Berkeley City Council moves forward with parks department pier proposal

photo of a boat in Berkeley Marina
Katie Lee/File
At Berkeley City Council's first hybrid in-person meeting since the pandemic, the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department’s proposal for a recreation and ferry pier at the Berkeley Marina was supported by four City Council members and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

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Berkeley City Council moved forward with the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department’s concepts for a recreation and ferry pier at the Berkeley Marina during the council’s meeting Tuesday.

In the city’s first attempt at an in-person meeting since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few council members and mayor Jesse Arreguín were back in the City Council chambers while others joined via Zoom. The meeting was part of a “one-time test” to help determine the practices the city must put in place to routinely hold City Council meetings in person again, according to Arreguín.

“After 20 months, it’s really exciting to be back here in the city council chambers,” Arreguín said during the meeting.

Discussion of the pier proposal dominated much of the meeting. Current plans estimate an $83.5 million price tag for the pier’s overall construction, according to Nelson Lam, who works in the parks department’s planning and design unit. Lam added current plans include parking spaces, a restaurant, an event space, a plaza, shoreline, bike lockers and a paved trail.

Parks deputy director Christina Erickson said during the presentation that they hope this proposed project will create a safe, accessible and enjoyable waterfront for Berkeley residents.

In response to community concerns about investing in ferries as transit, Erickson replied that the ferry system would serve people who are not currently serviced by AC Transit or BART.

While he voiced support for the plan, City Councilmember Rigel Robinson acknowledged concerns that the plans might hurt the marina’s “magic.”

“Many people I’ve met on the water are concerned,” Robinson said during the meeting. “What we have in the Berkeley Marina is truly special, and it would be a tragedy if through this project we lost even an ounce of that magic.”

Public comment at Tuesday’s meeting revealed many of these concerns. Several Berkeley residents took issue with the plan’s proposal to build 250 parking spaces.

Berkeley Parks and Waterfront Commission member Claudia Kawczynska said she was initially a fan of the proposal but is now skeptical.

Jim McGrath, chair of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, also spoke against the proposal during public comment.

“This is a park,” McGrath said. “The land that you are talking about exists only because it was filled for recreation. It was not filled for parking for a ferry terminal.”

In response to concerns about parking spaces, City Councilmember Susan Wengraf said while access issues create challenges, she does not see them as reasons to abandon a project she finds “most exciting.”

By the end of the meeting, four City Council members and the mayor said they would support an effort to pursue federal funding for the project moving forward.

Rachel Barber is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.