It wasn’t your typical Monday morning email. One of my paddling friends, Elaine Baden, who trains in Aquatic Park for her expeditions to Alaska, had written that there was a river otter in Aquatic Park. The rowers and former parks and waterfront commissioner Toni Mester had been steadfast advocates for restoring Aquatic Park so it was safe for humans and wildlife. They had hung in there through closures from contamination, and flooding from the broken flashboard in the Strawberry Creek culvert.
Cleaning out the tide tubes that provide tidal circulation to the Aquatic Park lagoon was one of 42 projects that were constructed in the first phase of the funds generated by the 2016 ballot measure, T1. Invasive tubeworms from Australia had nearly filled all five culverts with their cemented tubes, nearly stopping all tidal circulation. A giant roto rooter cleaned them out, and the improvement in Aquatic Park is dramatic. Bat rays have returned, improved circulation has kept the lagoon largely free of nuisance weeds, and my rowing friends report an increase in birds, especially brown pelicans. More work is planned to make the lagoon more resilient to sea-level rise, and the new intersection planned by Caltrans and Alameda County Transportation Authority for Ashby will remove the on-ramp from Potter Street, removing cars from that part of the park. Efforts are afoot to plant trees on the west side of the park and improve walking paths.
You can see a full list of the Phase 1 projects, most of which are completed, on the city website. My favorites include the upgrades at Live Oak Community Center, the rehabilitation of the Rose Garden, new play structures in a number of parks including spectacular new structures in James Kenney, Strawberry, and San Pablo parks. All of this occurred while the city was also beginning the reconstruction of Tuolumne Camp, funded nearly entirely by insurance and FEMA funds. Berkeleyside has covered the imminent start of construction on a new design for University Avenue into the marina that will design around the old pilings and prevent the deterioration that has occurred from prior efforts.
Phase 1 spent about 40% of the $100 million bond, and the rest of the funds will start to be spent over the next two years. Highlights include a number of new restrooms to provide relief for the homeless and commuters, more work on the tide tubes, and funding for the youth services center at Martin Luther King, the South Berkeley Senior Center, the African American Holistic Resource Center, and a contribution of $6.75 million for street repair to augment other funds.