Activists, officials christen Eastshore State Park

October 5, 2006 – By M.S. Enkoji

Just after World War II, on the hills rising from the San Francisco Bay, Sylvia McLaughlin would look down from her Berkeley home and watch as heaps of garbage slowly filled in the watery expanse.

“That was a time when people considered their waterfronts dumping grounds,” she said. But as the bay’s eastern shore seemed destined to close in on San Francisco, McLaughlin envisioned something different on the scrappy shoreline. She helped found one of several movements that galvanized the fight to rescue the waterfront, restore and preserve it. On Wednesday, she got to take her bow.

Now 89, McLaughlin journeyed down to the grounds of those long-ago garbage dumps to join other activists and park managers as they christened one of the state’s most distinctive parks: a nearly nine-mile ribbon of bayfront, mostly marshy wetlands, salvaged from industrial duties and blessed with world-class views.

Called Eastshore State Park, vast stretches — 2,002 acres — are tidelands, with only 260 acres of the park on terra firma, some of it made from packed garbage 12 feet deep.

The park runs from Richmond to the Bay Bridge, sandwiched in the narrow swath between Interstate 80 and the bay. Freeway drivers can catch a whizzing glance at the reedy growth and swooping sea gulls if they look west toward the city spires. Dozens of endangered species, like the brown pelican, touch down or burrow here, and biologists hope many more will return after decades of environmental topsy-turvy.

The Bay Trail, which looks like the American River bike trail, skims through and will someday encircle the bay. Kayak and small-boat launches will open in a future phase. Nature trails wind deeper into the grasslands, back where the freeway traffic dies to a whisper.

Restoring nature won’t happen everywhere: A finger of land jutting into the bay, dubbed the Brickyard Area, is lined with discarded bricks, supposedly swept from the streets of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. That will stay.

McLaughlin, who garnered a standing ovation during the dedication ceremony, talked some history.

After an engineering report in the 1960s proclaimed that most of the bay could be filled in economically, big plans emerged that would have thrust the western boundaries of cities like Berkeley and Albany deep into the bay, which would have been narrowed down to a river.

“They were going to take the top off San Bruno Mountain and put it in the bay,” McLaughlin said. “That was considered progress.”

Huge shopping centers, housing developments and even a junior college topped the list, she said.

The plans would have doubled the size of the cities.

McLaughlin was one of three women who banded together and formed Save the Bay in 1961. They and other environmental groups eventually doused the infill plans, then pushed for government help to buy the land that was mostly privately owned by a railroad company.

The long haul stretched with lawsuits and arm-twisting of some politicians.

One of the politicians who helped with legislation, former state Assemblyman Tom Bates, who is now Berkeley mayor, acknowledged the throngs of volunteers.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have actually spun garbage into gold,” he said.

The East Bay Regional Park District, which will manage the park and owns about 11 percent, and State Parks, which owns the rest, bought the land for $25 million with state bond money and regional tax revenues. By 1992, most of the land was purchased.

Speakers on Wednesday recalled the most eclectic attraction to rise from the soggy banks: The sculptures fashioned from wood or scrap metal during the 1970s and 1980s that used to decorate the Emeryville Crescent. The swampy patch where I-80 bends to cross the Bay Bridge is also crucial for shorebirds, and the sculptures had to go.

“There has to be a balance between art and habitat,” said Robert Cheasty, a founder of Citizens for East Shore Parks, and mayor of Albany during the 1980s.

Cheasty, who is now an Albany lawyer, used to erect driftwood sculptures there until he realized he was doing more harm than good.

Without the park, Albany would have been completely shut off from the waterfront, said Cheasty, whose group was also instrumental in transforming the dump into a park.

“Never mind that it used to be a dump,” said Ruth Coleman, state parks director. “It is now a treasure for every child in the region to discover.”

One photo caption: Zeo Coddington, left, and husband Terry of Berkeley take in the view during a dedication ceremony Wednesday at Eastshore State Park. Activists saved the 8.5-mile shoreline rimming the East Bay from infill plans and pushed its restoration. Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton


Source: The Sacramento Bee