Council seeks $15M state earmark to help revive Berkeley Marina

The marina has $113 million in unfunded infrastructure needs.

A man and child watch the sunset at Cesar Chavez Park with a view of Richmond in the background, Nov. 5, 2020. Photos: Pete Rosos

City officials have asked the state for $15 million to help fix up the Berkeley Marina. Their priority? High-impact projects that can be done quickly, from widening the Cesar Chavez walking path and replacing failing docks and pilings to dredging the main channel for better boat access.

The money is but a fraction of the $113 million needed to address a range of upgrades required at the Berkeley waterfront. But officials, who voted Tuesday night to send a letter to state officials about the budget request, say the funding would go far.

“Putting out this letter right now puts us in a very strong position to make the case to our state senator, who happens to be the Senate budget chair, that this is an important investment to make,” Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, who represents northwest Berkeley, told Berkeleyside on Wednesday. “We wanted to tailor this to the highest priority needs that can happen now.”

West Berkeley Councilmember Terry Taplin crafted the Oct. 26 letter, with support from Kesarwani, Councilmember Rigel Robinson and Mayor Jesse Arreguín, with an eye toward a significant state budget surplus that is expected to be available next year.

Officials said they focused on projects that would have the most immediate impact in terms of improving the marina’s financial picture by addressing the needs of slip-holders and other regular waterfront users.

In the letter, they identified seven key projects that could benefit from cash now: the long-overdue dredging of the main channel, where boats sometimes get stuck ($6 million); extensive dock replacements ($5.35 millions); failing wooden piling replacements ($1.5 million); a parking lot rebuild ($1.15 million); and the widening of the popular Cesar Chavez perimeter path ($1 million) to bring it into compliance with ADA rules.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Taplin told Berkeleyside this is the first time Berkeley has asked the state for this type of budget bump. Earlier this year, neighboring cities — including Oakland — secured money for key projects from the state’s $76 billion budget surplus. But Berkeley did not put forward any of its own proposals, Taplin said.

He said he did not want the city to miss its chance again.

“It just feels like a really good time to push for the kind of investment that our marina deserves,” Taplin said. “At this point, we have to pursue every avenue for funding to address the deferred maintenance.”

Taplin said he is excited at the prospect of an influx of state money for the marina and, in general, believes the waterfront is heading in the right direction: “I’m just glad the marina is getting so much attention from the council and the community.”

Don’t miss Wednesday’s community workshop on the pier-ferry project

The city is also pursuing a partnership with the Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) that, over the next decade, is expected to bring expanded commuter ferry service to Berkeley and help rebuild and re-open the Berkeley pier.

Kesarwani said the council letter did not focus on the pier-ferry project because WETA will likely provide significant financial support on that front.

According to the letter, Berkeley has already invested $26 million in the waterfront to begin the work needed for its revitalization. But the future poses significant challenges, Taplin wrote in his agenda item: “The Marina Fund is projected to exhaust all reserves in FY2022, and its operating deficit will increase to an annual $800,000.”

Officials said they believe the marina’s regional draw will give the city’s proposal more clout with state officials.

“We are committed to serving as a responsible steward of the land granted to us in trust,” they told state leaders, “and believe there is tremendous potential for the Berkeley Marina to become a regional recreation and transportation hub.”

Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.