Commission, public discuss priorities for Berkeley’s parks

The Berkeley Parks and Waterfront Commission met on Oct. 2 to discuss ways to improve the City's parks. Photo: Eli Wolfe
The Berkeley Parks and Waterfront Commission met Oct. 2 to discuss ways to improve the City’s parks. Photo: Eli Wolfe

By Eli Wolfe

The Berkeley Parks and Waterfront Commission met Wednesday night at the James Kenney Community Center to hold a public forum on parks in West Berkeley and the Marina. The meeting is the first of three that will address how to improve Berkeley’s city parks and meet residential needs.

Roughly 25 residents attended the meeting — a strong showing for a commission meeting — and spent nearly two hours testifying about the condition of about a half dozen parks and facilities. The focus was on the Berkeley Marina, Strawberry Creek Park, Aquatic Park and the West Campus Swim Center.

Berkeley is holding these meetings because budget and staff reductions are forcing the city to prioritize its park resources, said Commissioner Jim McGrath. McGrath pointed out that there are 30 fewer staff positions in the city’s Parks Department than there were 11 years ago, and $40 million worth of backlogged maintenance and repair projects.


Additionally, the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront division is running an annual structural deficit of roughly $700,000.

McGrath said the goal of the Oct. 2 meeting was to find out which parks were most popular in Berkeley, what types of improvement parks require, what projects to prioritize, and whether parks should be simplified to reduce maintenance costs.

Several residents said they had experienced trouble with the accessibility of the West Campus pool. They said the schedule of the pool, which has separate pool use times for children, adults and families, is inconvenient, and that its website is not user-friendly. One man said he commutes to El Cerrito to use more family-friendly pools. Several other residents expressed concerns that West Campus was under-served in terms of hours of operation and resources available compared to its neighbor, King Pool.

A number of individuals in attendance had long-standing concerns about Aquatic Park and the Berkeley Marina. A couple of people noted that the south end of the park is still frequently used as a gay pick-up spot. Several also mentioned the lack of a sound barrier between the park and the Lincoln Highway.

A woman who works for a children’s organization called Trackers said she would be interested in finding ways for businesses in the area to contribute to environmental upkeep, mentioning the possibility of a permit fee for organizations that make frequent use of the parks.

Strawberry Creek Park. Photo: City of Berkeley
Strawberry Creek Park. Photo: City of Berkeley

Strawberry Creek Park, which is on Allston Way between Bancroft Way and Addison Street, was also the focus of many comments. Each speaker expressed a love of the park but worried that it is becoming a peripheral concern for the city compared to larger recreational areas like San Pablo Park.

Several residents asked Berkeley to replace a broken swing, missing basketball nets, and to clean up trash — including hypodermic needles and dead rats seen by at least one woman — to make the area safer and more enjoyable for children and families.

One resident also requested that the police increase their presence in the park because people are smoking marijuana during the daytime in the vicinity of children.

“I feel like we’re forgotten in the scheme of things,” the man said.

Some projects mentioned during the meeting have already been allocated resources under Measure WW, a bond measure adopted by voters in 2008 which will give Berkeley $4.876 million to spend on city parks during a 10-year period. According to the commission website, the Aquatic Park Improvement Program began in 2011, and renovation of Strawberry Creek Park is slated to begin in 2014.

Measure WW is funding three renovation projects this year: in Grove Park, John Hinkel Park and the play area in James Kenney Park.

Some residents expressed staunch opposition to any new spending projects. Doug Fielding, chairman for the Berkeley Association of Sports Field Users, said that Berkeley needs a master plan for its parks to ensure that bond funds are used efficiently.

The interest in creating a master plan to take care of maintenance projects was echoed by another resident during the meeting.

“A lot of that money should be spent on maintenance,” one man said. “I like new things but, if the things we have aren’t working, it doesn’t make sense [to build new things].”

Although several master plans exist for individual parks, there isn’t a comprehensive master plan for the whole city park system. McGrath said that it would probably cost between $400,000 and $800,000 to develop a master plan on that scale.

McGrath said many of the problems brought up in the meeting were the consequence of cutbacks in maintenance.

“You’ve seen and identified that there is lower maintenance — the response has been to automate things,” McGrath said. “It works somewhat, but it has its limitations.”

Commissioners repeatedly thanked residents for attending the meeting and for patiently working with Berkeley to find solutions to their problems.

“There’s no silver bullet,” said Commissioner Michael Boland. “The solution lies at the center of a lot of incremental changes.”

On Oct. 9, the commission will hold a meeting at the Live Oak Community Center’s Fireside Room to discuss parks in North Berkeley and residential camps, including Tuolumne Family Camp. On Oct. 16, the commission will hold its last meeting, at the South Berkeley Branch Library to talk with residents about parks in South Berkeley.

Members of the public are invited to attend all the meetings; child care will be provided. Community members who are unable to attend may submit written comments by Oct. 30 to Roger Miller, secretary, Parks and Waterfront Commission, 2180 Milvia St., Berkeley, CA 94704, or by email at rmiller@cityofberkeley.info. More information about the city’s system of parks and facilities is available online.

Related:
Four public meetings on future of Berkeley parks (09.25.13)
In a Berkeley park, a bluebird displays unusual behavior (08.05.13)
Can’t get enough of them: Berkeley’s burrowing owls (02.19.13)
Op-Ed: City must step up to restore Ohlone Park mural (01.31.13)
Op-Ed: Berkeley — take steps to re-open Willard pool (11.19.12)
Pools campaign holds mock swimathon for Measures N, O (10.15.12)
Bond measures take steps toward ballot (07.11.12)
City Council approves pools measure, debates streets (06.27.12)
Berkeley’s Himalayan Fair: Still a big draw in its 28th year (05.21.12)
Neighbors fight to save Strawberry Creek Park slide (12.02.11)
More than $100m needed for parks, rec and waterfront (09.29.11)
Layoffs, fee increases proposed for 2012 budget (05.03.11)
Where did all the toys go? City clarifies parks policy (12.16.10)
Comment: Voting on Measure C shows a city split (07.01.10)
Last-gasp bid to save Willard Pool eyes city subsidies (06.29.10)
Pools majority falls short: Closures expected (06.09.10)
Mayor Bates pushed into pool for Measure C (05.24.10)
A bigger splash: save the pools (02.12.10)

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