A mother and son play on the embankment slide at Strawberry Creek Park this week. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A 200-plus strong group of neighbors who live near Strawberry Creek Park in Berkeley has succeeded in delaying the removal of a decades-old embankment slide which last month the city determined needed to be taken down on the grounds it doesn’t meet current codes.

A community meeting held one month ago to present the city’s decision to demolish the slide prompted local residents to fight to save it. Today, Berkeley’s interim city manager Christine Daniel sent a memo to the City Council saying the city will delay the removal of the slide.

“The feedback we received from the community has caused us to take a step back,” said Scott Ferris, acting director of Berkeley’s Parks, Recreation and Waterfront department. Ferris said they have started taking steps to make the slide safer and will seeks funds, probably from other existing or planned projects, to continue fixing the slide.

On hearing the news about the delay today, Jeff Troutman, one of the leaders of the campaigners to save the slide, said he was delighted. “That’s outstanding. The city has listened. It’s good to know the little guy has a say,” he said.

The debate surrounding the metal slide centers on issues of safety and liability, but underlying it are broader questions currently being aired worldwide about the risks we allow our children to take and whether the approach of a new breed of “helicopter parents” will ultimately have a detrimental effect on the next generation of adults.

“Yes, the slide is sketchy and could be made safer. But it’s the best thing in this park,” said Troutman, who has lived on Valley Street for 11 years and frequents Strawberry Creek Park regularly with his two children who are eight and four years old. “A playground should be somewhere kids come to problem solve and evaluate risk.”

Troutman said if there was demonstrable proof the slide was causing injuries he would agree that it would need to be at least modified if not removed, but, he believes, based on the research he has done, that the issue is more of one of liability.

“No-one I have spoken to in the community is aware of anyone who has been hurt on that slide. If it was a true safety issue, the concrete slide at Codornices Park would be removed as well,” he said. He thinks the city is worried about parents who choose to sue “every time their child gets a splinter or scrape”.

The city put up notices around the park in late October announcing an informational meeting it would be holding about the slide which it planned to remove in February 2012. Troutman attended the meeting on November 2, along with neighbors Steve Moros, who runs a local community garden, and Lisa Howard, a landscape architect who has worked on school playgrounds.

At the meeting, Brad Ricards who works in the city’s parks, planning and design department, explained that the slide was not in compliance with current playground safety standards and that equipment to upgrade it was no longer available. The plan, he said, was to remove the slide, regrade the slope and cover the bare ground with mulch.

Strawberry Creek Park is between Sacramento Street and San Pablo Avenue, with University to the north, and Dwight Way to the south

The meeting was poorly attended, and arguments in favor of saving the slide were effectively dismissed, said Troutman.

Together with Moros and Howard, Troutman decided to launch a campaign to save the slide. He created the Save Our Slide website and canvassed the neighborhood to drum up support. At the time of writing, a petition which the group will take to the city has 217 signatories.

“I spent a lot of time over Thanksgiving in the park and found that once people heard about the threat they were eager to help us,” he said. Troutman said he was particularly pleased to receive support from the local senior home. “I think grandparents want their grandchildren to experience the slide,” he says.

Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district includes Strawberry Creek Park, said he thinks he has received more emails about the slide recently than about almost anything else. He said he would like the slide to be saved but also to be made safe.

The slide’s deficiencies were first noted in a city audit performed in September 2001. Ferris at Parks & Rec said the slide’s removal was deemed necessary after a recent routine inspection, and that the plan was to demolish it and apply for Measure WW funding in 2013 to replace it with a new one, either in 2014 or 2015.

Instead, the city has started to make some small fixes to the slide in the past week to keep the slide indefinitely and make it safer — installing rubber matting around some concrete footings, putting in a bar on the platform to discourage bikers or skateboarders going down the slide, and making some boards under the slide more stable.

“We will not be able to eliminate all the safety issues, but we hope to get it in compliance at some level,” Ferris says. “We will have to find funds from other capital projects to do so.”

Like others who support keeping the slide, Lisa Howard believes Berkeley in particular should be seen to encourage structures such as this one. “Everyone loves the uniqueness of Berkeley and this is a good example of that,” she said.

Echoing Howard’s viewpoint, and citing the city’s pioneering adventure playground at the Marina where kids are handed tools and nails to build their own structures, Troutman said: “Berkeley is an innovative city. We should be able to lead in providing cool play for our kids.”

The next Parks & Recreation Commission meeting is on Monday December 5 at 7pm in the Frances Albrier community center in San Pablo Park.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...