Berkeley Marina Sees Slow, Steady Improvements, with More on the Way
On an early September evening, I was casually strolling past the Cal Sailing Club and Cal Adventures, and found, as always, both community clubs packed to the gills, in a socially distanced way, with happy sailors. This is the default vibe for the South Basin of Berkeley Marina.
There were, however, changes both unexpected and welcome.
The road between the clubs, lining the water’s edge, has been freshly paved where previously there had been old, craggy asphalt. The road itself has been widened, and the seawall lining the shore has been beefed up. There are new bike racks, and the new bathrooms, which had been built what seems like nearly three years ago, were open for use. Adjacent to the commodes is a new-ish rigging area — about four years old now — with artificial grass and hoses. Adjacent to the rigging area are a few shiny-new docks. The sidewalks at this end of the Marina are also freshly paved, and there are new benches. In general, there seem to be more people enjoying Berkeley Marina than ever before, which is due in no small part to the pandemic, where outdoor activities have exploded in popularity.
Lookin’ good, Berkeley Marina. Lookin’ good.
In 2019, we asked what’s next for Berkeley Marina, a well-used and much-loved part of the Bay Area waterfront that had fallen into disrepair. We are happy to report that the Marina has seen gradual upgrades, with more projects on the list.
Built in 1962, several docks in the Marina itself had recently “reached the end of their useful life” according to reports from the city. Last year we spoke with the Pegasus Project, a nonprofit providing youth sailing opportunities out of Berkeley Marina. “We have seen improvements on K-dock, and most importantly, replacement of the slip finger that was literally disintegrating under our feet last year,” Pegasus director Peter Hayes told us recently. (As an aside, Hayes said that Pegasus Voyages has been on pause since the beginning of the pandemic. “That said, we are optimistic. We have a new senior captain ready for the new season of training, the boat is in great shape, and the crew is motivated to get back out there.”)
There is still discussion about building a second hotel in the Berkeley Marina, which is an attractive project because of its potential to generate revenue to replenish the Marina’s coffers, otherwise known as the Enterprise Fund. The totality of the Marina’s operations and infrastructure is financed by this fund, which comes from tax revenues on Marina businesses, as well as slip fees. In 2019, the Enterprise Fund’s structural deficit, where spending exceeds revenues, reached $1 million. But in 2016, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly approved the “T1” bond measure, which injected $100 million into infrastructure upgrades for the Marina.
Latitude’s Paul Kamen was an advocate for building a hotel on the site of the shuttered-since-2018 Hs Lordships restaurant, though there doesn’t appear to be any momentum in that direction. According to recent city council meetings, there are potential lessees interested in renting the former Hs Lordships as a restaurant space. Any new renter would have to sink several million dollars into making the site usable; it currently costs the city some $200,000 a year to maintain the vacant building. Several sources have told us that the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, or BCDC, will not permit Hs Lordships to be torn down and rebuilt in its current configuration over the water.
Of particular interest is the informal launch next to Hs Lordships, a world-class setup for windsurfers given its beam-reach-oriented perch in the heart of the East Bay’s windline. This summer, the Hs Lordships launch also saw lots of swimmers and “wing boarders,” not to mention people fishing. When the conditions are right, SUPs and kayaks also have easy access to the Bay.
For over 20 years, local advocates have been pushing the city to invest in an improved launch ramp — a project that has, at times, generated some municipal momentum. More than 10 years ago, the project had gone through a design and environmental-review phase, but was ultimately nixed by a former city attorney who said that the launch wouldn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To be ADA compliant, ramps must have no more than a 5% grade, which takes enormous physical space to accomplish, and enormous amounts of money.
