James Kenney is set for major improvements. Photo: City of Berkeley
Major work is planned at James Kenney. Photo: City of Berkeley

James Kenney Park in West Berkeley is slated for major repairs in the coming fiscal years, which will likely require closure of parts of its community center for 6-8 months, according to city staff.

Staff provided an update regarding municipal park projects to the Berkeley City Council at a March 24 worksession.

That update included some news about Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp, which was destroyed by fire in 2013, as well as an overview of park facility plans over the next two fiscal years, from July 2015 through June 2017. (An update on the camp was published separately on Berkeleyside.)

Read more about Berkeley parks.

The city plans to spend most of its capital money for parks through fiscal year 2016-17 on pressing needs at James Kenney Park, at 1720 Eighth St. between Virginia and Delaware streets. The city plans to spend more than $3.7 million to address building repairs and seismic issues at the community center, as well as updates to the picnic and play areas. Staff intends to use $2.3 million from the parks tax and general fund on the repairs, as well as nearly $730,000 from a FEMA grant for seismic improvements, and $750,000 in Measure WW funds to pay for other aspects of the projects.

The east wall is buckling at the James Kenney Community Center. Photo: City of Berkeley
The east wall is buckling at James Kenney’s community center. Photo: City of Berkeley
The east wall is buckling at James Kenney’s community center. Photo: City of Berkeley

As part of the March 24 presentation, staff showed council members photographs of serious problems at James Kenney that need to be addressed. The community center’s east wall is beginning to buckle, said parks director Scott Ferris, in addition to ongoing related issues with decaying siding outside.

“It is in bad shape,” Ferris told council. “The siding has been rotting for years, but … the deterioration is now going inward from the siding to the structural beams, and so what we have here is a failure of a series of beams inside the center.”

Ferris said emergency repairs are underway, but that it will be at least a year before any significant construction can be done.

“We’re hoping to keep this facility open during that time, but there’s no guarantee,” he said. “These walls are starting to give way.”

City engineer Lorin Jensen said staff hopes to begin designing that project in July, with construction to start later this year or in early 2016. He said the park’s childcare facility would likely not be affected, other than by construction noise, but that the park’s gym would have to close for an estimated 6-8 months while the building is renovated with internal and external seismic bracing. Jensen said the city is looking into moving existing park programs to other facilities during that time.

Councilwoman Linda Maio said she had been aware of the problems at James Kenney, but did not realize the extent.

“I’m alarmed,” said Maio. “I’m alarmed at the lack of structural integrity that is evidenced by these photographs, and the fact that we might be facing a closure for I don’t know how long.”

City staff said many of the problems facing Berkeley’s facilities have been exacerbated by years of deferred maintenance, as dealing with significant issues has been put off because the city hasn’t had the money to address them. Ferris reminded council that the city needs $78 million to address all of its existing parks facility maintenance demands — at park buildings, city camps, pools and the marina — which have stacked up over the years.

“I sort of feel like I’m in the middle of a Greek myth, where we keep trying to climb up a hill, and we keep sliding down,” said Councilwoman Susan Wengraf. “And I just feel like this council has to make it a priority to fix and maintain our facilities. We’re just going to be digging deeper, deeper, getting into a worse situation.”

Councilman Laurie Capitelli thanked staff for the report, but added: “I wish it were less grim than it is.”

You can push your fingers through decaying siding at James Kinney's community center. Photo: City of Berkeley
You can push your fingers through decaying siding at James Kinney’s community center. Photo: City of Berkeley
You can push your fingers through decaying siding at James Kinney’s community center. Photo: City of Berkeley

He noted that the vast majority of money from the general fund and parks tax for the next two years is slated to go toward James Kenney, “which is a building that we’ve ignored through no fault of any individual for years and years.… [It’s] really pennywise and pound foolish, and I guess we just need to pay attention to that. I hope we all remember that, sitting up here at the dais.”

The Measure F parks tax, passed by voters last fall, will bring an additional $1.7 million into city coffers each year. Of that, $500,000 will be used to address the department’s structural deficit, $450,000 will be spent on recurring maintenance projects, and $750,000 will be used for major maintenance. Measure WW funds, which must be spent by the end of fiscal year 2017, are also bolstering a number of the projects described below. (Berkeley voters approved Measure WW in 2008; it gave the city nearly $5 million to spend on city parks during a 10-year period.)

Even with the new influx of parks tax money, however, “less than half of the projected need for high-use parks and park buildings will be addressed,” according to the March 24 staff presentation. (Read more about the financial needs of the city’s park system.)

