The city of Berkeley has announced the closure of its historic municipal fishing pier due to “considerable structural damage” that has made the popular walkway unsafe for the public.
Damage to the concrete decking and support system of the pier was found during an assessment earlier this summer. Signage and fencing have been posted in the area to cut off access pending the repairs, but where the money will come from to fix the problem remains an open question. The city did not respond Thursday to a request for additional information.
The announcement, in a memo from the city manager to the Berkeley City Council, was posted online Thursday. It comes after a decision earlier in the month to prohibit heavy trucks on the pier due to the structural issues. As a result, the city paid $7,900 to set off its Fourth of July fireworks from a barge rather than using the historic walkway, which juts out into the San Francisco Bay at the end of University Avenue.
The city discovered the structural damage prior to July 4 when it began looking into proposed repairs that would have made the pier smoother for wheelchairs, a city staffer told the Parks and Waterfront Commission earlier this month.
After finding the damage, “the City retained the services of IDA Structural Engineering, Inc. (IDA) to advise the City on the feasibility of using heavy trucks on the Pier for the fireworks show. IDA examined the underside of the Pier and found evidence of significant concrete spalling and badly corroded structural rebar.”
The city banned all vehicular access to the pier at that time.
According to the memo Thursday, “Further clarification and communication with IDA has resulted in the closure of the Pier to all pedestrian and vehicular traffic until further testing and repairs can be made.”
City staff is working with IDA “on possible methods to repair portions of the Pier and the potential costs, and will keep Council updated on our progress.”
According to the memo, the city has posted signage and fencing at the pier, and has sent notices to businesses and users at the Berkeley Waterfront. LED lamps on the pier “will continue to operate at night for boat navigation safety purposes.”
News of the closure has already dealt a difficult blow to regular fisherman and local businesses at the waterfront.
Rafael Rosario, of Oakland, said he has been fishing daily at the pier for more than 10 years, and often catches halibut, striper, stingrays and sharks there.
“It’s too dangerous to fish off the pier because there’s cement underneath the pier that is falling apart,” he said. “You can see the rebar. It’s too hazardous to walk and fish.”
Hamed Muddady, who runs the Eat and Run taco truck near the pier said he had made just $3 today. A typical take is from $40-$50. Mudaddy has parked his truck at the pier for eight years, and said the majority of the pier fisherman are his regular customers.
“I think there’s no more business here. I think it’s no more,” he said, of the pier. “And maybe it costs too much [to fix]. The pier is old.”
Abdul Qasemi, who has run a bait shop for the past three years at the Berkeley Marina, at 225 University Ave., said his business is down by half. His customer base includes fisherman who go out on boats, most before 6 a.m., and those at the pier.
When business dropped off suddenly, he said, he was mystified. He closed his shop and walked down to the pier, about a quarter-mile away, to see what was going on. It was only then he found out that it had been closed down.
Qasemi said the city did not inform him about the closure, though it is his landlord. It’s not the first time the city has been difficult to reach, he said, adding that he’s had a problem with termites for a year and been unable to get the city to address it.
Commissioner Jim McGrath of the Parks and Waterfront Commission said Thursday that staff told the panel about the structural problems at its July 8 meeting. It was not part of the scheduled agenda, but the subject came up in response to a question from the commission regarding the planned ADA repairs to improve wheelchair access.
“Certainly the pier is one of the legacies of Berkeley’s recreational resources,” McGrath said. “I’m certainly concerned about it. We have to figure out what’s going on first, and see how that fits within other measures.”
McGrath said the pier is not currently scheduled to come before the parks commission, which does not meet again until September. But he said it will likely be a challenge to find the resources for the repairs.
“Gradually things are being rebuilt but that’s going to be a very slow process,” he said.
He noted that the closure is likely to be difficult for the public, particularly those who fish off the pier, where no permit is required for the activity.
Earlier this month in the Berkeley Daily Planet, Steve Finacom wrote about the commission meeting where the subject of the pier’s deterioration came up. It was the first report of the damage.
“City records show that in 1984 the bottoms of the pier slabs were repaired with gunnite sprayed to replace deteriorating concrete and cover the rebar,” Finacom wrote, adding that staff said the half-a-million-dollar repair “has now flaked off again.”
Parks and Recreation Director Scott Ferris told the commission, wrote Finacom, that the city would need to undertake a new engineering study to assess the pier’s stability, but said “the City has no money currently budgeted if major structural repairs to the pier are required.”
Ferris did not respond Thursday to a request for comment from Berkeleyside.
The department has struggled to find the money to maintain its parks and recreation facilities, as well as other infrastructure. Many of the problems facing Berkeley’s facilities have been exacerbated by years of deferred maintenance, as dealing with significant issues has been put off because the city hasn’t had the money to address them. Ferris told the Berkeley City Council in April that the city needs $78 million to address all of its existing parks facility maintenance demands — at park buildings, city camps, pools and the marina — which have stacked up over the years.
The Measure F parks tax, passed by voters last fall, will bring an additional $1.7 million into city coffers each year. Of that, $500,000 will be used to address the department’s structural deficit, $450,000 will be spent on recurring maintenance projects, and $750,000 will be used for major maintenance. Measure WW funds, which must be spent by the end of fiscal year 2017, are also bolstering a number of the projects planned or underway.
Even with the new influx of parks tax money, however, “less than half of the projected need for high-use parks and park buildings will be addressed,” according to a staff presentation in March. (Read more about the financial needs of the city’s park system.)
Another Berkeley treasure, the Rose Garden and its historic trellis, has also been severely impacted by the funding shortfall. The 80-year-old Maybeck-designed trellis and pathway beneath it have been closed for more than 18 months due to structural issues. (One previous estimate put the price tag for trellis repairs at $1.3 million.) The city has set aside $325,000 from Measure WW for the first phase of design analysis to look at the repairs, but a reopening is a long way off.
According to one local resident, writing in Berkeleyside’s Opinionator section, “It is not until over four years from now — FY2019 — that money is slated to be spent from Measure F for the Rose Garden.”
According to the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project, the Golden Gate Ferry Company built the Berkeley pier in 1926. It “now extends from the Berkeley Marina, which was built on landfill, out into the Bay well beyond the original shoreline.”
According to a description posted on the project’s website and at the pier itself, “The pier accommodated ferries that carried cars across San Francisco Bay. After big events in Berkeley, such as football games at the University of California, hundreds of cars would back up for hours waiting to board the ferry for the trip back to San Francisco. After the Bay Bridge was completed and opened to automobile traffic in 1936 the pier was converted to recreational use, including fishing.”
About 3,000 feet of the original 3.5-mile-length of the pier were, until this week’s closure, in usable condition.
Update, 4:55 p.m. Councilwoman Linda Maio said she had been sad to hear the news about the pier’s closure, particularly because it is so heavily used by the public, but believes the city is approaching the issue correctly.
“While I am dismayed about the situation, the fact that we are doing professional structural analyses to uncover weaknesses is the right thing,” she said, by email. “Now we await the bill to bring it to structural safety and see where and how we can find the funds.”
Berkeleyside’s Frances Dinkelspiel contributed reporting to this story.
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