cornell Lab website five years ago, but it bears repeating:

  • Killdeer get their name from the shrill, wailing kill-deer call they give so often. Eighteenth-century naturalists also noticed how noisy Killdeer are, giving them names such as the Chattering Plover and the Noisy Plover.
  • Gravel rooftops attract Killdeer for nesting, but can be dangerous places to raise a brood. Chicks may be unable to leave a roof because of high parapets and screened drain openings. Adults eventually lure chicks off the roof, which can be dangerous – although one set of chicks survived a leap from a seven-story building.
  • The Killdeer’s broken-wing act leads predators away from a nest, but doesn’t keep cows or horses from stepping on eggs. To guard against large hoofed animals, the Killdeer uses a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.
  • A well-known denizen of dry habitats, the Killdeer is actually a proficient swimmer. Adults swim well in swift-flowing water, and chicks can swim across small streams.
  • The male and female of a mated pair pick out a nesting site through a ritual known as a scrape ceremony. The male lowers his breast to the ground and scrapes a shallow depression with his feet. The female then approaches, head lowered, and takes his place. The male then stands with body tilted slightly forward, tail raised and spread, calling rapidly. Mating often follows.

It’s a bit of a puzzle where these came from. Although they’re showing up here in the fall migration season, they are known to breed in the region and may have had a short trip getting here. Pity we can’t ask them.

The Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) by contrast, show up here more or less regularly. They’re also an extreme contrast in feeding styles. The Killdeer with their stubby little peckers have to feed on tiny edibles — invisible to my human eyes — lying on the surface. The Curlew’s long beak goes deep. It’ll bury its head in the mud to go even deeper. These curlews nest and breed in the grasslands of the Great Plains, or what’s left of them. There they feed on grasshoppers, earthworms, and sometimes the eggs of other ground-nesting birds. Here, they look for tiny crabs, shrimp, and other marine protein. They’re entirely carnivorous.

The Killdeer, curlew, and some Willets (not pictured) shared the mudflat just north of the Schoolhouse Creek outfall without conflict. Then suddenly they all flew off. Some thoughtless individual had let their dog off leash, and the dog had seen the birds and given chase. This is East Bay Regional Park territory and is clearly posted as an area where dogs must be on leash. Some people don’t care about nature. They see parks just as dog playgrounds and dog toilets.

Hardy Survivor

Almost exactly four years ago, Conservancy volunteers aided by UC Berkeley students planted rows of wildflower seeds along a strip of what was then bare soil in the southeast corner of the park. “Seeds of Beauty,” Oct 26 2019. A lovely crop of mixed blooms came up the following spring, but gradually succumbed to the invasion of grasses and weeds. In the following seasons, the flowers grew fewer and fewer.

Last autumn and again this fall, the sole survivor is the Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata). It defies not only the grasses and weeds but also the mower. It’s not a native — the seed mix we planted in 2019 had some strays in it, obviously — but it has my appreciation and respect for its resilience.

Blown Away

The Roaming Bean coffee tent on the parking circle on the west side of Spinnaker Way has pulled up stakes and moved to the south side of the waterfront after just ten weeks of operation. Owner Jasraj Singh Sangha told me at the Waterfront Specific Plan meeting on Saturday, see below, that business was good but the wind was too much.

Any regular park visitor to this area has experienced sunny summer days that seemed perfect for a picnic, but where an arctic gale blowing in from the Golden Gate had people reaching for parkas, or turning around and leaving.

Unfortunately, some of the planners behind the Waterfront Specific Plan do their thinking on armchairs behind computer screens, and don’t get out much. How else to explain why they want to put an open-air beer garden facing the bay in this same spot, replacing the Marine Center boatyard? Take a hint from Roaming Bean, folks, and move your beery vision to the south side, if at all.

Feedback Exercise

A view of visitors and City staff at the Nature Center on Sept. 23

The City held an “Open House” to catch feedback on the draft Waterfront Specific Plan at the Nature Center in Shorebird Park last Saturday morning, September 23. Parks and Planning department staffers attended and chatted with visitors. Visitors could put sticky notes and green tags on displays containing the plan’s various features.

On Friday, the day before the meeting, on Sept. 22, the City had published a second draft of the plan. Several Parks staffers told me that they incorporated in the draft some of the points I made in my written comments on the Sept. 8 first draft. I had distributed these comments to the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission meeting on Wednesday Sept. 13. I had not read the Sept. 22 draft before the Sept. 23 meeting, but I’ve read it now, see below.

