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An op ed in the Berkeley Times

6/8/23, 3:00 PM

Jim McGrath submitted an op ed to the Berkeley Times. He points out the hidden costs of a ferry terminal to those who would not commute on that ferry. Photo by Paul Kamen

Jim McGrath has submitted an op ed piece to the Berkeley Times.  He points out the hidden costs of a pier that is actually a ferry terminal to those who would not commute on that ferry.  Perhaps as much as $60 million for construction and $6 million a year for Berkeley citizens.  Berkeley plans to only provide 250 parking spaces for as many as 2,000 departing passengers--turning the marina into a park and ride facility with only a short fishing pier.

Here is the full text of the op ed:

In 1961, three citizen activists, Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick, started a successful effort to protect San Francisco Bay that was the start of the environmental movement in the United States.  They formed an organization, Save the Bay, and convinced the legislature to pass a law establishing the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to stop filling the bay and to guarantee the public access to the bay and along its shoreline.  More than twenty years later, Santa Fe proposed a massive development along Berkeley’s shoreline.  The battle over that development led to the establishment of the state park named for Sylvia McLaughlin, and protections for parks and open space written into Berkeley’s laws.  Those protections included the marina, which was designated as a shoreline park by BCDC.  

Now the city council want us to think that turning that park into a commuter terminal is a wonderful idea.  In a letter to Alameda County Transportation Commission dated March 16, 2023, Councilmember Robinson stated that the proposed service would have a “…projected ridership growing to more than 2,000 boarding trips per day over the next twenty years…”  Absent from this statement is that this service would eliminate most recreation at our shoreline park.  More than 94% of people visiting the marina arrive by car and park—carrying fishing poles, sails, kayaks, bicycles, picnic baskets and so forth.  Even if Berkeley and the Waterway Emergency Transportation Authority were wildly successful and got 50% of the riders to arrive without a car, that means 1000 riders in cars would park on the 250 spaces at the terminal—and on 750 other spaces in the marina, eliminating essentially all the recreational parking.

Councilmember Robinson claims that the funding he is seeking “is a substantial victory for sustainable transportation in Berkeley...” a nice talking point, but simply wrong.  All but one of WETA’s ferries are powered by diesel engines, spewing carcinogenic chemicals and carbon dioxide.  They have a carbon signature per person about 3 times that of a single person vehicle.  

At what cost?  This is what the talking points don’t cover.  In 2022, a person riding the ferry on a round trip to San Francisco paid about $10.  But that trip was supported by $66 of public subsidy—taxes and bridge tolls.  Establishing a new service in Berkeley would require $121 million, and the WETA business documents only reserve $30 million for the Berkeley service.  Their recent cost updates predict that it will take an annual subsidy of between $9 and $12 million to operate ferries to Berkeley—and their Board has made it clear that they expect Berkeley to pay at least half of that.  

For whom?  More than half of the current riders of the ferry system earn over $200,000, and about 70% make over $100,000 a year.  I’m sure that it is nicer to ride on an uncrowded boat than a bus, but do these riders really need a $66 a day subsidy?

I had the good fortune to get to know Sylvia McLaughlin and have her mentor me as an environmental activist.  Sylvia supported the bay fill that Berkeley now wants to give to WETA for a commuter terminal—because it provided land and parking access for what is now Cal Sailing Club, Shorebird Park, Cal Adventures, a restaurant to help pay the bills, and parking for the public to get to their park.  The Council wants to forget that history and give that away for a facility that will continue to bleed Berkeley and eliminate the existing recreation.  Don’t let them do it.  

by Jim McGrath

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