Op-Ed: Enviros are pushing bad waterfront policy

By By Paul Kamen

Paul Kamen is a naval architect who sails, windsurfs and paddles. He specializes in surface-piercing propellers and small craft accident reconstruction, and has served six terms as chair of the Berkeley Waterfront Commission.

Photo: Paul Kamen

Off-leash socializing at Albany Beach. Photo: Paul Kamen

One would not think that an organization dedicated to wildlife protection, sensible urban planning and limiting sprawl would come out against the Bay Trail.

But that’s exactly what they have done, allying themselves with the owners of Golden Gate Fields racetrack along the way.

SPRAWLDEF is an acronym for Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund. On Jan. 17, the group, founded by Norman La Force and David Tam, filed a lawsuit against the East Bay Regional Park District, opposing a plan to acquire a small strip of property along the shoreline behind the track to complete a missing link in the Bay Trail between Berkeley and Richmond.

The Park District’s plan would also add some parking to the Albany Beach area, build some wheelchair access to the water’s edge, and expand and protect the dune area behind the beach.

There’s something in this lawsuit to alienate just about everyone: Bicyclists and hikers who use the Bay Trail; environmentalists with an interest in dune habitat; kayakers and kiteboarders who launch from the Albany shoreline; the ADA constituency who find beach access generally impossible; and, most of all, dogs and their owners who rely on Albany beach for a place to play in the water.

Read the filing. It has all the earmarks of a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because they did not get their way. There’s a link to it at http://www.CDAWGS.org in the “Documents” page here.

The fact on the sand is that Albany Beach is far and away the East Bay’s most popular dog beach. Acre for acre, it is the most popular park in the entire East Bay Regional Park District system. And SPRAWLDEF, if they have their way, would shut it down.

True, dog play in the water is not in the original plan for Eastshore State Park. But sometimes plans need to adapt as use patterns emerge.

SPRAWDEF’s main complaint appears to be that the Park District has wisely opted not to take the draconian measures that would be necessary to keep dogs from running on the beach. Actually, the Park District’s plan is silent on dog policy, which could be seen as a tacit endorsement of the status quo.

SPRAWLDEF’s lawsuit also cites eelgrass damage by kayaks and windsurfers — but there is no science suggesting that a kayak or sailboard passing over an eelgrass bed has any effect whatsoever on the viability of the eelgrass bed or its related habitat. Yes, there is some scattered eelgrass in the subtidal waters offshore from Albany Beach. You can see it from a kayak at low tide, if you look carefully. It’s underwater. Kayaks and kiteboards float on top. You can touch the grass if you try, but damage to the ecosystem? Come on, we’re not talking jetskis and bass boats here.

SPRAWLDEF seems to believe that the Bay is there for us to look at, but not to touch. Dogs should never play in it and people should never float on it, regardless of how ecologically benign their mode of flotation might be.

If you agree with that approach to a popular urban waterfront, support SPRAWLDEF. But if you support the Bay Trail, if you like to let dogs play on a beach, if think people in wheelchairs should have access to the water’s edge, or if you like to float on the Bay using only muscle or wind power, then SPRAWLDEF is acting against your interests and against good waterfront policy. Let them know.

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  • guest

    Leash the dogs. At the Albany waterfront, they eat the birds, scare the children, and defecate on everything. Point Isabel is close by, huge, and smells horrible. Let’s not turn the Albany waterfront into yet another dog poo filled park.

  • Guest123

    If they eat seagulls, good. We have too many of those nasty flying rats.

  • Japhy Writer

    SPRAWLDEF? CDAWGS? These acronyms slay me.

  • Devin

    I think its worth pointing out that the Albany Bulb is a pile construction debris dumped there after the 1906 earthquake – essentially a landfill, not native coastline, in spite of its splendor. I have yet to see a child scared by an off-leash dog at this beach, although they’re often playing with them. Lastly, they eat the birds?? (getting some good wily coyote images…) Maybe if they could catch them. I think you may be confusing them with those other well known domestic animals, cats.

  • Paul Kamen

    CDAWGS is the Coalition for Diverse Activities on Water, Grass and Sand.