The Saturday “Open House” meeting was one in a series of similar exercises that the City (and probably other cities) stages in advance of new developments. My experience in some of the earlier sessions has been that public input changes little or nothing in what staff has already decided. The exercise allows the City to say “we solicited public input” without actually paying public input any attention. The method of having visitors put sticky labels and notes on exhibits particularly lends itself to this window-dressing of democracy. There is no public record of what the public wanted. The organizers can simply brush the notes and labels into the trash, and no one is wiser. This is why I urge park visitors to put their opinions in writing, as emails or letters, for publication. I will publish comments and emails about the Waterfront Specific Plan on this website. When comments are public, it’s an easy matter to see whether they’ve been adopted into the plan.

Comments on the Second Draft

The City has indeed made some changes in the second draft in response to my Comments on the first draft. It has ignored other comments I made. Here’s a loose checklist.

The inaccurate landfill map on p. 40 of the first edition now appears on p. 34. It continues to show the land under the hotel, the south side area, and the Eastshore State Park (former Berkeley Meadow) as “Construction Spoils.” This is inaccurate. All of these areas are filled mainly with Municipal Solid Waste, same as Chavez Park. Whoever drafted this obviously has never walked the state park and seen the sign titled “What Am I Standing On?” which says “You are standing on 12 feet of accumulated garbage.” A reading of the City’s historical documents regarding the waterfront will make it amply clear that the only area consisting mainly of “Construction Spoils” is the Brickyard. Whoever wrote this has not done their homework. No change.

The area maps throughout now correctly refer to the North Basin instead of the incorrect “North Sailing Basin.” Good. Change made. The “Eastern Shore State Park” label has also been corrected. Change made.

The list of waterfront businesses and organizations still omits the Chavez Park Conservancy. We’re an established 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has done many hundreds of hours of work both hands-on in the park and in public education about the park’s attractions. What does it take to get the consultants’ attention? No change.

The funding section, 1.3.6, still omits mention of the Marina Operations Fund, which shows a positive balance and revenue stream, in contrast to the parallel Marina Fund. This issue was raised by the State Division of Boating and Waterworks, , but is passed over silently here. For details, see “The Marina’s Two Sets of Books,” Jul 7 2023. No change.

The photo of an unleashed dog in an on-leash area on p. 63 and on the back cover is gone. Thank you. Change made.

They’ve deleted the sunset photo borrowed without credit from this website. I didn’t mind donating the photo but credit would have been good. Change made.

A second photo in the original draft that is carried over on pp. 16 and 87 of the second draft, is also mine. I did not flag it in my first set of comments because I could not find where I had published it. It was not on Then by chance I found the publication. The photo is in the Spring 2015 issue of The Gull, the magazine of the then Golden Gate Audubon Society, on p. 4, in an article by Toni Mester. A longer version of Mester’s article with the same photo appears on the Society’s blog. I had provided Mester with a number of my recent Chavez Park photos, including that one, which I took on February 18, 2015. I’m happy to allow the City to use the photo, but credit must be given.

There is still no mention of the original Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP) and of the protest movement it stirred up with its proposals to commercialize Chavez Park. We read on the website, “please note that no development is being considered at Cesar Chavez Park in the Specific Plan process” but the uprising that stopped that development has been airbrushed out. Fortunately, it’s documented in a book, Love Letters to the Park. No change.

The map on p. 70 showing individual features of the park shows only the slightest improvement over the original. Some area outlines are wrong, some labels are wrong, and others are missing. How is it that people who don’t have much actual acquaintance with an area are presuming to make future plans for it? No change.

On p. 72-74, the draft still pushes the plan of demolishing the boatyard (Marine Center) and installing an outdoor beer garden in its place. The Marine Center is a key attraction of the boat basin and offers a competitive margin over other marinas, not to mention a source of jobs. A beer garden does not belong in an area remote from public transit, next door to a park, and in a high-wind area. What sodden brains contemplate shutting down a working boatyard for a beer garden? Get serious, people! No change.

P. 84 on Cesar Chavez Park still mentions “cohesive site furniture” — whatever that may mean. Needs to be spelled out. The park map on p. 85 has the same problems as the map on p. 70. No change.

Thankfully the reference to a “Multi-purpose turf area” supposedly located on an overgrown hill is gone now. Change made.

