Berkeley Waterfront structural deficit reaches $1 million annually

Boats rest in the waters of the marina.
Zainab Ali/File

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The Berkeley Waterfront is quickly approaching a “crisis point”  due to debt from increasing expenditures, lack of revenue and failing infrastructure, according to a report from city manager Dee Williams-Ridley.   

According to the report, recent safety issues and deteriorating pilings, docks, building systems, parking lots and street paving has exacerbated a fiscal “crisis” at the waterfront. The Marina Enterprise Fund – which manages all Waterfront revenues and expenditures cannot support ongoing basic operating costs and overdue maintenance.  

“The fund has annual revenues of approximately $6.2 million and annual expenditures of approximately $7.2 million,” according to the report. “Years of deferred maintenance have yielded an estimated $106 million in Marina infrastructure needs, $10.33 million of which are for immediate concerns.”

While the marina has seen a varying structural deficit in the past 20 years, it was often offset by staffing reductions or underspending of capital funds.  However, these options are no longer viable because prior staffing reductions left the marina with a “skeleton” staff that is unable to properly maintain the waterfront, according to the report.

If investments in infrastructure are not made within the next two years, then facilities will close, as the Berkeley Pier did in July 2015, according to the report, which referenced a decline in Berther occupancy rates from 85 percent in 2016 to 79 percent in 2018 and a drop in lease revenue.

“The Fund’s structural deficit exceeds $1 million/year, and is projected to exhaust all reserves in 2020, with approximately $950,000 needed to maintain existing Waterfront operations through the next budget cycle,” according to the report.

The city is currently reviewing three options to address the crisis. The first is a one-time infusion of $4.5 million into Waterfront immediate need projects. The city could also infuse $950,000 dollars into the Marina Fund to cover existing programs and services through the next budget cycle. Lastly, it could eliminate all special events, including the Berkeley Kite Festival, and reduce the number of current programs and services.

There are multiple investment projects currently under review, funded by Measure T1, grants and to a lesser degree, by the Marina Fund; however, this only begins to address the significant unfunded need of more than $106 million dollars in Waterfront capital projects.

Waterfront frequenter and spokesperson for Cal Sailing Club Joel Gussman said he wants the mayor, city council and UC Berkeley to work together with the California Division of Boating and Waterways to make the Berkeley Marina more “competitive” with other marinas and “attractive” to outsiders and community members.

“I do not know what will happen to the club if the marina becomes insolvent, but I do know we have an incredibly strong community that is not planning on going anywhere,” Gussman said in an email.  “The marina has tons of potential, which the waterfront manager and I routinely discuss. It just needs the political backing and investment.”

Contact Stanley von Ehrenstein-Smith [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @von_ehrenstein.