EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of stories about the Berkeley Marina written by UC Berkeley journalism graduate students in partnership with Berkeleyside.
Billed as the gateway to the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay, the docks at the Berkeley Marina have been the perfect launching pad to explore the Bay Area and the open seas.
But nowadays, some boat owners are more inclined to dock elsewhere, citing the poor condition of the harbor, crime and fears that a police substation about to open will prompt lack of parking and increased surveillance.
“Berkeley is a good marina. They just don’t have the funding to keep it up,” said Andy Newell, who moved his sailboat to Richmond.
The financially strapped Berkeley Marina has been in disrepair for years — the roadways are in poor condition, the pier has been off-limits since 2015 due to decay, Hs Lordship has shut down, and the docks have deteriorated.
Berth occupancy rates at the 1,000-slip Marina declined from 85% in 2016 to 79% in 2018, which accelerated the marina’s budgetary crisis and brought the Marina Fund to a breaking point. And though the rates improved to 83% in September, it excludes several unrentable slips because of the deteriorating condition of the D and E docks.
“Nearly half of all slips on these docks cannot be rented due to poor condition,” according to a report in March from City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley. “The unrentable slips on D & E dock represent more than 80% of all unrentable slips in the Marina, and represent a loss to the Marina Fund of more than $150,000/year.”
After years of neglect, efforts are underway to repair and replace infrastructure at the marina. As part of the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan (BMASP), the city has been repairing and replacing several of its docks and restrooms, using a $5.5 million loan from the state Division of Boating and Waterways and funds from the city’s Measure T1.
The Marina Fund, which is projected to need $800,000 to maintain operations in 2022, is buoyed by the American Rescue Plan, which will keep the waterfront solvent through fiscal-year 2023.
The marina has seen an uptick in crime including assault, burglary, trespassing, vandalism and boat and vehicle theft, according to an October 2020 report from Council Member Rashi Kesarwani.
“Our constituents have expressed frustration, fear, and dismay at the recent dramatic rise in reported incidents,” Kesarwani wrote.
Nora Daly, who has been residing on her liveaboard at the Berkeley Marina for nearly six years, anticipates leaving soon. She and her husband had been planning to move before the pandemic, but recent developments at the marina are hastening their decision. She’s frustrated by electrical interruptions during recent dock repairs. What bothers her most is the plan for a new police substation for the Traffic Division, expected to open in January, according to Berkeley Police spokesperson Byron White.
“I don’t want to be watched. I don’t want the people who are experiencing homelessness around here to be further policed,” Daly said. “I think it’s just a massive waste of resources, and it’s taking away literal space from the people who have boats here.”
The Traffic Division, which includes a manager, supervisor, and traffic analyst and parking enforcement officers, will not be involved in patrolling in the area, White said. However, beat officers assigned to West Berkeley will continue to patrol the marina and will also use the new facility.
The substation also contributed to Newell’s decision to move his boat to Richmond, though for a different reason than Daly. Newell said parking was already an issue, especially on weekends, and thought the police lot would make things worse.
He’s also miffed that Berkeley hasn’t dredged the harbor entrance, preventing bigger boats from getting out at low tide. He said he has gotten stuck on his way in and out. Before deciding to leave, he kept his 35-foot sailboat at the marina for a decade and had sailed out of Berkeley since the ’80s.
According to Roger Miller, a senior analyst for Berkeley’s Parks and Waterfront Commission, the harbor entrance was last dredged after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, and there has been spot dredging at the docks since.
But the experience at the harbor hasn’t all been bad. Newell said harbor workers were “relatively responsible” when he had a problem.
“They did the best they could with what they had,” he said.
Greg Urban rented a slot at the marina for his 57-foot yacht, named Élan, in April 2019. Two years later, he changed jobs and moved to the Vallejo Marina, where he pays $220 less each month in fees.
Although he said he’s “much happier” where he is now, he thinks fondly of the marina. He liked the different restaurants, the “working man vibe” of the docks, and the Cal yacht club. His older daughter was a fan of Berkeley, and the park-like landscape of the marina appealed to his younger daughter, a fifth-grader.
Had it not been for his new job, Urban said he likely would have stayed at the Berkeley Marina just for his neighbors, despite his grievances, but he said, “Sadly, I don’t miss a whole lot about it now that I’m here.”
Julie Bisharyan is a student in the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley covering economic development.