Over the next few months, the department is working on projects at Virginia McGee Totland, Terrace View (ADA and basketball courts), Ohlone Dog Park and Grove Park (tennis and basketball court renovation). The city is nearly done with its demolition of the John Hinkel Clubhouse, which was destroyed by fire in January, and has plans to pave Potter Street and Bolivar Drive before the fiscal year ends.

The city does not plan to repair the trellis at the rose garden until 2018-19. Photo: City of Berkeley
The city does not plan to repair the trellis at the rose garden until 2018-19. Photo: Councilwoman Susan Wengraf’s office
. Photo: Councilwoman Susan Wengraf’s office

More than a dozen projects are also in the design phase this year, from floats at the marina to new restrooms at San Pablo Park and repairs to the Berkeley Rose Garden trellis. The 80-year-old Maybeck-designed trellis and pathway beneath it have been closed for about a year due to structural issues. (One previous estimate put the price tag for trellis repairs at $1.3 million.)

In fiscal year 2015-16, in addition to the James Kenney project, the city plans to spend $200,000 on Southside Berkeley’s Willard Park to repair the play area and pathway, $50,000 to replace the electrical meter at San Pablo Park in South Berkeley, and $50,000 on a master plan for Cesar Chavez Park in West Berkeley. There’s also $325,000 set aside from Measure WW for the first phase of design for the Rose Garden trellis in North Berkeley.

In fiscal year 2016-17 — again, in addition to James Kenney money described above — the city plans to spend $715,000 on the play area at John Hinkel Park in North Berkeley, and nearly $500,000 on court renovations at Strawberry Creek Park in West Berkeley. The Marin Circle and Fountain Walk in North Berkeley is slated to receive $130,000 for renovations, and $130,000 has been set aside for the Becky Temko Tot Park on Roosevelt Avenue and Dwight Way.

The city plans to spend $500,000 in the upcoming two fiscal years on marina floats. Photo: City of Berkeley
The city plans to spend $500,000 in the upcoming two fiscal years on marina floats. Photo: City of Berkeley

The city also plans to spend $2.3 million over the next two fiscal years at the marina to pay for floats ($500,000), Segment 3 of the Bay Trail ($500,000), improvements in the South Cove area ($1.1 million) and upgrades to the fishing pier ($230,000). Other than the floats, those projects are being funded by grants.

Jim McGrath, who serves on the city’s Parks and Waterfront Commission, told council it had been gratifying to see such a large percentage of Berkeley voters — 75% — support last November’s parks tax. (McGrath also helped spearhead that campaign after the city decided not to move ahead with a combined tax and bond measure.)

“It’s really nice to have this amount of money, but it is also really disappointing that it won’t go as far,” he told council. “So I’m here to ask you to put a little more sugar on it.”

He said he hopes the city can find a way to speed up the repair of the rose garden trellis, as well as to fix the tide tubes at Aquatic Park, and make improvements at Strawberry Creek and San Pablo parks.

“Berkeley citizens love their parks,” he told council. “I hope you give them a little more.”

Councilman Darryl Moore asked the city manager whether additional money for parks might come from extra property transfer taxes the city expects to collect this year. City Manager Christine Daniel said the city currently plans to spend that money on significant repairs to its Public Works facilities over the next two fiscal years.

At council’s direction, the city is set to shift anything above $10.5 million from transfer taxes into its general fund for capital infrastructure needs. At a budget report in February, the city said it expected to direct $3.3 million from those taxes into the general fund by the end of the fiscal year.

Last year, council directed staff to spend the first $500,000 of that money to update the city’s financial system, said Daniel, “which — if you could see it — actually looks like some of these buildings” [from the parks department report]. Public Works is already counting on another $1.1 million of that money for the upcoming two fiscal years to carry out its repair plans.

“There may not be a whole lot above that available,” Daniel told council.

Watch a video of the March 24 worksession, and see the staff report and presentation overview. Read more about the city budget and parks tax in past Berkeleyside coverage.

Berkeley may double Public Works budget, as $17M repair backlog looms (04.06.15)
Berkeley parks advocates push back after council drops bond from November ballot (07.25.14)
Berkeley voters likely to see joint parks funding measure (06.11.14)
Plans firm up for Berkeley soda tax, city parks measures (05.21.14)
Willard pool reopening on agenda for park bond measure (02.13.14)
Council to study $20M parks bond, 10% parks tax boost (12.12.13)
Berkeley groups want old railroad bed to be a public park (11.20.13)
Berkeley Rose Garden celebrates 75th birthday (09.20.12)

Do you rely on Berkeleyside for local news? Support independent journalism by becoming a Berkeleyside member for $5 a month or even less, or by making a one-time donation.

"*" indicates required fields

See an error that needs correcting? Have a tip, question or suggestion? Drop us a line.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...