The race for the East Bay Regional Park District representative generally doesn’t get much attention, especially in a critical election year. With a Sierra Club endorsement, a long history of environmental activism and a career as an environmental trial attorney, you’d think Norman La Force would be a shoo-in for Ward 1, which includes Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond, El Sobrante, Kensington, and parts of Pinole and San Pablo. That’s how our Berkeley/Richmond demographic usually votes, especially on a down-ballot race where the Sierra Club endorsement is all we need to see. But Norman is spending a lot of his own money to win this seat (after losing to Whitney Dotson in 2008 and then being passed over in favor of Echols after Dotson resigned due to failing health). There is a large group of park advocates concerned with the future of our East Bay Regional Parks trying very hard to stop Norman La Force.

Please take a closer look, especially at the endorsements from the people most likely to understand what is at stake: Elizabeth Echols, currently serving on the Park District Board, is endorsed by EVERY other Park District board member. LaForce is not endorsed by any of them.

The contrast between the two candidates is stark: Elizabeth Echols has not alienated trail hikers and mountain bikers by limiting access to fire trails. She has not argued with dog owners over new dog parks, off-leash areas, and beach access. She has never opposed new sports fields or blocked new launch sites for kayaks and windsurfers. She
has not forced the Berkeley High Women’s Rowing Team out of Aquatic Park. And she has not filed a lawsuit that delayed an important link of the Bay Trail west of the racetrack for two years because part of the plan would also improve access for dog owners to Albany Beach.

Elizabeth Echols supports people in our parks, especially the urban waterfronts and other park areas close to population centers. We need board members who want people to use our parks and interact with wildlife, not fence it off. We need parks that encourage the human experience of nature. On our shorelines, we need facilities that invite everyone to experience the waters of the Bay first-hand. We especially need waterfront park policies that encourage facilities for inexpensive water access, especially for people who can’t afford a boat in the marina, or who don’t have garage or driveway space to store a small hand-launched kayak or paddleboard at home.

The best, the biggest, and the most natural and undisturbed open space resource we have in the Bay Area is the Bay itself. Shoreline parks should be gateways for everyone to have access to the Bay, access that involves more than just looking at the Bay from the shore. We can have this access, but we need a balanced approach to determining the allowable uses on the parklands of the urban shoreline.

Protected open space, on land and water, is important where it is appropriate. It’s a vital component of our parks. But much of our regional parks are urban parks, where the priorities should be recreation, diverse activities and universal access.

Elizabeth Echols can balance the value of open space with the value of human recreation. She does not have to overcome a legacy of obstruction and opposition to ball fields, to off-leash areas, to low-cost boating access, to high school crew practice, to mountain bikes, to equestrian access, to a critical link on the Bay Trail, and opposition to anything that runs afoul of a fundamentalist open space monoculture vision.

Elizabeth Echols has not collected a long list of adversaries and detractors over the years. She does not need to spend thousands of dollars from her own pocket to earn a seat on the Park District board.

Paul Kamen served six terms on Berkeley’s waterfront commission and is currently on the Parks and Waterfront Commission.
Paul Kamen served six terms on Berkeley’s waterfront commission and is currently on the Parks and Waterfront Commission.