Op-Ed: Enviros are pushing bad waterfront policy

Photo: Paul Kamen
Off-leash socializing at Albany Beach. Photo: Paul Kamen

One would not think that an organization dedicated to wildlife protection, sensible urban planning and limiting sprawl would come out against the Bay Trail.

But that’s exactly what they have done, allying themselves with the owners of Golden Gate Fields racetrack along the way.

SPRAWLDEF is an acronym for Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund. On Jan. 17, the group, founded by Norman La Force and David Tam, filed a lawsuit against the East Bay Regional Park District, opposing a plan to acquire a small strip of property along the shoreline behind the track to complete a missing link in the Bay Trail between Berkeley and Richmond.

The Park District’s plan would also add some parking to the Albany Beach area, build some wheelchair access to the water’s edge, and expand and protect the dune area behind the beach.

There’s something in this lawsuit to alienate just about everyone: Bicyclists and hikers who use the Bay Trail; environmentalists with an interest in dune habitat; kayakers and kiteboarders who launch from the Albany shoreline; the ADA constituency who find beach access generally impossible; and, most of all, dogs and their owners who rely on Albany beach for a place to play in the water.

Read the filing. It has all the earmarks of a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because they did not get their way. There’s a link to it at http://www.CDAWGS.org in the “Documents” page here.

The fact on the sand is that Albany Beach is far and away the East Bay’s most popular dog beach. Acre for acre, it is the most popular park in the entire East Bay Regional Park District system. And SPRAWLDEF, if they have their way, would shut it down.

True, dog play in the water is not in the original plan for Eastshore State Park. But sometimes plans need to adapt as use patterns emerge.

SPRAWDEF’s main complaint appears to be that the Park District has wisely opted not to take the draconian measures that would be necessary to keep dogs from running on the beach. Actually, the Park District’s plan is silent on dog policy, which could be seen as a tacit endorsement of the status quo.

SPRAWLDEF’s lawsuit also cites eelgrass damage by kayaks and windsurfers — but there is no science suggesting that a kayak or sailboard passing over an eelgrass bed has any effect whatsoever on the viability of the eelgrass bed or its related habitat. Yes, there is some scattered eelgrass in the subtidal waters offshore from Albany Beach. You can see it from a kayak at low tide, if you look carefully. It’s underwater. Kayaks and kiteboards float on top. You can touch the grass if you try, but damage to the ecosystem? Come on, we’re not talking jetskis and bass boats here.

SPRAWLDEF seems to believe that the Bay is there for us to look at, but not to touch. Dogs should never play in it and people should never float on it, regardless of how ecologically benign their mode of flotation might be.

If you agree with that approach to a popular urban waterfront, support SPRAWLDEF. But if you support the Bay Trail, if you like to let dogs play on a beach, if think people in wheelchairs should have access to the water’s edge, or if you like to float on the Bay using only muscle or wind power, then SPRAWLDEF is acting against your interests and against good waterfront policy. Let them know.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Paul Kamen is a naval architect who sails, windsurfs and paddles. He specializes in surface-piercing propellers and small craft accident reconstruction, and has served six terms as chair of the Berkeley Waterfront Commission.