This is Not Landscape Design

Hargreaves Jones’ proposed concert venue in central meadow of Cesar Chavez Park would require extensive bulldozing and structural maintenance not to mention expensive parking, traffic jams, noise, crime, mountains of trash, and scaring away wildlife.

(The Hargreaves Jones firm is behind the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP) that would destroy Chavez Park as we know it.)

The Hargreaves Jones landscape firm has done some outstanding projects, but its current efforts in Berkeley must be  the work of its B team.  The firm boasts on its website about creating “dynamic, interactive and exultant landscape,” but what it’s doing in Berkeley is destroying beautiful existing landscapes to promote commercial development.  For example:

  • HJ proposes to convert an existing historic Native Plant Area into a commercial zip line and ropes course. 
  • HJ proposes to bulldoze a verdant meadow rich in wildlife to build a concert stage and concert seating.
  • HJ proposes to shut forever and pave over a free Adventure Playground that has served and educated several generations of Berkeley children.  

Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park at 90 acres is Berkeley’s largest and is a regional attraction for its spectacular views, its bird life, its freeform recreation, and the peace and quiet that individuals and families find here.  

HJ boasts of doing “rigorous research” but apart from issues of jurisdiction and zoning, its work on the park reveals utter ignorance about its history. This is not a post-industrial brownfield of the kind that HJ is experienced at reshaping.  Chavez Park is the product of 40 years of previous landscape architecture and management and is an established urban oasis with well-developed constituencies.  

HJ speaks broadly about respecting “site specificity,” but pays not the slightest respect to the legacy of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who are honored in a notable solar calendar, one of the chief attractions in the park.  It may be that the scarcity of minority senior staff at HJ has something to do with this lack of sensitivity.

George Hargreaves’ mindset was formed in the 1970s when few people thought about native plants.  Maybe that explains why his firm is ready to destroy the Native Plant Area in the park, a pioneering ecological effort supported by the California Coastal Conservancy and the Berkeley City Council, and established by local environmental heroes. HJ reveals itself as tone deaf to today’s public concern with native plant gardens, pollinator insects, and protection of bird species. Those are not part of the HJ design plan for Berkeley because they don’t produce revenue.

HJ boasts on its website about how it listens to and engages with local communities.  It has done nothing of the sort in Berkeley. HJ never reached out to the Chavez Park Conservancy, nor to the Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta Homage Solar Calendar organization, nor to the Chavez Park Off Leash Area dog owner group, all based in the park and readily discoverable.  No one at HJ contacted the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the California Native Plant Society, or Citizens for Eastshore State Parks, all of whom have long and documented records of engagement with Chavez Park.  Hundreds of volunteers have donated thousands of hours of labor to maintain and improve Chavez Park.

Instead of community engagement and democratic process, HJ has been operating a “public opinion” charade that offers fake alternatives, slanted questions, unsupportable suppositions, and censored discussion summaries, all engineered to produce a facade of consensus where there is deep and widespread opposition.

George Hargreaves pretends to create “innovative design of gardens, parks, and urban landscapes that are free from the extensive range of activities that support the city.”  What HJ actually proposes for Berkeley’s Chavez Park entails the destruction of its existing landscapes.  HJ brings no landscape design ideas.  All it brings is commercial development ideas. HJ’s only project is to monetize the park.  This is not landscape architecture.  It’s pimping for moneyed interests.  

A sure sign of B level work is that HJ didn’t spellcheck its Powerpoint presentation; you can read there about “IMRPOVED PATHWAYS, SEATING, LIGHTS, ETC.”  

Hargreaves Jones should be ashamed of its Berkeley efforts.  The firm should withdraw from the project before it suffers an ineradicable stain on its reputation in the landscape architecture community.

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13 thoughts on “This is Not Landscape Design

  • Thanks for posting this update. This development is clearly not in the spirit of Berkeley. Their stated intent/goal of “achieving a financially self-sustainable, publicly owned marina” seems to deny that some things are NOT intended to be financially self-sustainable. We pay pay taxes to pay for some of our amenities and all of our parks.

