Priority Campaign Update
Putting the ferries in their place
Study shows Berkeley marina sites far superior to Gilman or Buchanan Streets
As the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) builds a ferry system on the Bay (not just for emergencies, but for day-to-day commuting), some of its key decisions are where to build terminals. We are hopeful that the Authority will make the right decision about the terminal for the Berkeley-Albany area.
The Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Study (DEIR/S) examines four possible locations: the end of Buchanan Street in Albany, the end of Gilman Street in Berkeley, and two different sites at the Berkeley Marina. The DEIR/S comes to the right conclusion: the Gilman and Buchanan options are unacceptable, and further study is needed to choose between the two at the Berkeley marina.
The Gilman and Buchanan sites are unacceptable because of their impacts on the environment, especially on the Eastshore State Park. Moreover, either would block the Sierra Club's long-term vision for the waterfront area now occupied by the Golden Gate Fields racetrack. We want to utilize this shoreline area for parks and open space rather than for a ferry terminal and parking lot.
Nevertheless, strong political forces want the ferry at Buchanan Street. Within Albany many of those who support building a mega-mall at Golden Gate Fields believe that a ferry at Buchanan Street would help get the mall proposal back on the table.
The DEIR/S made the following findings that support the Sierra Club's position that Gilman and Buchanan Streets are not suitable locations for ferry service.
Travel times. The trip to San Francisco from either of the Berkeley marina alternatives would be quicker: at peak periods, 35 minutes rather than 45.
Dredge spoils. Construction at either marina site would generate around half as much dredge spoil as either Gilman or Buchanan Streets.
Traffic. Unlike the Berkeley marina sites, even with mitigations Gilman or Buchanan would have "unavoidable significant impacts" on traffic on San Pablo Avenue. The Gilman location would also impact Gilman Street, and Buchanan would impact Marin Avenue.
Birds. Either Gilman or Buchanan would have unmitigable impacts on waterfowl that raft for rest and nourishment on the North Berkeley Basin and water areas around the Buchanan Stree location. In contrast, the Berkeley marina locations, with suitable mitigations, would result in less-than-significant impacts.
Eelgrass. Caltrans, as a mitigation for widening I-80, undertook to re-create eelgrass habitat. The Gilman site would cause unavoidable impacts on this project, and Buchanan might also.
State park. Neither Berkeley marina alternative would have impacts on the Eastshore State Park, but Gilman or Buchanan would require the use of park aquatic lands for ferry construction and operation. Either alternative would have unavoidable significant impacts on the state park that could not be mitigated. The U.S. Department of Transportation forbids using parkland for a federally funded transportation project unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative, and such use would have to be approved by the California State Parks Department.
Getting the land. The Gilman or Buchanan site would require buying enough land for 400 parking spaces. Whether the owners would agree to this, or WETA would use eminent domain, the property would be expensive.
Parking on the shoreline. The Buchanan site would place parking for 400 cars right by the shoreline. This shoreline, with its Bay views, should some day be restored to bayside dunes.
Albany site issues. The Albany City Council is on record opposing the Buchanan location, yet use of this site would require changing the zoning and the general plan - needing approval by both the City Council and a vote of the people.
In sum, Gilman and Buchanan are clearly not feasible. The focus of any further time, money, and energy should be on how to make either of the Berkeley marina sites work. These sites have fewer impacts on wildlife, habitat, and the Eastshore State Park, and already have infrastructure for ferries and for the commercial activity that would accompany a terminal.
WhatYouCanDo - This month's key action
The WETA Board will take up this matter on Jan. 8. Write promptly to:
Pier 9, Suite 111
San Francisco, CA 94111.
Reference the DEIR/S for Berkeley-Albany Ferry. Urge the WETA Board to reject the Gilman and Buchanan Street locations.
Come to the Board meeting. It is to be on Jan. 8 at 1:30 pm at a location to be announced, in Berkeley. To confirm the time and place, call the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Office at (510) 848-0800 on or after Mon., Jan. 5. Come to the meeting to speak out against the Gilman and Buchanan sites.
For more information on the ferries, or on other issues dealing with East Bay parks, contact Norman La Force, chair of the Chapter's East Bay Public Lands Committee, at n.laforce -at- comcast.net or (510) 295-7657.