Do you love our regional parks? If so, the race to represent us on the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) board should be important to you.
Our local representative, Elizabeth Echols, faces a challenge from El Cerrito lawyer Norman La Force.
In this race, voters can evaluate these candidates through on-the-ground experience. Two local landfills-turned-parks illustrate their contrasting visions. Norman La Force’s stringent approach is on view locally at the Berkeley Meadow. Elizabeth Echols’s more tolerant approach is reflected at the nearby Albany Shoreline.
The Berkeley Meadow is found on University Avenue just west of Interstate 80, where it shares an intersection with the Seabreeze Market and several homeless encampments. Parking is easy here because visitors are few. Entering the gates, one finds a place where people may observe plants and birds – but only at a distance, and from confinement between chain link fences choked with weeds.
Norman La Force worked hard for this old landfill to become a fenced-off bird sanctuary that is a boon for birds. But it is a park that even birders rarely visit.
The Albany shoreline, locally known as the Buchanan Dog Beach and Albany Bulb Art Park, is something else altogether. It is a place where people enjoy relaxation, recreation, creativity, and experiencing nature up close and personal (though its sensitive bird habitat areas are securely fenced for protection).
Walkers, bicyclists, beach enthusiasts, kiteboarders, artists, dog guardians, skaters and skateboarders, fishermen, musicians, dancers – you name it, you will likely find it at the Albany shoreline.
Bird watchers abound, as do birds, thriving in astonishing variety and abundance.
What do these repurposed landfills tell us about our electoral choices?
Elizabeth Echols has expressed support for continuing current uses of the Albany shoreline by its many visitors, even if some activities (like art, music, and dance) are not traditional uses in EBRPD’s domain, despite its diverse array of different types of parks.
Norman La Force does not agree. He actually sued the EBRPD over its Albany Beach project, which involved completing the Bay Trail, expanding the beach, and adding parking, bathrooms, and picnic tables. He objected to the alleged human and canine impacts on the former construction dump.
The project was delayed for four years. The EBRPD ultimately prevailed, but it was forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, documentation, and staff time.
If La Force prevails in his challenge, we can expect more fences, more restrictions, no art, and an uncompromising approach to issues arising from dogs, bikes, or water activity – at least at the Albany shoreline, and probably beyond.
If Echols retains her position, we can expect more solutions that respect the diversity of park users and their interests, and more efforts to build trust and forge compromises among those who love our parks and want to both enjoy and protect them.
As a lifelong nature lover and daily park visitor, I find this an easy choice. Please join me in supporting Elizabeth Echols to continue representing us at the EBRPD.