People explore the Ashby Shoal for algae and critters at a recent gathering organized by Berkeley’s DragonMax boat team. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

The Berkeley Marina is slated to receive an influx of cash following a successful lobbying campaign for a $15 million earmark from the state.

In October, several Berkeley City Council members asked the state to consider a proposal to help address several critical needs in the waterfront, from replacing failing docks and pilings to dredging the main channel for better boat access.

At a recent council meeting, Berkeley officials said they were happy to report that their efforts had paid off: The state approved the full $15 million request as part of its 2022-23 budget.

Now, the city is working to determine exactly what to do with the money to get the most bang for the buck.

Berkeley parks director Scott Ferris told Berkeleyside the first thing to figure out is how much dredging work the city needs to do and how much that will cost.

He said that’s likely to be clearer in the next month or so.

“If it’s $4 million, great. If it’s $9 million, that’s a bigger problem,” Ferris said late last week. “It’s kind of a wait-and-see.”

The city says it needs to dredge the main harbor entrance as well as other hotspots to allow better access for boats, which now get stuck at times depending on the tide.

One challenge, Ferris said, is likely to be the 15% increase in construction costs the Bay Area has seen over the past year.

“Fifteen million dollars is an amazing amount of money,” Ferris said. “But it doesn’t get us where we would have gotten a year ago. A lot has yet to be determined.”

New Berkeley pier will be part of marina work

The city also hopes to spend some of the state money to help rebuild the Berkeley pier, which closed in 2015 because of structural problems.

See the latest on the ferry proposal

The city plans to rebuild some version of the pier as part of efforts — still in development — to bring large-scale electric ferry service to Berkeley.

As of late last year, the marina had a staggering $113 million in unfunded infrastructure needs, according to a staff analysis.

That’s not for lack of spending, the city says. Since 2008, according to a recent staff report, the city had spent or programmed $40 million in waterfront projects designed to revitalize the area and make it more attractive to businesses, slipholders and visitors alike.

That includes the recent completion in mid-June of an $8 million project to repave University Avenue.

Ferris credited council members Rashi Kesarwani, Terry Taplin and Rigel Robinson, and Mayor Arreguín, for helping to organize a letter-writing campaign to urge the state to approve Berkeley’s $15 million request.

He said dozens of local organizations had sent in missives about why Berkeley needed the state’s help.

“The council members really went after that support,” Ferris said. “That was an amazing effort.”

“In my 30-plus years doing this type of work, there have been very few situations where we’ve gotten earmarks for capital projects,” he added.

Local letters helped win support

Letters in support of the state earmark came from many Berkeley businesses and organizations, from the Berkeley Marina DoubleTree and Bayer to individual slipholders, the Cal Sailing Club and Tideline, which operates small Bay Area ferries.

Councilmember Rigel Robinson — who represents the Southside neighborhood near UC Berkeley but is also an avid Cal Sailing Club member — said he first spoke with California State Sen. Nancy Skinner about the funding request when he ran into her while she was birding at the Berkeley Marina.

Skinner, who represents Berkeley and much of the inner East Bay, also happens to co-chair the Senate and Assembly Budget Committee.

“Berkeley is lucky to have Sen. Skinner at the helm of the state’s budget process, advocating for our waterfront’s needs,” Robinson told Berkeleyside. “We’ve battened down the hatches and are investing in the infrastructure needs at the marina.”

Council members said East Bay Assemblymember Buffy Wicks also helped lobby for the money.

In a recent message to constituents, Councilmember Kesarwani thanked Skinner and Wicks for their support.

“This is a big deal,” she wrote. “My heart is full of gratitude for their partnership and advocacy for the City of Berkeley.”

Broader Berkeley Marina plan still underway

Ferris said he hopes to bring recommendations to council in the fall as far as how to use the state money.

Read more about the BMASP in a recent city update

Also coming in the fall, he said, will be the next round of community focus groups related to the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan, or BMASP, the city’s broader planning effort related to the future of the waterfront.

The plan, still in the discussion phase, has seen an increasing amount of community pushback largely from regular park users who say they are worried about too much development at the waterfront and the destruction of its natural, wild character.

Ferris said the city continues to welcome community input in all forms. After the focus groups in the fall, the city plans to hold another round of large-scale community meetings toward the end of 2022 or early next year.

Community members also can send emails to staff at any time to share ideas and concerns about the future of the Berkeley waterfront.

“The more public feedback the better. That’s what this process is for,” Ferris said.

Could Hs Lordships site one day host food truck village?

In addition to BMASP and planning for a new pier and ferry, the city has also been working for nearly a year to come to an agreement with Innovation Properties Group (IPG) about what could one day happen at 199 Seawall Drive, where Hs Lordships used to be.

The restaurant closed in 2018 after 50 years in business and its parking lot became better-known as a place for people to park their RVs.

The city later set up a “safe parking site” for RVs at Eighth and Harrison streets after evicting vehicle-dwellers from the area and fencing off the sprawling parking lot.

Since Hs Lordships closed, there has been much speculation about how the land — which is right on the water and features prime views of the San Francisco Bay — could one day be used.

And city officials said they are eager to see something vibrant in the area once again.

According to the original staff report from last year, which may have changed, “IPG’s proposal has several components: activation of a three to five-year food truck village and outdoor recreation space in a portion of the adjacent parking lot, improvements to the building and building’s outdoor spaces, and operation of a restaurant and indoor event space.”

Ferris told Berkeleyside he could not discuss the plans due to the ongoing negotiations, which are confidential. But he said staff and IPG are working diligently to line up funding and develop concepts for the parcel.

Ferris said he hoped to have something to report publicly by late fall or before the new year.

“We’re making a lot of progress,” he said. “We’re excited to get something going.”

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...