The new docks and ramps in the South Basin are ADA certified, and being in the lee of prevailing winds, are an objectively safer launch for kayakers with or without disabilities. Several sources believe that the South Basin is geographically close enough to Hs Lordships to effectively “count” as Berkeley’s ADA launch — though the question has not been formally decided. With a new city attorney at the helm, the hope is that a launch ramp, similar to the one recently built at Point Isabel in Richmond, can be constructed in a relatively cost-effective way. A steeper, narrower path made from asphalt instead of concrete, for example, could put the launch’s price tag at hundreds of thousands of dollars rather than millions.
The conventional wisdom is that the T1 funds will be not be available for the launch upgrade given the scope of delayed, pressing infrastructure projects. According to a 2018 City of Berkeley report, there was $10.3 million in urgent but unfunded capital projects, of which $3.45 was needed immediately to “make critical repairs to finger docks, pilings, electrical systems and restrooms.”
David Fielder, a windsurfer involved in East Bay politics who was instrumental in the Point Isabel project, said there is strong support for an updated windsurfing launch from Berkeley’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department, which manages the Marina. “I am encouraged by the willingness of city staff to consider working with us on this launch site.” Fielder believes that some of the money could come from other agencies, such as the California Coastal Conservancy, or the San Francisco Bay Trail project. “Documentation of usage of this world-class windsurfing site is critical,” Fielder added. “To help accomplish that, I’ve been asked to obtain copies of GPS tracks from as many users as possible.”
It’s important to remind ourselves that even a modest “launch” can serve as a year-round access point for a variety of users — including dog walkers and people just wanting to sit at the water’s edge — just as Point Isabel does. Anecdotally speaking, there has been a profound increase in the number of park users across a variety of activities. “Given ongoing sea-level rise and siltation in the South Basin, the Hs Lordships launch site will become increasingly vital for recreational access to the Bay,” Fielder said.
As we reported in last month’s Sightings, homeless settlements near the Marina remain an ongoing issue. Berkeley’s mayor recently tried to move the encampment at the entrance of the Marina into the Hs Lordships parking lot, which has been fenced off since 2018. The proposal was apparently shot down at the last moment by the BCDC, but the issue has not been permanently resolved.
Second to last in this story: University Avenue is set to be repaved in May. We had heard that the half-ish-mile-long stretch — which might have the dubious honor of being the bumpiest road in America — was scheduled to be resurfaced in 2020. The asphalt road has effectively sunk onto the old University Avenue pier upon which it was built, and currently feels like a roller coaster at a shoddy amusement park.
One of the largest projects under discussion at the Berkeley Marina is a proposed ferry terminal on what is now University Pier, which was closed in 2015 because of its deteriorating condition. First suggested in 2010, the new Berkeley terminal feels as if it’s inevitable.
We’ll discuss the project in an upcoming ‘Lectronic Latitude.
I am happy to hear that Berkeley is making improvements for the people who don’t actually pay to support the marina. Unfortunately they have neglected slip holders. I had my 35′ sailboat on L dock for about the last 10 years, was a partner in another boat on E dock for 9 years before that, and have sailed out of Berkeley since the 1980’s. I am a proud member of the Berkeley Yacht Club. In October I moved my boat to Richmond. L dock was probably in ‘average’ shape for the Berkeley Marina. Holes in the concrete docks large enough where you could reach through and touch the water. With just a 6′ draft we would run aground in the entrance at low water. The final straw for me was when they decided to fence off almost the entire parking lot near L dock so the city could park police vehicles. Why fence it you ask? Because it’s not safe to park your car there!
I could go on but why bother. The Peoples Republic of Berkeley has the marina they deserve. It’s too bad it is not a place I would want to keep my boat any longer because the location is ideal.
Well said Andy. While I’m still a proud Berkeley YC member, we too have left the marina for all of your stated reasons, plus the crime element. As as boater with 60 ft and 31 ft. vessels, the poor condition of the slips also contributed to our decision to leave. Stringers and decking were rotted and not attached for years on F-Dock, and the crime element continues to mount. There’s so many pressures on the marina from so many users it’s a challenge for sure as to where to even start.