A hot hangout spot that highlights Berkeley’s shoreline and nature for visitors and residents alike is set to debut in the next couple of years.
Monday’s special Berkeley City Council meeting revealed the ongoing progress of the Waterfront Specific Plan for the City of Berkeley Public Tidelands Area. Director of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Scott Ferris presented possible development ideas for the space surrounding the city’s public tidelands.
“The project has been a team effort at the city attorney’s office,” Ferris said at the meeting.
Ferris reported that though the team has been busy within the last 16 months, with “lots of public process,” they will be back in July 2023 to gain approval to start a draft for the plan.
The main goals for the waterfront include reinforcing the economic vitality through successful placemaking and a focus on three distinct areas: hotel, food and beverage and recreation.
“An upper scale or boutique hotel could generate $723k for annual lease revenue,” said Christina Erickson, deputy director of parks, recreation and waterfront, at the meeting.
Additionally, a “new and hot” restaurant could generate up to $930k with an annual new ground lease revenue, according to Erickson.
Despite the talk for new additions, Councilmember Susan Wengraf noted that while she is “in favor” of more hotels and restaurants, the plan must be executed to be “sensitive to the environment.”
“We need to think about a way to get more people in: not overtly commercialized and unpleasant. It should get families and kids down there, which is what I’d like to see more of,” Wengraf said at the meeting.
The Parks Department found that the public prioritized similar sentiments, namely that the area should not be too commercial, and that the nearby César E. Chávez Park would only see improvements of existing amenities.
However, improvements and new additions alike, these visions come at a price.
According to Erickson, it will “not (be) possible” to generate all revenue to pay for the waterfront. She noted that additional sources of funding are necessary.
Major suggestions from Erickson included a parks tax increase estimated at $1.5 million, a new city or regional tax and one time funds for “continued capital investment.”
Councilmember Terry Taplin said he “totally support(s) a new city or regional tax,” and Councilmember Rigel Robinson said increasing the parks tax was “the easiest and clearest way” to tackle additional funding.
The meeting’s public comment portion revealed that the Waterfront Specific Plan presentation was not shared with the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission.
Allan Abshez, a member of the commission, expressed his distress on behalf of the commission in a public comment that before drafting, they should “bring (the plan) back to the Parks and Recreation Waterfront Commission.”
The update received in the meeting had not been presented to the commission, but should have been, according to Abshez.
After Abshez’s statement, other meeting attendees agreed with the commissioners’ sentiments.
Public commenter Kelly Hammargren called it “an embarrassment” that the commission was not given the report,” adding that it was “quite backwards.”
After Mayor Jesse Arreguín inquired of Ferris if the plan would be presented to the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commission before it returns in the summer, Ferris responded that a presentation for the commission would occur in April.