  • I have asked these 3 simple questions a number of times, most recently to Kate Harrison, but have not received an answer from anyone.

    Who is financially benefitting from the plan( BMASP?}

    Who is responsible for the final decision?

    Who decided on this Landscape Architect and what has he been paid so far? Is he still working on these plans or has he delivered his final ones?
    I certainly agree with those who have taken the time to write to the council opposing this plan and hope that it is scrapped and soon!

  • This is a horrifying and ridiculous proposal. No one in Berkeley in their right mind would support it. Keep Cesar Chavez Park beautiful and wild, as it is. Thank you for all you’re doing.

  • It would be tragic to lose this wonderful park.
    The East Bay and greater Bay Area is already rich with concert venues.
    What a traffic nightmare a concert venue would create!
    Zip-lines? That is a ridiculous idea! and would serve a very limited segment of residents or visitors.

    Today, the park is open to everyone to enjoy as they wish… seniors, families, children, cyclists, joggers, kite flyers, dog walkers, picnic goers, sunset and bird watchers….. This park is one of the most special places to take in the beauty of the bay area on a sunny or rainy day.

    The City of Berkeley should be protecting this treasure! and should be considering selling it out — where is the moral compass here? Come on Berkeley, DO BETTER!!

  • Thank you so much for your continued effort to keep a spotlight on this truly horrible idea. If this were put to a referendum in this town the citizens would not support it! We need to keep pressure on the mayor and City Council to not let this happen. Cesar Chavez Park belongs to us. It must be left as the urban haven it is!

  • Friends,

    What is proposed here by ‘HJ’ is not wanted. And, as a long time resident of Albany Hill, the residents of West Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and Richmond do not want Golden Gate Fields developed any further than what it already is. Don’t pass off the ‘HJ’ monstrosity proposed for our Cesar Chavez Park to another wonderful part of the Eastshore State Parks. If you are a dog owner, a beach lover, a Bay Swimmer, a KiteSurfing enthusiast, an artist, a cyclist, a runner, one who likes a picnic, a quiet space to clear ones mind, a lover of birds, etc., then go check out the Eastshore State Parks neighbor in Albany to the Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley…visible from the North and North East ends of the park. Open your eyes, don’t be ignorant to your neighbors. We all must work together to keep BOTH of these wonderful parks AS THEY ARE.


  • I think the Golden Gate park suggestion was right on. Massive parking exists, easy access to the freeway, land waiting for a new event, bathrooms, people needing jobs, food courts, bike access via the Bay trail and I’m sure there are more advantages to use that site for occasional events – Save Golden Gate Fields.

  • Truly terrible. Please don’t ruin an existing good thing. I enjoy Caesar Chavez park for its peaceful and graceful existence, it’s off leash dog area, the natural vistas and it’s recreation guided by self inflection.

    Creating a man-made commercially directed ‘fun house’ would ruin this natural escape for Berkeley and a East Bay residents as well other visitors.

  • Golden Gate Fields would be a fine place for rock concerts and all the rest of the zip lines, ropes courses, crowds, and noise, noise, noise. It’s already built, lots of seating and lots of space. Parking, too. And it is just a short distance to the north. Maybe this alternative might be suggested to the City of Albany and George Hargreaves as well. Cesar Chavez is perfect as it is and should never be exploited like this.

  • Should we be setting up a petition that can be signed by all of us who are opposed, or are individual letters to the City Council more effective???

  • Bravo!! A great and important entry in your blog!! hard to believe that our city actually commissioned this proposal.
    We desperately need
    PARKS For The PEOPLE!!

  • Very well stated and an excellent evaluation of the HJ firm’s abominable intentions. What a disgrace! They should be ashamed of themselves. Their plan should be terminated immediately.

  • I am totally against that project.

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