  • The SPRAWLDEF challenge to the Albany Beach Restoration Plan is covered in a more detail by the Albany Patch at


    or http://tinyurl.com/atv2h99

    and in a lot more detail by the Oakland Tribune at


    or http://tinyurl.com/a3e5nqq

    But I’m sure the discussion here will be more interesting.

  • Jill Posener

    The most marked difference between LaForce and those of us who have opposed his plans over the years, is that we have remained consistent in our desire for a low impact, low cost and low change solution: Albany Let It Be was formed at the end of the 90’s to give voice to the thousands of park users – wildlife enthusiasts, birders, dog walkers, water craft users, hikers, bicyclists, the disabled, families with or without children, the homeless, beach bums, ‘outsider’ artists, and more – who while acknowledging our differences, understood that to have a ‘park plan’ imposed upon our beloved Albany Waterfront by true outsiders, was a defeat for all. Remember the day Clint Eastwood, who was a State Park Commissoner at the time, came to our park and commented that Mad Mark’s Castle would make a great golf tee? Remember the day that Berkeley mayoral candidate Tom Bates came to our park trying to garner support for playing fields on the plateau? Remember the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the consulting firm to produce the Plan – with their cute little interpretive signs and habitat for the owl who does not now, nor ever has lived there?

    LaForce, who was opposed most forcefully by the very person who represented this area on the East Bay Regional Parks Board – the much missed Jean Siri – has always been willing to shift and change in order to accomplish his overriding goal – that of excluding people and the activities that they bring to a thriving urban park. He has aligned himself over the years with the most destructive development plans offered up by Golden Gate Fields, he was happy to be part of the land swap which brought the playing fields to the southern part of Golden Gate Fields, where the burrowing owl actually had been seen, (and which took EBRPD into the playing field business). Now with his new lawsuit (after all, he is a lawyer who has represented insurance companies) he is going after his old nemesis – anything with four legs accompanied by something with two legs.

    Albany – Let It Be. Our call for this wondrous experiment in self regulating wildness, where birds, wildlife and the human experience co-exist, to be left alone with minimal intervention, has never been more vibrant or needed.

  • The Sharkey

    Leashing the dogs won’t stop irresponsible owners from refusing to clean up after their pets.

    Getting some officials out there to pose as beach combers and give out expensive tickets to people who refuse to pick up their dog’s poop will.

  • Marilyn Saarni

    Norman LaForce over the years has made clear he will attack those with limited access to parks due to disability as long as they are associated with dogs. Turns out that one of the best places for those with chronic disease and mobility disabilities to walk (gentle, level, fast-draining, minimal foot hazards for natural space) is the Albany Landfill. Especially the Burrowing Owl habitat. Use by those with disabilities dropped substantially after Norman’s efforts succeeded in building that guaranteed-to-fail, $10k/year maintenance “habitat.” (Read the professional, peer-reviewed burrowing owl habitat restoration research; they KNEW it wouldn’t bring breeding burrowing owls! Now it brings in certain bird predators that haze the Albany Mudflats preserve during the migratory season.) Here is another attack, especially on a long-wished-for accessible walkway to the beach and water edge!

    Walking dogs happens to be one of the most successful motivators to exercise for people with chronic disease, pain management issues and mobility disabilities. With off-leash access, the dogs can run fast, and the people can walk slowly. At the Albany Landfill there’s good cell reception and enough people that if a medical issue overwhelms someone, there’s an excellent chance they can call emergency response. (A factor often absent in otherwise accessible park spaces.) This provides those with health issues confidence in taking some risk. The close proximity of this highly urban open space serving diverse, dense populations also allows for the short driving trips that otherwise can form a barrier to access for those whose physical ability precludes freeway driving.

    Last, the Albany Landfill provides unique social interactions for those with health issues, who are frequently isolated in other parts of our society, and commonly overlooked by both those in the “environmentalist” sector and park planners. This social engagement is also a strong motivator for healthful exercise in spite of chronic pain, risk and fear, weakness, etc. The Albany Landfill park users of all sorts over the decades have demonstrated a far greater inclusivity than demonstrated by Norman LaForce and his colleagues.

    Don’t bring up Pt Isabel as the all-encompassing solution; it’s way over-capacity, and the crowding increases risk for those who are more fragile.

    This small space on the bay offers so much to much-underserved communities in this area. It still astounds me that the battle to create a tiny preserve with no human access out a former dump and a beach that didn’t exist until the landfills were built continues at the same time that so few parks are so naturally accessible to those with disability.

