The Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission met on Zoom last night with the largest attendance in memory unanimously telling Commissioners “NO on BMASP.” At least 145 people participated online. Dozens spoke in the two-minute time slots allotted to the public, and many more sent messages via the Chat feature. The outpouring of opposition to the BMASP plan was the main event of the evening, and counts as a big success for the park conservation movement. The claim that the Berkeley public supported commercializing and monetizing Chavez Park was blown convincingly out of the water.
However, as predicted, the immediate practical impact was next to zero. Even at full voice, the Commission has no legal power. It can advise but not decide. And last night, the number of commissioners who listened to the whole chorus of public voices ran to three out of eight. Chair Gordon Wozniak and commissioners Erin Diehm and Claudia Kawczynska were the only stalwarts. All the rest disappeared from the Zoom screen for part or most of the testimony. Parks staff, namely Parks Director Scott Ferris, his deputy Christina Erickson, and Waterfront Manager Alexandra Endress, were gone for the entirety of the public input. Commission Secretary Roger Miller was present throughout, running the Zoom switchboard. The BMASP agenda item was not an “action item” on the commission’s agenda, and the body did not take a vote on it. Commission chair Wozniak, echoing statements by a number of public speakers, urged park visitors to lobby your City Council members.
The dominant theme among the public voices stressed the importance of Chavez Park as a quiet, natural place vital to physical and mental health that must not be disturbed. Many called it a sanctuary that must be protected. Reaction to the BMASP proposals ranged from disbelief to outrage. Several questioned the budget assumptions behind the claim that the Marina was draining money. A number of speakers sharply questioned the idea that BMASP’s commercial ideas would actually bring in revenue. There was hostility to the consultants; why do we need outsiders to tell Berkeley what Berkeley wants? Many slammed the BMASP process as lacking transparency and integrity. Even today many concerned people and organizations aren’t aware of these shocking proposals.
Among the action ideas that came from the public were several worthy of note. Civil disobedience with demonstrations and picket lines lay in the future, some said. One public voice promised litigation against the City over the park proposals. Several demanded an Environmental Impact Report on the BMASP plans. Nothing must happen before the whole thing goes before the voters of Berkeley, said several voices, including that of Wozniak. A wild card came in a formal statement by Citizens for Eastshore State Parks (CESP), submitted on behalf of former Berkeley mayor Shirley Dean and CESP president Robert Cheasty, urging the City to consider merging Chavez Park with the East Bay Regional Parks District as a state park, as it was originally intended.
In the next few days in this space I will post detailed summaries of the public statements, as well as the reactions on the record by the several commissioners, a mixed bag. I’m attaching below my own two-minute statement since I wrote it out beforehand. Also attached below is the complete chat transcript from the meeting, some 37 pages.
This is Martin Nicolaus of the Chavez Park Conservancy.
The consulting firm that is pushing to monetize Chavez Park starts from the fallacy that the Marina is draining the city financially. In reality, the Marina is a cash cow for the City. If the Marina’s expenses and assets were handled equitably, the alleged fiscal drain would disappear.
Based on this fallacy, the consulting firm has pushed outrageous and crackpot ideas for commercializing the park. Replacing the Native Plant Area with a ropes course and zip line is outrageous. Building a big event space in the central meadow, when the only access is a two-lane road, is not only outrageous, it’s a crackpot idea not worth serious consideration.
I have talked with more than 500 Park visitors, and they strongly and universally oppose these proposals. You’ve seen a sample of the letters and comments that have poured in. Some people are already talking about civil disobedience, laying our bodies in front of the bulldozers, and greeting BMASP agents with eggs and rotten tomatoes.
I respectfully submit that an appropriate action tonight is a motion to categorically reject the consulting firm’s plans for Chavez Park, and to replace the firm with local consultants who know the park and its people.
I further submit that if the City ignores the Commission, then the actions of two former leading Commissioners, Jim McGrath and Paul Kamen, show a viable option. The City will have to listen if the entire Commission resigns.
I hope it doesn’t have to come to that. But I can promise you that the opposition to BMASP is only beginning.