Berkeley Marina: The city’s waterfront will be insolvent by 2020 if urgent action is not taken, according to a new report. Photo: betsysaur

Berkeley’s waterfront is at a “crisis point,” running about $1 million in debt, and will be “insolvent” by 2020 if the city doesn’t take fast action.

According to a report released Monday for the City Council, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said the Marine Enterprise Fund – which manages waterfront revenues and expenditures — can no longer support the Marina’s basic operating costs and maintenance.

Current annual revenues of $6.2 million lag behind the Marina’s $7.2 million in expenditures.

Williams-Ridley wrote that, of $106 million of overall maintenance needs, $10.33 million are of “immediate concern,” $3.45 million of which is “needed now to make critical repairs to docks, pilings, electrical systems, and restrooms.”

“If these investments are not made, facilities and infrastructure will either require more costly emergency funding or be closed, as in the case of the Berkeley Pier. Waterfront customers will continue to leave the Berkeley Marina, continuing the downward spiral of revenue loss and blight.”

The report “builds on previous reports dating back to 1999, documenting a long history of the Marina Fund revenues struggling to cover basic operating costs, leaving little to no room for capital or maintenance wrote,” she wrote, adding Marina funding is at “its breaking point.”

The fund will reportedly run dry in 2020, “with more than $950,00 needed to maintain existing waterfront operations through the next budget cycle.” Failure to do so will result in “deep cuts to programs and amenities.”

The deficit has reportedly been caused by recent safety issues and deteriorating infrastructure. There have been unexpectedly sharp declines in revenue from berths, as boat owners are choosing to go elsewhere. Occupancy rates dipped as low as 77% earlier this year, compared to 88% three years ago.

Business is also down at the nearby Doubletree Hotel, with revenue falling 4% in 2018 from the previous year.

At the same time, delayed repairs are becoming costlier, as “pilings, docks, building systems, parking lots, and street paving begin to fail.”

The Berkeley Pier was closed in 2015. Other waterfront infrastructure may need to be closed if the city doesn’t take fast action on investment, according to a new report by Berkeley’s City Manager. Photo: Dorothy Brown

Williams-Ridley also wrote that the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan needs an additional $1.05 million. In October, the city received two proposals that confirmed the current budget allocation of $150,000 for the long-term plan falls well short of the necessary $1.2 million.

Instead of funding a more “piecemeal” amount of “$150,000, the city chose to ask for bids on the full scope of the project, hoping to move forward when funding was available. The goal is to make the area self-sustaining.

“These funds are needed immediately in order to pave the way for changes that will ultimately make the Marina Fund more viable and stable,” Williams-Ridley wrote.

The city incurred unexpected costs, and revenue loss, when longtime Marina restaurant, Hs Lordships, went out of business in July. The restaurant notified the city of its plans in May.

The city is now on the hook for costs related to repairs, maintenance, utilities, security, and other associated fees, which would come from the Marina Fund. Currently, the fund is projected to be exhausted by 2021.

The report offers three short-term solutions.

The first option entails a one-time infusion of $4.5 million into “immediate needs,” which would keep the marina solvent until fiscal year 2021.

The second option calls for $950,000 to cover existing programs and services through 2020-21, but would include little to fix existing infrastructure or attract new boaters.

One option is to cancel all special events, like the Kite Festival and the Waterfront July 4 event.

The third option would be to add no funding to the fund and calls on the city to reduce existing programs and services. All special events would be canceled, including the Kite Festival, the Waterfront July 4 events, and the Shorebird Nature Science and Adventure Playground programs. Combined, this would save the city $725,000 annually.

The Marina Fund has historically been underfunded the past two decades, but was offset by reductions in staffing and underspending of capital funds. The new report says neither are options anymore, as all those reductions “have left us with a skeleton staff that cannot properly maintain the marina if it is further reduced, and the existing infrastructure is failing.”

The budget was also hampered earlier this year, when the state decided not to allocate funding for loans to public marinas in its 2019 budget. The city already applied for a $5 million loan to rebuild docks more than 50 years old, 20% of which are un-rentable, according to the report, which adds that many more are “on the verge of closure.”

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Tony Hicks is an East Bay native who spent 22 years working for Bay Area News Group, covering crime, education and the city of Berkeley. He also worked in the features department of the Contra Costa Times,...