P. 94 still refers to the Waterfront as “one of the few areas that extends deep into the Bay” but now omits “of Berkeley.” Good save! Change made.

There is now mention of one restroom in Chavez Park, supposed to go in in 2025, p. 84. How a 90-acre park is supposed to be served by one restroom is not explored. The boat basin is much smaller, has fewer visitors, and has many more restrooms. Why is that? Change made, change not made.

Sec 2.2.1 on Parks etc. is stuffed with ecologically virtuous generalities, but somehow fails to mention more concrete issues such as the current absence of recycling waste bins, the hazards of nighttime lighting, and the use of bird-safe glass in all the new buildings the plan is contemplating. No change.

The sections on plant and wildlife are still vastly oversimplified and misleading. There are people who actually know what plants and wildlife exist in Chavez Park and who have years of hands-on experience with this environment, and excellent professional qualifications, not to mention extensive photographic and film records. Not one of them has been consulted. Instead, tax money has been wasted on outside contractors who get their opinions from books and by all appearances have never set foot in the territory. They spout lovely platitudes but don’t have any real grip on what’s here and what needs to be done. No change.

The park map on p. 125, formerly on p. 137, now lists “Open Meadows” instead of “Open Lawns.” Good. This will discourage event promoters who wrongly thought that the park was a perfect site for open air concerts with the audience sitting on lawns. There are no such lawns in Chavez Park. Change made.

Sec. 2.3.4 on Special Events still wrongly treats large events held in Chavez Park as revenue generators. If the Hargreaves Jones consulting firm had done their homework, they would have discovered as a matter of public record that both of the big park events, Kite Fest and 4th of July, did not make money but rather drained City revenues big time. That’s why they’ve been stopped. The map on p. 133 showing half of Chavez Park as an area suitable for large “Festivals” and “Concerts” has no basis in reality and needs to be scrapped. No change.

P. 140 again proposes a beer garden, suggesting that this will make the Spinnaker Way parking circle area a “destination” instead of “just passing through.” Actually you can’t just pass through, it’s a dead end street. And the parking circle tends to be quite full currently with people who find a destination there even though a beer garden is absent. No change.

The budget figures for Chavez Park in Table 2-2 still list the cost of the perimeter pathway improvement as $530k and interior pathway improvements at $2.65M. At the Saturday meeting, three different Parks staff members told me this was a typo. It remains in the second draft at p. 154. Previously published figures for the perimeter trail put it at $2M, and there has been no public discussion, to my knowledge, of interior trail improvements costing in the millions. This table is repeated on p. 262. No change.

The Chavez Park diagram for the perimeter trail still shows no dirt track for runners next to the asphalt. P. 164. No change.

The treatment of furnishings and lighting still omits mention of recycling receptacles, and seems totally ignorant of the problems that nighttime lighting presents for wildlife. Don’t any of the high-paid consultants know this stuff? No change.

P. 185, why show us pictures of public art from North Carolina? We have public art right here in Chavez Park. No change.

P. 270 on building design standards, still nothing — not a word — on bird safe glass. Lovely platitudes, nothing specific. No change.

So, out of 23 points I made in my Comments on the first draft, 7 1/2 resulted in a change in the second draft, for a success rate of 32 percent.

There’s a lot of useful and accurate information in this draft, as in the earlier one, and I don’t mean to disrespect the whole project. Much of what’s contemplated in the documents is controversial and speculative, and I’ve left aside most of the issues that don’t directly touch Chavez Park. In particular, I’ve said nothing about the Berkeley pier. If this draft is followed, the pier will remain shut to the public until the proposed WETA ferry construction starts in 2028, if it ever does. A much better plan would be to promptly repair the pier in its present form — mainly a matter of patching the spalled concrete covering on the underside — and leave the WETA ferry as an option for future years. The closure of the pier is the core problem of the south side of the waterfront, and the WETA ferry looks to be a logistical and fiscal can of worms. Best to fix the pier now, worry about the ferry later.

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4 thoughts on “Park Week 9/29/23

  • Pingback: Third Draft of Waterfront Specific Plan

  • Pingback: Park Week 10/20/23

  • Thank you for the joy of seeing the Red Tail Hawk. Excellent videos. Great captures. You, and all of us had one lucky day on your birthday.

  • As always, magnificent photography and solid, knowledgeable commentary. And happy birthday, Marty Nicolaus!

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