  • laura

    Local parks that require leashed dogs far outnumber parks that allow dogs to be off leash. With all of the toxic stuff in the ground at the bulb, I’m amazed that sprawldef / non dog-owners are up in arms about restricting dogs at this park.

  • BLMuzzy

    Norman LaForce also infamously said, with a straight face, at a public hearing at the Albany City Hall that it was important to have all public art at the landfill professionally juried “because otherwise someone could put up a painting in support of Osama Bin Laden.” Yes that’s been a terrible problem here in Albany…

    He also knowingly lied at another public hearing about the landfill area and when I called him on it, he stopped responding to my email.

    He also stated that he wanted to restrict human traffic at the Albany landfill to raised sidewalks in a few locations. He basically doesn’t even support human use of urban parks.

    Norman LaForce apparently has absolutely no qualms about saying anything that might further his goals, despite truth, reasonable considerations, or the damage he does to the Sierra Club, whom he represents, is doing so.

  • Unfortunately, this will not be decided by personality or integrity, but by the merits of SPRAWLDEF’s claim that the Park District’s EIR is insufficient.

    We need to emphasize that there is very strong popular support for the elements of the Albany Beach Restoration Project that the Park District plans to implement, especially the acquisition of racetrack property to connect the gap in the Bay Trail, the added parking close to the beach, and the path for wheelchair access to the water’s edge.

    It may be true that better access will, at some point in time, result in the bottom of a kayak brushing the top of a blade of eelgrass, when the tide is right. And more parking might mean that there will be times when there are a few more dogs on the beach (although the EBRPD attorney points out, in the Trib article, that the protected dune area will result in less, not more, wildlife disruption by dogs.) These effects are so far below any rational test for “significance,” especially when compared to the public benefit, that the Park District should be able dismiss SPRAWLDEF’s complaints quickly and easily.

    It’s up to us to make it clear to the Park District that we want them to vigorously defend their work. (And if environmental justice is really to be served, SPRAWLDEF should also be on the hook for costs.)

  • 4Eenie

    I took my dogs to the bulb for many years. It was a wonderful place to walk my well-behaved off-leash dogs while socializing with other amazing people who needed a safe, off-leash place to walk their dogs (at the time, Pt. Isabel seemed overrun by agressive dogs and unattentive owners).
    There were always those people at the Bulb who pretended not to see their dogs leave their waste behind, and there were always people who were clueless to their dogs’ bad behavior. However, those folks were in the minority, and the people i knew at the Bulb were very good stewards of good dog behavior and human behavior.
    I stopped taking my dogs there a few years ago when the Bulb became overrun with a tent community of severe drug users who left crap everywhere. Needles, human waste, garbage, etc.
    I welcome a chance for the bay trail to be connected, and hope that someone addresses the problem that exists there now.

  • trilobite

    I think public officials are on the payola to allow dogs at this park…some dog owners don’t care what their dog does…imo…if it ruins it for the good dog owners so what, so be it…….bring a camera with you so if a dog attacks you or your child while you’re at the beach you can take photos of you (or your child’s) wounds while ON the beach..and then SUE the park with your evidence…don’t take a photo of the dog and its owner, or the dog owner might get violent..(use discretion)…also Dog FECES STINKS and is UNSANITARY..!

  • trilobite

    Nothing like stepping in Dog Feces BAREFOOT, while at the BEACH…!

  • Person who doesn’t mind dogs

    You walk barefoot at that beach? It’s a dump. People bring their shrieking children there to play? It’s a dump. The water’s polluted. There’s so much garbage that washes up on the beach I can’t believe anyone *really* considers this beach a serious recreation area EXCEPT people with dogs, who are pretty darn good about picking up poop along with whatever other trash they find — most of which comes from humans. People with dogs are unfairly targeted as destructive to outdoor environments. What’s wrong with you people? If you don’t like dogs, keep it to yourself and don’t spread your hate to your children and the rest of the world. Leave these people and their pets alone and let them enjoy themselves. I love seeing dogs romp and play at the beach, so joyful and free. I’ve never had a dog owner be rude to me when i’ve pointed out that they missed a poop, and that’s only been once or twice. Just relax, haters!